Except for Short-Term Historic House Rentals, Irvington’s Comprehensive Plan Proposals Near Approval

by Barrett Seaman –   

Much of what has been proposed in the 2017-18 update of Irvington’s Comprehensive Plan is not the sort of revolutionary stuff folks would take up arms against anyway. Permitting beekeeping, promoting environmental sensitivity, loosening restrictions on home offices and allowing garages to be used for more than sheltering cars were not likely to alarm all but the strictest of preservationists.

Even the proposal to allow homeowners off Main Street and Broadway to establish bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs did not cause a stir at any of the several Board of Trustee meetings where public comment was invited. But what did nearly bring the torches and pitchforks to Village Hall on April 10th was the brief section that would allow short-term rentals of residences, including historic homes. Even though the proposal, as written, specifically rules out “parties or other social events” and stipulates that prior registration, building, fire and safety compliance, insurance and a fee to the village would be required, that wasn’t enough for a posse of homeowners, largely from the Ardsley Park neighborhood west of Broadway.

Through a number of letters, including ones from the Ardsley Park Property Association (APPOA) and the residents of the 82-unit Hudson House condominium complex, and a strong turnout at the public comments session at Village Hall, neighbors vented their opposition to the plan, based almost exclusively on their displeasure with Martin W. Dolan, owner of “Villa Nuits,” the 16,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom Italianate mansion on Clifton Place at Hudson Road West.

Unable to sell the 166-year-old, historically-registered house in recent years, Dolan took to leasing it out—initially to film companies drawn to its vast, high-ceiling rooms, a conservatory (where scenes from The Age of Innocence were filmed in the early 1990s), and sweeping river views. More recently, he has used VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and Airbnb  to rent it out for private parties, fetching as much as $6,450-per-night, depending on day of week and season. One neighbor, Scott Sykes, logged onto the two rental sites and documented that, beyond a fruitful season of rentals last summer, the house was already booked for 71 days, including most weekends, through July of 2018.

The same rental search and social media sites that have brought lucrative rentals to Villa Nuits have supplied copious evidence that Dolan’s guests are the source of neighborhood anguish. “We have complained about the frequency of events, the number of guests, the loud music and noise emanating from his house and the late nights,” Sykes wrote trustees. Internet reviews, replete with photos, uncovered by Sykes’ search depicted Gatsby-esque bashes and captured gushing commentary, including vows to return and party there again.

Others joined Sykes’ chorus, variously demanding that the village not permit short-term rentals or at least prosecute those who abuse existing restrictions. Attorney Daniel Hargraves warned of the liability the village would expose itself to by allowing them. Recent resident Alexander McLawhorn MD, expressed opposition to “ANY AND ALL PROPOSALS, past, present and future” that would threaten the tranquility he and his family sought by moving from Manhattan. “We moved out of New York City to be away from short-term rentals, noisy event spaces, bars and busy streets,” he wrote.

It appears that the message got through to the board. Village Administrator Larry Schopfer said that the short-term events rental of historic homes clause would be removed from the plan, but that permission for other short-term rentals, with limits of frequency and number of guests, would stay.

The most ambitious of the remaining pieces of the plan—moving the Fire Department and the Department of Public Works in order to open those central properties to better uses—are not likely to cause controversy until new homes for them are identified, the devil being in those critical details. Besides those (and parking reform), the new plan is expected to win board approval by the end of May.

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