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PozinDan PozinThis Tuesday’s village board meeting was a far cry from December’s Freightway session, during which most residents rattled their pitchforks. In fact, the tone of the evening was harmonious, in light of last week’s announcement that the Freightway redevelopment has been halted. 

In his opening comments, Mayor Marc Samwick referenced the issue and stated, “The village board put a hold on the Freightway process for a number of reasons but, primarily, because we realized that many residents were uneasy with the idea of selecting a preferred developer when the initial proposals were considered out-of-touch with what is best for our community.” He continued, “The village board has shared many of the same concerns and neither proposal, as presented, was ever an option.  But (given the) concern (of) our neighbors, made worse with the spread of incomplete and, at times, inaccurate information, we decided the responsible action was to pause.”

He then stated that repairing and eventually replacing the garage is a viable option, along with a “recalibrated” design, but any additional proposals that may shown to the public will include data on financial and school impacts. While he assured the public that no next steps are planned at this time, Mayor Samwick reiterated the board’s commitment to the public comment period and encouraged residents to continue providing feedback on potential plans for the site.

Problem Solved
The pleasantries continued, as Samwick introduced the new village attorney, Dan Pozin, who joins Scarsdale from McCarthy Fingar LLP, where he serves as a partner in the municipal law and land use group. Scarsdale retained McCarthy Fingar at the beginning of this month and Pozin has been working with village staff for two weeks. He is Scarsdale’s primary contact at the firm, supported by several attorneys with deep experience in municipal law.  

In discussing the relationship, Trustee Seth Ross said, “The appointment of an outside firm as general counsel to the village represents a significant change from our past practice in Scarsdale. The decision to adopt this new model… was made after extensive deliberation by this board, and the firm of McCarthy Fingar was chosen after careful vetting and consideration of other interested firms.” 

Next, Ken Schneider, representing Scarsdale Concours, provided a feel-good moment as he presented checks to the Scarsdale Police Benevolent Association, Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SVAC), and Scarsdale Edgewood Family Counseling Service. Since 2003, Scarsdale Concours has raised over $400K for local beneficiaries thorough its auto show featuring antique, classic, and exotic cars. The next event is planned for October 2020. 

At the Podium

After accepting Scarsdale Concours’ donation, David Raizen (Aspen Road) representing SVAC, began the public comment session and seized the opportunity to talk about the importance of community support. “(SVAC’s) fund drive closed out at the end of the year. Our goal was between $250,000 and $300,000. I’ll use the $300,000 number; we did just about half – substantially less than any year that I can remember… There were some very generous residents (but) it was disappointing… We continue with the (misconception) that the corps is supported by tax dollars; it is not and we need your help in delivering the message.”

Robert Berg (Tisdale Road) followed and began by urging fellow residents to support SVAC, “They do fantastic work. They are the best organization in the village and I encourage everyone to give.” He then brought up Freightway: “I want thank the board for halting the process. As you saw at the December 11 meeting, members of the community had some serious concerns… People wanted you to just step back, let the community’s comments get to you, and to reconsider how the process has been handled and will be handled going forward.” Berg went on, “I certainly want Freightway to be considered a redevelopment site… Once you get hold of the comments and evaluate them, the next step should be a community forum so you can hear… what people in the community want to do... Thanks very much. I appreciate the time and the effort that was spent on this process to date. I think we’ve all learned a lot; it’s helpful to go through sort of a traumatic event like this, hopefully we’ll get a good result.” 

Sean Cohen (Chesterfield Road) stated, “I’d like to thank the (Freightway Redevelopment) committee for presenting (the proposals) to all of us and reconsidering… I do think the process raises a larger question, which is: what do you want the village to look like 10 years from now or 30 years from now?” He continued, “We see a lot of restaurants and things happening on Garth Road and very little happening in the central village itself… Maybe we need to look at an overall plan for the village. A number of people (stated) that the center is dying; Garth Road is growing, maybe because of what the main landlord in the central village is doing. There have been some successful developments, maybe we can (replicate them).”

