by Barrett Seaman –
There’s an old saw that if you squeeze a balloon, you don’t get any less air; it simply moves elsewhere. That bit of folk wisdom certainly applies when it comes to parking in the rivertowns—most certainly in the Village of Irvington.
The latest example of that involves an application by the Astorbuck Corporation, which owns the Trent Building along with surrounding properties along South Buckout Street, to build a parking lot on an undeveloped stretch just south of the Stanford White-designed neo-classical building.
Astorbuck’s owners, Bridge Street Properties developer Bill Thompson, Jeff Reich and Charlie Flock, have for years been looking for ways to accommodate the parking needs of what has grown to a population of some 250 employees of various enterprises renting space in the Trent Building, once the home of Cosmopolitan magazine. Three years ago, they submitted a plan that would require the village to re-zone from residential to commercial “a little less than half an acre” in order to carve out room for 44 cars. Their plan, since revised, calls for a sunken wall about 10 feet deep along the eastern slope, in part to shield the lot from abut a dozen homes along South Buckout and adjacent streets to the east.
Some 85% of Astorbuck’s tenants commute by car. One hundred forty-five parking slots are controlled or managed by the property owners. Factoring in work schedules, Astorbuck and its consultants calculated that if they increased their parking spots from 144 to 188, it would obviate the need for employees to seek parking on the adjacent streets in neighboring Spiro Park.
Indeed, as Mayor Brian Smith observed during a December 4 public hearing on the application, in the recent past, the village has had numerous complaints from Spiro Park residents about “spillover” parking by Trent Building employees on their residential streets. Now, the complaints are focused on an Astorbuck parking lot proposal that claims to offer relief from that spillover.
Since the application was made two years ago, homeowners along South Buckout have been complaining that the lot would detract from their river views and invite more traffic into the area. Last year, they got support from the village’s Planning Board, which informed the trustees that three of its five members were opposed to the plan. “More parking will allow Astorbuck owners to rent to more businesses and draw more people and vehicles to the area,” the Planning Board contended in a memo to the village board. “In addition, the creation of more parking will cause more traffic on Station Road especially during rush hours when both commuters and workers speed through Spiro Park, thus exacerbating the pedestrian/vehicle conflict where no sidewalk currently exists.”
Despite this advice and a chorus of opponents that has grown beyond the immediate neighborhood, the trustees continue to entertain the proposal—in part because the property owners have continued to adapt their proposal, shrinking and sinking the lot to appease their critics. After the latest presentation by Astorbuck and its consultants at the December 4 meeting, various residents came forward to voice opposition. An online petition claiming that the lot would “permanently destroy the residential character of our neighborhood, increase traffic and create significant noise and light pollution” has garnered more than 60 signatures. One opponent who took the microphone at the board meeting asked, “Why are we still talking about this?”
The trustees have so far not proffered an answer to that question, and the issue is not yet on the agenda for a future meeting. But part of the answer might be that there is no obvious solution to the underlying problem, which is a village-wide shortage of parking. Asked by one resident why he hadn’t considered creating parking in the building itself or excavating down under it to make room for a garage, Bill Thompson replied that the building is already nearly fully occupied, and besides, “we have a no-parking-garage restriction in Irvington. That’s out of my control.”
Since 2003, Irvington has had a comprehensive ban on multi-story parking facilities. The efficacy of that ban is one of the topics under discussion by the Comprehensive Planning Committee. Even if the final Comprehensive Plan recommends lifting that ban, however, it is unlikely to affect the Astorbuck application, which should be resolved, one way or another, in 2018. In the meantime, as Thompson replied to one of the protesting residents, “We spend more time on parking than on anything else in our business.”