by Barrett Seaman –
The Irvington Board of Trustees appeared poised at month’s end to finalize its rezoning plan for the North Broadway corridor, a stretch of property from Strawberry Lane on the south to East Sunnyside Lane at the northern end of the village. What is effectively the gateway to the village from the north is currently a hodge-podge of houses, apartments, commercial buildings and non-profit institutions that make its current zoning for two-acre single family residences a glaring exception to its own rule.
Now called the North Broadway Mixed Use District, the new zoning scheme allows for a wide variety of uses, including boutique hotels, senior assisted living facilities, full-service restaurants, private membership clubs, small practice medical offices and community amenities such as parks, playscapes, outdoor exercise courses, sports courts or a swimming pool. Yet, as liberalized as its list of allowable options is, the plan gives the village and its various oversight boards broad discretion to approve or amend proposals and thereby manage the overall character of the neighborhood, which is the stated goal of the plan. Another public hearing on the plan was scheduled for February 3, but as most of the interested parties have already been heard from, it is likely to become law this month.
As often as the old zoning was superseded in practice, the granting or rejection of variances over the years made the outcome of any development proposal unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary. The last example of that was the failed attempt by The Shelter Group, the company that operates Brightview senior living facilities, to win approval for a 116-unit complex on the eight-acre Carrafiello property at 106 North Broadway. Reluctant to go through another protracted negotiation, village trustees determined to spell out what they considered allowable and what was not. Indeed, one of the first applicants to re-purpose the Maxon Corporation property, one of the six large tracts and currently owned by the Rubenzahl family, is a company with plans to build a 100-unit assisted living facility on four acres.
The devil, as always, being in the details, even this complex re-codification will not resolve every issue. Strawberry Lane, embraced as it is by rustic stone walls and lined to the south by long-standing residences, leaves little room for access to any new facilities to its north in ways that fit into the character of the neighborhood. Trustees have also included provisions that protect the stone wall bordering Broadway, thus further limiting access to properties.
One of the criteria designed to police the size of new buildings is the FAR, or Floor Area Ratio, which caps the size of the footprint of a structure in proportion to the property where it will sit. In the overall plan, the village stipulates that developers can devote no more than 30 percent of the property to a structure—except in cases where an existing building has “local historic significance,” in which case the village would concede an additional five percent coverage allowance.
Attorneys and consultants representing Maxon have been faithful attendees at all meetings where the re-zoning plan has been on the agenda, suggesting adjustments that would increase the likelihood that a buyer, in this case the assisted living developer, will feel confident enough to close the deal. In crafting the mixed-use legislation, Irvington’s trustees have shown a willingness to accommodate their requests when it seemed reasonable.
Adjusting the FAR was one such concession. The prospective buyer’s proposed structure would take up 45% of the Maxon property, which includes a mansion with enough historic significance to earn the five percent bonus but not enough to get to 45 percent. The solution: add a clause that would grant the village discretion to concede up to ten percent more coverage if it deemed it in “the public interest.” Thus, the new plan includes a provision that the board, “in its sole discretion, may permit an additional FAR of up to .10” if it determines that a proposed development “would further an important public benefit….” Thirty percent plus five, plus a discretionary ten percent equals 45%, which happens to meet the developer’s criteria.
Practically speaking, the concession applies only to the two largest tracts covered by the new zoning plan: Abbott House, which is not likely to go anywhere soon, and Maxon. With passage of the new plan likely this month, the chances that Irvington will have a senior living facility sometime in the 2020s have improved significantly.