Bob Harrison (Fox Meadow Road) followed and said, “(With regard to) Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps… I strongly encourage our residents to make a gift… for their efforts… let’s get out an write some checks.” He then moved on to Freightway: “It looks like the board’s made a wise decision in putting things on pause… I think the proposals we’ve seen from your two finalists are too large.” After referencing a simpler development plan proposed by a Scarsdale architect in the 1990s, Harrison continued, “I’m glad you’re pausing; I hope it’s more than just a pause and that you’re thinking about what’s best for the community. We don’t have to build an extravagant set of apartments.” He concluded by thanking the mayor and board for their efforts. 

After Michael Levine (Walworth Avenue) extended his thanks to the village for suspending  the Freightway process, Carl Finger (Butler Road) stated, “I understand the concerns of my friends and neighbors (that were) expressed during the (Freightway) meeting, namely burdening the school with too many additional students, however many that would be. What I cannot understand are the claims that I continue to hear… that the community has been kept in the dark, (and) that the plans and proposals have been foisted suddenly upon the community, when I do not believe that to be the case. I want to review what the board has done to keep the community involved from the beginning to end.” 

He then outlined the various public meetings and opportunities for Scarsdale residents to contribute to the Freightway redevelopment plan dating back to March 2017, such as land use committee meetings, online and in-person surveys, and public workshops and walking tours. Finger also noted that workshop recordings and summaries, and other information have been available via scarsdale.com, and that village invited residents to sign up for alerts about Freightway meetings and developments over two years ago. Mayor Samwick interjected when he exceeded the allotted speaking time, so Finger summarized his thoughts by saying, “That’s not all of it and, when I hear people suggest that the board that has not been soliciting community input and that we need community input, it makes my blood boil. I appreciate all the time and effort that’s been spent; I’m not suggesting anything in terms of results… I feel we have to have the record straight.”

Claudine Gecel (Kent Road) then said, “Probably, 98 percent of people in the village think we need more parking… It also seems that people are not in agreement on whether we need more apartments in the village… However, there are things that could go in that location that would not be apartments, such as… (a) mini medical center… there’s parking, there are doctors’ offices, there’s radiology, and there’s stores… There are other commercial enterprises that can go in that spot and there are REITs that specialize in that. It’s possible to explore something that would include more parking, offices, specific shopping… and it wouldn’t involve lots of apartments.” 

Trustee Justin Arest replied, “I think we have to cognizant of, when talking about medical offices, the parking implications and the traffic implications… We need to enhance our parking and find better ways to park for shopping and other things, but I’m not sure we need an extra number of striped spaces… I think medical offices are not really a practical option for that location.”  

Mark Your Calendar

Mayor Samwick and Trustee Ross will meet with residents on Wednesday, January 22 at Balducci’s (Palmer Road) from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. All members of the public are invited to this latest “Coffee with the Mayor.”  

The village begins its annual budget process today during a meeting at Scarsdale Village Hall. All budget sessions are open to the public; check scarsdale.com for dates and times. 

trafficlightAt 5:30 pm on December 23, the driver of a van travelling eastbound over the Popham Road Bridge in Scarsdale, lost control of the van and struck a light pole. The pole at the southeast corner of Popham Road and Scarsdale Avenue toppled and took down the signals and traffic lights at a busy time of the evening when commuters were returning home.

The driver of the van, a non Scarsdale resident, was arrested for DWI and taken to Westchester Medical Center, along with a passenger in the car.

Though no one was seriously injured, the hit caused the closure of East Parkway in front of the station as well as detours around the busy intersection of Popham Road and Scarsdale Avenue.

Here is a firsthand report from eyewitness Madelaine Eppenstein: "I witnessed firsthand the Popham Road incident last night as my husband and I as well as other onlookers stood on the sidewalk outside Chase Bank. The pole did not topple as reported in your item. The impact was so great that the traffic signal assembly (traffic light) detached from the end of the mast arm and dropped straight onto the middle of the road, still attached to its cables. Eerily, the signal lights were still blinking. The van slammed directly into the pole crumpling the front end and smashing the pole’s metal base, part of which was dragged a short distance when it was run over by another vehicle. I called SPD on my cell phone. First responders arrived within a few short minutes of the impact, followed by SVAC which transported the driver and passenger for treatment. I walked over early this morning to find that all evidence of the accident, the van, pole, signal and debris, had been removed."

