Developer Stephen Oder was back at Village Hall on Monday night, June 3 to appeal for additional changes in building plans for 2-4 Weaver Street. Current plans call for an 11 unit luxury condominium building on the site of the parking lot of the former Heathcote Tavern building. The Village is currently in negotiation with Oder to sell him two irregular parcels of land that abut the property – one, a strip of land to the left that includes the driveway to the parking lot (approximately 9,000 square feet) and the other, land behind the site adjacent to the Heathcote Bypass (approximately 5,715 square feet). In exchange for the land, the Village asked for concessions from the builder.
At the June meeting of the Village Land Use Committee, headed by Trustee Jon Mark, Oder asked for alterations to the plans, calling them a "quality of life adjustment." He explained that they would like to move a green deck up one level to make the deck into outdoor spaces and private terraces for the residents on the first level. This would also allow the developer to increase the size of the entrance lobby space. Underneath the first floor green deck, the developer would build 825 square feet of individual storage units for building residents, who, Oder conjectured, could be empty nesters who might need additional storage space after moving from larger homes.
The changes would be visible from the back of the building, bordering on the Heathcote Bypass, and would not be seen from the façade of the building on Heathcote Road. In addition, the design change would not increase the height, bulk, or density of the building.
The architect told the group that the current plans actually reduced the curb cuts on Weaver Street from three to two and increased the distance from the Five Corners intersection to the entrance to the development at 2-4 Weaver Street where there would be a five-foot wide sidewalk.
The Heathcote Five Corners Coalition, who has staged a multi-year effort to fight development of the site, had assembled about 20 people to attend the meeting and object to this latest plan as well as development in general. Anticipating questions, Oder told the group, "We gave up enormous rights. We agreed to preserve the tavern building for 25 years. We agreed not to have retail. We are not building a building like the one at One Palmer ... we don't like One Palmer. (Our plan) has Scarsdale charm to it. We aim to build a high quality building."
Lika Levi, creator of the blog Save-Scarsdale.org, then interjected, "Yeah right!"
Oder continued, "We have not made one nickel from the building in seven years. Anyone who thinks we have a good investment there is not understanding what we do.... seven years of zero return on our investment."
Following the presentations, questions were taken from the audience. The question of additional traffic was posed, and Village Planner Liz Marrinan told the group that a SEQRA review had been completed and showed zero impact to traffic or to the school population.
Michael Weinberg of Wynmor Road told Oder, "I don't feel sad for you. It's not unusual not to get a return. The traffic is horrendous; how are we going to handle this conglomeration? Are we looking into this or are we just looking into more real estate taxes?"
Marrinan responded, saying, "The new building will actually improve the situation. The 11 units will have less traffic than the dance studio. Residential as opposed to a commercial use generates less traffic and the Board negotiated a decrease in the number of curb cuts and and an increase in the distance from the intersection to alleviate traffic issues."
Lika Levi then spoke, saying, "Mr. Oder has heard from me many times. You talked about quality of life --you want residents to have a better quality of life --but what about our quality of life? We don't want any more congestion in that area. We want to change for the better. We don't have to make our life worse. You are here to do something good for Scarsdale, not something bad for Scarsdale."
Trustee Jon Mark stopped Levi, saying, "Do you have a point?"
Oder then jumped in and said, "Can I respond to the comment about the investment? We had many other options including knocking the building down. We did not go down that path. We keep changing the restauranteurs. We keep changing to make it work. We did not knock it down."
Trustee Kay Eisenman then said, "We are at the end of a very long process. It is too late to go back – what can we do to get to the building of the project. It is going to happen one way or another. We have been trying to make it the best it can be ...11 apartments – 30-35 people, 24 parking spaces for residents. We are past those issues."
Despite Eisenman's effort to appease, coalition members continued to bring up issues that the trustees felt had already been resolved. Janet Bell said, "For seven years we have been asking what could be built without the Village land.... (former Planning Board Chair) Bev Sved it would be a better building with the Village land."
Jon Mark answered, saying, "This has been the case. It's a larger building ... that is better sited with the Village-owned land than without the land."
Martin Kaufman made his case, "Are we at the end of the process? The non-binding agreement (for the sale of the Village owned land) was originally approved in August 2011. Since then it has been altered twice with no benefit to the Village of Scarsdale. If this is approved, we don't know if there will be another request to increase the deck or the bulk of the building, or, for the purpose of making the project more marketable, i.e. more money for the builder ... at what benefit to the Village of Scarsdale? The green deck is raised a level which makes the ground level enclosed and will make the building look more bulky. When is the Village going to stop saying yes to the developer to his proposals without getting anything in exchange? We are selling the chicken for a tiny pile of beans that will never grow into anything. When does the Village say, let's make the agreement binding? The developer has not lived up to the spirit of the non-binding term agreement This seems to be a one-way escalator for the benefit of the building."
Kaufman ended by saying, "The Village is in the driver's seat, but you don't seem to know how to bargain."
