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Irvington Board Approves Special Permit For Villa Lewaro Programming

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July 19, 2023

By Barrett Seaman—

At its July 17 meeting, the Irvington Board of Trustees voted unanimously to grant a Special Permit to the owners of Villa Lewaro to use the 34-room, 20,000 sq. ft. mansion as “a historical, educational and cultural facility, specifically, as home to the Madam C.J. Walker Institute for Women of Color Entrepreneurs.”

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The permit is good for only one year, however, and comes with strict limitations on the number, timing and kind of events held there, as well as in parking and in the level of noise permitted. Public reaction to an extravagant fashion show, held at the villa in the summer of 2021, influenced the board’s attention to restrictions designed to minimize any disturbance to the essentially residential nature of the North Broadway neighborhood surrounding the villa.

It has been more than four and a half years since cosmetics mogul Richelieu Dennis’s New Voices Foundation purchased the estate, built by Madam C.J. Walker in 1918, from Ambassador Harold Doley and his wife Helena, with plans to convert what was once a private home into a conference center-cum think tank where women of color can develop skills such as financial literacy, business planning and marketing needed to succeed, as Madam Walker did more than a century ago when she built a cosmetics dynasty serving African-American women.

Thanks to an easement, crafted by the Doley Foundation in concert with the National Trust for Historical Places, the mansion’s architectural integrity is protected in perpetuity. The new owners are devoting time and resources towards identifying and repairing structural weaknesses that must be repaired before the village will issue even a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO). Only then will the one-year special permit become active.

Asked for an estimate as to when a TCO is likely to be issued, Village Administrator Larry Schopfer surmised that “we’re talking about months, not weeks—hopefully not years,” depending on the complexity of the structural deficiencies.

Under the Special Permit,

*Events with more than 30 guests on weekdays can be held only during times that do not conflict with peak traffic periods, including school openings and closings.

*Tours will be by appointment only and may not exceed 25 persons.

*Evening events must end by 9:00 p.m. during the week and by 10:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with no amplified music after 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and 10:00 p.m. on weekends.

*Buses, cabs or car services transporting guests may not load or unload on any of the surrounding streets, including Broadway.

*Onsite parking spaces will be designated for specific vehicles in advance of events.

*All events must be registered with the village two weeks in advance.

*The maximum number of people on-site at any time cannot exceed 115 unless approved by the Village Board of Trustees.

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