As of Tuesday morning December 24, repairs are still being made at the intersection of Popham and Garth Roads.

Here is a statement from Village Manager Steve Pappalardo sent out on Tuesday night.

“Earlier this evening a motorist drove off the road at the Popham Road Scarsdale Avenue intersection, striking the traffic signal pole rendering the signal inoperable. In addition, the accident knocked out power to the traffic signals at Popham Road and East Parkway and Popham Road at Chase Road.

….Con Edison and the Village’s traffic signal contractor are on scene working to restore power to the signals. Early reports are that the signals at Popham/East Parkway and Popham/Chase may be restored by tomorrow, however the damage to the Popham/Scarsdale Avenue signal is severe and it will likely take several days before a new replacement signal is installed."

He asked residents to avoid the intersection if possible.

freeholidayparkingThe Village of Scarsdale is pleased to provide two (2) hours of free parking in the Village Center from Wednesday, December 18, 2019, through Tuesday, December 24, 2019, at specifically marked metered locations.

This Village program is intended to attract residents and visitors to the Village Center to shop local this holiday season. In order to ensure vehicular turnover and maximum access to the parking spaces, the Scarsdale Police Department will enforce the two (2) hour parking limit. In addition, merchants and their employees will be permitted to park free of charge in the Freightway Garage Levels 5A and 5B during the aforementioned time period.

The Village’s decision to offer free holiday parking in the Village Center was jointly arrived through discussions with the Scarsdale Business Alliance.

WalworthFireA Greenacres family is out of their home for the holidays after a fire on Saturday night December 21. According to Scarsdale Fire Chief James Seymour, the fire department received a report of smoke inside 41 Walworth Avenue home at 10:20 pm. Upon arrival firefighters saw smoke visible from the exterior and an active fire in the basement of the home.

Firefighters stretched the initial attack hose line through a door in the rear of the house in order to suppress the fire. They encountered heavy smoke and heavy fire in the basement with smoke and fire extending to the first floor. Scarsdale career firefighters were assisted at the scene by Scarsdale volunteer firefighters and mutual aid units from the Fairview, Greenville and Hartsdale fire departments. The White Plains and Eastchester fire departments responded to cover the remainder of the village while the fire was ongoing.

The main body of fire was knocked down within 20 minutes of arrival and FD units remained on scene for several hours checking for extension, while the Scarsdale and Westchester County fire investigation units attempted to determine the cause. Fire Department units were also assisted on the scene by Scarsdale Police, Scarsdale Ambulance and Scarsdale DPW units.

Above is a picture of the basement door where FD units located the fire inside.

The family was relocated to a home next to Hitchcock Church. The church asked congregants for furniture donations and helped the family to get resettled.

freightwayrenderingWhat to do with the Freightway Garage? The current parking structure is almost 50 years old and decaying. It requires an estimated $2.5 million in repairs in the near future, with a least another $25 million in renovations, upgrades, and maintenance down the road as it continues to age. It’s also perceived as an eyesore by many who live and work here. Should Scarsdale maintain the status quo and simply make needed repairs? Should it tear down Freightway and build a new garage? Or, if building a new garage is feasible, should the village go further with a completely reimagined site, and create a community hub with parking, commercial space, residential units, and public space? 

While Scarsdale considers options for the 2.5 acre site (which includes the adjacent outdoor parking lot), the one that has generated the most interest, excitement, and/or skepticism and concern is converting Freightway into a transit-oriented development (TOD) with the potential to bring increased vitality, commerce, and activity to the village center. 

