At the Halfway Mark, Irvington’s 2017 Comprehensive Plan

by Barrett Seaman 

A rendered image of a Main Street block in Irvington with no verhead wires. —Photo: Saratoga Associates

A rendered image of a Main Street block in Irvington with no overhead wires.
—Photo: Saratoga Associates

Imagine driving down Broadway into Irvington sometime in the late 2020s. The hillside to the east, on your left, is a mosaic of attached condo units in clusters, a modestly proportioned assisted living facility, along with occasional low-rise office buildings not much different in architectural style from nearby homes.

As you pass the large white mansion on your right, Villa Lewaro, the home of renowned African-American entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, a clutch of tourists debarks from a trolley and enters what is apparently now a museum as well as a private residence.

Turning down Main Street, you note the exceptionally clean line of sight down to the river; something is missing. It’s the overhead wires that a decade earlier posed a distracting entanglement on either side of the street. Power now passes beneath the sidewalks. Just beyond a row of bicycle racks on the sidewalk, you see a low-slung multi-story garage on the site of the old fire station. It is partially underground and has a garden on its top deck. You pull into a recessed curb and run a wire from your subcompact Tesla to an electrical re-charging kiosk that looks much like an ATM machine. While you wait, cars pull up to Mima Vinoteca restaurant where a valet waits to park them at a lot nearby.

A 10-seat jitney bus coming up Main Street from the train station stops at the corner. Tourists from Europe disembark and carry their bags down a residential side street to take a rented Airbnb room in one of the homes. Further down Main Street, other visitors flock to a microbrewery for a taste of Hudson Valley homegrown ale.

West of the Metro North tracks (which pedestrians can now cross on a bridge south of the library) yachts bob in a new marina designed to attract “dock-and-diners” to nearby restaurants.

These images and many like them are the product of Irvington’s ongoing Comprehensive Plan Committee, a group of village officials and a few dozen engaged citizens envisioning the future of the community and examining the changes in village code and practice that would enable that future to become reality. In July, the board of trustees released a mid-term report on the work of four working groups formed back in March. While the process has fallen about a month behind schedule, the Committee still hopes to hold public hearings and an environmental impact review (SEQR) in the fall and present a final plan before the end of the year.

Irvington’s last Comprehensive Plan was done in 2003. The thrust of that plan was the preservation of the historic character of the village and protection of its environment. Many of the recommendations aimed at protecting open spaces and limiting growth were enacted into law, though others, including expansion of affordable housing and codification of the village center as an Historic District, are ongoing.

By contrast, the 2017 Comprehensive Plan, as it is emerging, seems focused on bringing the village into the modern age while still protecting its essential character. Implied in some of its proposals, like permitting microbreweries and distilleries and contemplating multi-story parking, is that some of the 2003 recommendations might have been too restrictive.

Motivating some of the recommended code changes, such as permitting bed and breakfast usage and Airbnb rentals, is a concern that rising property taxes are forcing some owners to sell and that these alternative uses may relieve some of the financial pressure. Others, like permitting beekeeping and raising chickens (but not roosters) in residential neighborhoods, fall under the category of clearing the books of anachronistic laws.

Many of the proposals under consideration would require only minor tweaking to existing village law. Others, like burying utility wires on Main Street or opening a waterfront marina, are beyond the village’s current budgetary capacity or would require significant private investment. And then there are those—like relocating the Department of Public Works from its current home on South Astor Street and the fire station from its home on Main Street—that are daunting challenges, because no one, so far, knows where to put them or what opposition might arise from the choice.

In his remarks at the close of the July 13 presentation, Mayor Brian Smith cautioned that even the simplest changes were a year away, and that many of the grander schemes were out much further. He also stressed the need for further public input. “It won’t be successful otherwise.”

Residents interested in contributing to the process should contact Village Administrator Larry Schopfer at lschopfer@irvingtonny.gov or 914-591-4358.

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