Another longtime opponent to the project, Larry Bell, then said, "I have never seen anyone go in or out of the dance studio. We have known that there is a traffic problem for a long time. Nothing has been done to alleviate the traffic problems. I think that's abominable. We'll just let those people suffer. I challenge you to use this money to get pressure plates and lights... the speed at which we move is glacial."
Lika Levi spoke again, saying, "The reason this has been happening for a long time is because the community does not want it. It is not the same world as seven years ago."
A discussion ensued about the price the Village is charging Oder for the two parcels of land around the building site. Trustee Mark explained, "[There was] consideration of increased marketability, consideration of what land sells for in Scarsdale ...The Village is getting $500,000 for 14,000 square feet. They are not buildable parcels – they are irregularly shaped."
Trustee Brodsky then defended the Trustees' position. "One of the driving forces has been to make sure that these were not shopping spaces. It would be difficult to make profitable residential space in a smaller building. It's a balancing act – but it is in our interest to make it residential not 'shopping space.' We have had to negotiate and give up some things so that it could be residential and have enough units to be profitable. We know it's not perfect. We can't stop all development. There will be development because it's developable space. In our view it is a better use. It is lawful to build, we're trying to do a better build. We've gotten consensus that residential is better and we've done the give up on space to make it work."
Newly elected Trustee Thomas Martin also defended the new project. He added, "My family moved here in 1947. That section has been an eyesore for years and years. I am thrilled that this project will improve the area. I view it as a vast improvement."
Following comments from the attendees, Trustee Mark read a statement reviewing the history of the project and putting forth his recommendation for approval of the developer's proposal. After the meeting, the Land Use Committee voted to recommend that the Board of Trustees adopt the changes to the term sheet as outlined below:
Here is the full text of Jon Mark's statement:
We are once again discussing 2-4 Weaver Street and the developer's plans for that site. This project has received a lot of Village Board attention and has now been focused on by three different Village Boards in 2009, 2011, 2012 and now in 2013. The developer owns the major portion of the 2-4 Weaver Street site and he has told the Village that he plans to develop the site in a manner that conforms to the zoning applicable to the Five Corners intersection, which allows for commercial development. Over the last four years, a request by the Developer that has been before the Village Board in one form or another is whether the Village would sell to the Developer Village-owned property at the site. Specifically, over the last two years, the Village has formulated non-binding terms with the developer that would allow the Village to have substantial input into the way in which the property is developed if the Village-owned land were sold. The request presently pending relates to a modification of those non-binding terms.
A bit of recent history: Following five meetings of the Land Use Committee, which took place in a period from April 2011 to August 2011 in which residents and the Developer participated, this Committee recommended to the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Trustees approved a Non-Binding Term Sheet that set forth the terms and conditions under which the Village would agree to sell approximately 9,000 square feet of Village-owned land to the developer for a price of $150,000.
The rationale for the Committee's recommendation was given in a statement read at an August 4, 2011 meeting of the Committee and that statement was reproduced in full in the minutes of the Village Board meeting held on August 9, 2011. Those minutes are posted on the Village web site under the Board of Trustees section of the site.
This Committee was not called upon to consider the 2-4 Weaver project again until November 19, 2012 as the developer was doing whatever work was called for to move the project forward – including applying for appropriate approvals from the Village and the Planning Board.
In November 2012, the developer returned before the Village Board and this Committee, seeking a modification of the Non-Binding Term Sheet to accommodate the addition of a so-called green deck at the rear of the proposed building and a related rear set-back variance that the developer intended to request. In addition, the developer requested that the Village consider the sale of additional parcels of land, aggregating approximately 5,715 square feet. The request was prompted by the developer's receipt of a more technical site survey that revealed that the geometry of the site was not as originally perceived by a previous survey relied on at the time the Non-Binding Term sheet was drafted in 2011.
At a public meeting of the Committee held on November 19, 2012, the developer's request was considered, discussed and recommended to the full Board. The rationale for the Committee's recommendation was given in a statement read at that meeting and that statement was reproduced in full in the minutes of the Village Board meeting held on November 27, 2012. Those minutes are posted on the Village website under the Board of Trustees section of the site.
Following the November 2012 meetings, the Non-Binding Term Sheet was modified to accommodate the green deck, certain other related changes and the proposed purchase of the additional 5,715 square feet of land was also added to the Non-Binding Term sheet for additional cash consideration of $95,000.
It is noted that the rear-yard setback variance requested by the developer was granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals on December 12, 2012.