Such a project has been discussed for decades, and according to Mayor Marc Samwick, TODs “have been used and are being examined by some of our neighbors and countless communities throughout the country to enhance vibrancy, livability, walkability, and sustainability near public transportation hubs.” In addition, TODs generate additional revenue. Freightway is a village-owned property that yields $600,000 to $700,000 annually via parking fees and tickets. New commercial and retail space at the site would allow Scarsdale to collect property tax that it isn’t collecting now (even though rentals and condos are taxed at a significantly lower rate than single family homes).

So, over the past two years, village management has begun to carefully consider the possibility of development. It assembled a Freightway Steering Committee to represent residents, merchants, the school district, planning board members, board of architectural review members, and other interested parties to review the community’s needs, preferences, and concerns previously highlighted in the Scarsdale Comprehensive Plan and Scarsdale Visioning Study.

We’ve been here before; some will remember that Christie Place was “inches away” from becoming a Scarsdale-owned parking garage. Instead, it is a successful, revenue-generating mixed-use space, only on a smaller scale. The question is would a similar plan work for Freightway.

As many readers know, Scarsdale received several development proposals from a variety of firms and has narrowed those proposals down to two, presented by AvalonBay Communities, and a team comprised of LCOR and East End Capital. The groups’ stood out among all that responded to the RFP because they met the village’s “rigorous criteria for selection that includes the developer’s track record, financial wherewithal, development programming, and demonstrated ability to successfully partner with municipal governments.”

Last night, residents, merchants, and other interested parties got their first opportunity to hear from the developers, view preliminary designs, and provide input on the overall plan. The turnout was impressive at Rutherford Hall, with a standing-room-only crowd eager to learn more and comment on the future of Freightway. villagehallStanding room only at Village Hall: Photo Credit Amy Cooper

Why Are We Here?
In considering redevelopment, the village has outlined various goals and parameters for a successful project, based on past community input and the Freightway Visioning Study. In short, Scarsdale is looking to improve parking, revenue, and vitality for Scarsdale, while preserving village character, enhancing access and connectivity, providing usable public space, and embracing sustainability.

Samwick kicked off the meeting by saying, “Why are we here? …We’re here because we’re trying to bring vibrancy to our village center. We’re here because we want to create a stable and sustainable fiscal budget for the community. We are here because we want to improve parking; we want to improve aesthetics. When you look at the village center, it’s one of the crown jewels of our community, with one glaring exception – Freightway.” 

Trustee Jane Veron followed, “Understanding the potential tax implications of fixing the garage and recognizing the trends of transit-oriented development through public-private partnerships… it is our fiduciary duty to explore alternatives.” After reviewing Scarsdale’s Freightway redevelopment timeline and what has brought the village to this point, Veron said, “I want to be very clear. We are not endorsing either (development) proposal at this time. Nor are we ready to say that either proposal is necessarily better than the status quo, which means the near-term $2.5-million repair and the longer-term $25-million-plus reinvestment. What I want to underscore is the redevelopment of Freightway is not a fait accompli… The village is in the midst of a deliberate, lengthy, thoughtful, and open process that is designed to engage the community in the discussion of its priorities and preferences for a potential development… to determine which course of action is best.” 

Trustee Justin Arest added, “We understand the natural inclination to want all the information today and to make a determination. A development of this importance will take time to come together and progress will be iterative. What may make this more frustrating for some is that almost all the board’s work… must be done in private… As fiduciaries, we take our role very seriously and will insist that we garner the best economic option for Scarsdale should we decide to proceed with the redevelopment. To show our hand to developers before this round of negotiations is over would be irresponsible and wrong.” He continued, “Tonight is the first of many steps in evaluating the preliminary development concepts… Your feedback has brought us where we are today and will continue to help us as we get closer to selecting a preferred developer and beyond… There is no reason for us to move forward with any project if the benefits to the village and the school district do not exceed the costs.”

The Details
Each development team then presented its proposal for the site to an eager group of residents, followed by two hours of public comment. First up was Avalon Bay, a large public company that has developed and currently manages communities in a number of Westchester communities, including Bronxville, Harrison, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Ossining, Somers, and White Plains.