2. The developer is before the Village Board and this Committee once again with a further request, which the developer states is prompted by feedback received from several sources within the marketing community. It is noted that while the proposed changes do increase the bulk of the building, for the reasons noted, they do not involve changes in the overall dimensions of the proposed building, nor do they involve the extension of the green deck beyond the width of the proposed building. As initially outlined in a letter dated February 26, 2013, a revised letter dated May 8, 2013, and accompanying drawings, the developer wishes to re-work the green deck design as follows:
a. Raising the Green Deck and Addition of Storage Units below the Raised Deck.
i. The developer's drawings now show that the green deck would be raised up one level from the parking deck to the level of the residential living space. As a result, the residential units at that level will benefit from having private terraces rather than merely overlooking a green deck that was to be one level below. The developer believes that this will be an added benefit for these units.
ii. The space underneath the green deck would be used for previously contemplated parking, building storage and mechanicals, egress stairs and 825 square feet of individual storage units off the parking level for resident use. The developer states in his February and May letters that their marketing review indicated that this would be another benefit as the target demographic for the project will be empty nesters looking to downsize from larger family homes and the proposed storage units "are a crucial element in order to market to this demographic."
iii. The Village Board referred the developer's February 2013 request to the Planning Board and the Developer appeared before the Planning Board on March 30, 2013 and provided additional information to the Planning Board at a meeting held on April 24, 2013. At the April 24th meeting, the Planning Board approved the developer's requested changes and referred the matter back to the Village Board. In doing so the Planning Board commented that the changes requested were "deminimus and [did] not add significantly to the mass or bulk of the proposed building."
b. In order to reflect these changes, the developer requests that the Non-Binding Term-Sheet be revised so that the section title "Density" permits the additional 825 square feet of storage and the section titled "Variances" be modified to permit the raised deck and the uses contemplated beneath it as previously described.
3. In making these requests, the developer has represented that no other changes in the Non-Binding Term Sheet are being sought, that the revisions requested will not result in a project of additional units (the restriction in the Non-Binding Term Sheet to 11 units, including one affordable unit will remain) and that the developer would continue to agree to all of the other restrictions to be placed on the site as contemplated by the Non-Binding Term Sheet. Among other things, the developer noted that the proposed height of the building would not change as a result of these changes.
4. We have noted the comments of the developer in his letters, which say that raising the green deck makes it possible to "enlarge the entrance lobby space and make the parking structure more suited to a high-end residential project."
5. We have read the letters dated April 23, 2013 and June 3, 2013 from the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition and at our request the developer's representative has responded to each of the questions in the letters during his presentation at this meeting. We have also read the numerous emails we have received in the last several days from residents expressing opposition to this entire project.
6. I am still inclined to suggest that this Committee should recommend to the Board that the developer's request be granted subject to the following:
The developer's letters state that the changes proposed to be made to the project are the result of marketing feedback the developer received and make it more marketable. I have therefore proposed to the developer that the purchase price for the parcels of Village land that the developer wishes to purchase be increased to $500,000. The developer has indicated his acceptance of this further change in the Non-Binding Term Sheet.
It is noted that the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition has suggested that if the land is sold, the additional proceeds from the sale of the land should be dedicated to traffic mitigation projects at the Five Corners intersection. When and if the sale of the Village-owned land occurs at some future date, the proceeds from the sale would go into the Village General Fund. At that time, the Village staff and Village Board could take into account this suggestion in the context of the circumstances that exist at that time.
7. As was the case in August 2011 and again in November 2012, this Committee continues to argue that the opportunity afforded the Village to impose the land use restrictions on 2-4 Weaver that the developer has indicated he would agree to is beneficial to the Village and could not be accomplished in any other way. To fail to take advantage of this opportunity would be the Village's loss since other than compliance with the zoning code, the developer would be free, among other things to build a smaller structure "as of right" which could be used wholly for commercial purposes. A commercial use only building would have the potential of greater traffic impact than a building used solely for residential purposes. The other aesthetic elements contained in the proposed term sheet would also be lost.
8. The developer could also sell his land to another developer who might have no interest in bargaining with the Village as the developer has done.
9. In short, the present proposal, even as further modified, would continue to provide the Village with an opportunity to have significant influence on how the site at 2-4 Weaver is developed above and beyond the requirements of the zoning and other building codes. In reaching this conclusion, I wish to caution the developer that going forward any future requests that might further increase the bulk of the proposed building will be closely scrutinized and further requested modifications in the Non-Binding Term Sheet to accommodate any such requests may not be achievable. It is, therefore, at least my recommendation that it would be advisable that the developer not submit requests of that sort in the future. That being said, it is recognized that this is the developer's project to manage and it is assumed he will do so as he sees fit within the confines contemplated by the Non-Binding Term Sheet, applicable Village Code provisions and other applicable laws, rules and regulations.
10. Lastly, I note that the developer will still have to apply approvals of various aspects of the project going forward – such as approvals of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board and the Board of Architectural Review, among others – and therefore residents will have further opportunities to express their views about the project in those venues. So while tonight's meeting will move this project along to some extent, it is not the end of the process that this project will have to go through before it can be built and no sale of the Village-owned land would occur until all the appropriate approvals are obtained.
11. For all of the foregoing reasons, I move that the staff be instructed to amend the Non-Binding Term Sheet to incorporate the changes as discussed at this meeting and that the amended Non-Binding Term Sheet be placed on the Village Board's agenda for the meeting to be held on June 11, 2013 for further referral to the Planning Board and Zoning Board for consideration during their review.