Avalon presented its vision for a mixed-use development that featured increased parking, apartment units, condominiums, and public space, with improved connectivity and access among Scarsdale Avenue, Popham Road, and Garth Road, and the Metro North train tracks. Specifically, it suggests: 

• 720 parking spaces (520 public, 200 private)
• 220 residential units;
• 2,300 square feet of retail area;
• 68,500 square feet of public open space; and
• 16,000 square feet of private open space for residents. 

The residential units would include 27 studio apartments, 89 one-bedrooms, 75 two-bedrooms, 19 three-bedrooms, and 10 three-bedroom, row house condos. The proposal also features sustainable buildings that would reflect the village’s Tudor-style landscape; and pedestrian-friendly walkways, passages, and plazas dotted with retail and public spaces. Parking would be below grade and hidden from street view, and the public would have access to commuter drop-off/pickup area. 

To illustrate its ability to tailor the design to the village’s needs and preferences, Avalon also presented alternative options to the plan that illustrated how it could be tweaked to provide more public space and what trade-offs would be necessary. The first featured 197 residential units, an increased 7,247 square feet of retail, as well as a 7,454-square-foot flexible theater space. The amount of parking spaces remained roughly the same. The second included just over 4,000 square feet of retail, with 7,500 square feet of flexible, public two-story spaces. 

Next, LCOR, a private development firm, and East End Capital, a real estate investment firm, presented their proposal. LCOR has a strong presence in New York, Washington, DC, and Bethesda, MD, and is known for projects in high-value, near-city neighborhoods such as Hoboken, NJ, and Montgomery County, MD. It currently owns several properties on Garth Road – the parcel that includes 2 to 22 Garth Road, which is adjacent to Beatty Alley/the Freightway site, and 56 Garth Road. Its Village Mews development would feature:

• 969 parking spaces  (720 public, 249 private);
• 285 residential units; 
• a 25,000-square-foot community facility; and
• 6,000 square feet of retail space.

The residential units would be housed in two buildings, one with 217 apartments and the other with 68. LCOR proposes that less than 10 percent of the total will be three bedrooms or larger in size. Parking will be located below grade, and the site will include public plazas as well as a covered commuter promenade overlooking the Metro North tracks. The plan also incorporates the LCOR-owned parcels into the design to widen Beatty Alley and improve traffic flow. The 25,000 feet of public space would possibly house a community theater to be shared with potential tenant Hoff-Barthelson Music School. And, like the Avalon proposal, the plan offers a variety of landscaped public spaces, reflects the Scarsdale’s Tudor design, provides improved access to the train, and offers various sustainability/ecofriendly features.

After the presentations, over 30 residents lined up to express concerns about a number of issues, primarily how the increased number of apartment dwellers (specifically children) will impact the school district and stress existing resources.

Among other issues raised were:

1) Does Scarsdale need an influx of new residents in the village center, leading to more traffic congestion and crowding at the train stations;

2) Should the village build more residential units that will taxed less than single family homes;

3) Do the financial benefits of such a project outweigh potential risks;

4) Are there other options for the site besides a multi-use project with residential space;

5) What are the tax benefits that the village can expect; and

6) What is the financial condition of the two development groups?

Mayor Samwick responded to everyone, and emphasized that this meeting marked a beginning to an exhaustive process that eventually will reveal the full impact of any Freightway plan. 

What’s Next? 
It’s time to weigh in. The village will accept public comments for 60 days, until Sunday, February 9, and all are urged to learn more about project (scarsdale.com/freightway), watch last night’s presentations, which are available online and/or visit village hall to see the proposals and complete comment cards. Residents may also provide feedback via email at freightway@scarsdale.com, and through the village website (scarsdale.com). 

During the public comment period, village officials will continue due diligence work on the two development groups, including assessing financial information and visiting comparable properties they have developed. Essentially, Scarsdale views these proposals as a springboard for additional ideas and continuing discussion. According to Trustee Veron, “We are stewarding a process; we aren’t deciding anything. As our data gets better and as we receive public input, it translates to better decision making.” 

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