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Irvington Board Enacts North Broadway Re-Zoning Plan That Favors Moderate And Affordable Housing

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June 8, 2021

By Barrett Seaman—

After nearly three hours of public hearings, dominated largely by neighbors opposed to the density of its proposed mix of multi-family housing, Irvington Trustees unanimously adopted a new zoning scheme for the stretch of property east of North Broadway. The vote, taken at 10:20 p.m. during a June 7th “virtual” board meeting that started at 7:00 p.m., followed two years of often intense debate between proponents of affordable housing on the one hand and opponents of large-scale construction who feared an outcome that would threaten the bucolic character of the village.

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The new plan supersedes the current zoning for single-family homes on one-acre sites that in reality describes only a fraction of the 50-acre area as it exists, the rest being taken up by large structures used for a variety of commercial purposes and a large apartment complex.

The plan allows for small-practice medical offices, houses of worship, bed and breakfasts (but only on plots with direct access to Broadway), schools, libraries, museums, art galleries or community centers. But its principal allowance, which was at the heart of the debate, is for multi-family dwellings geared towards lower- and middle-income residents and senior citizens. In theory, if all the properties were given over to housing, as many as 156 units could fit on the land.

The new zoning has plenty of restrictions on building heights and setbacks. No building, amenity or parking can be closer than 250 feet from Broadway. No building can be more than three stories in height, and those adjacent to Broadway cannot exceed two stories. Special restrictions on lighting, landscaping, fencing, noise and signage are in place to protect the existing single-family homeowners along Strawberry Lane on the zone’s southern border. There are also provisions designed to encourage protection of historically significant structures in the zone.

The new code has strict limits on density, such as lot coverage and floor area ratios, but also provides “bonus” allowances of up to 20% if the housing units are priced to attract “moderate income” buyers, that is, those earning no more than the area median income (AMI) for Westchester County. Renters would qualify at 80% of AMI. Developments priced to meet affordable housing criteria (80% or less of AMI) would also get a 20% bonus in the number of units. Properties sold to families where at least one occupant is 55 or older also get bonuses, albeit smaller ones.

Earlier in the process, there was pressure from local progressives to require all housing in the new zone to be affordable, but trustees concluded that the village would be better served by having more of a mix that included both seniors and moderate earners.

At the final public hearing, however, the resistance came almost entirely from the right: those who believe that the density created by 150 or more new apartments would forever change Irvington’s essential small village character; those who believed that the traffic studies done for the project grossly underestimated the prospect of traffic jams on an already busy thoroughfare; those who questioned the tax analysis that projected favorable revenues for the village.

There has been an undercurrent of suspicion on the part of many of these critics that the re-zoning was tailored to favor quick sales that would benefit the current property owners. Kristen Wall, a one-term trustee, asked the board if the plan would survive a “spot zoning challenge,” referring to a law prohibiting a zoning change designed to benefit a specific property deal. Mayor Smith replied that they knew of no specific bid related to any of the North Broadway properties. Francis Goudie, a frequent critic of the current Board, voiced one prevalent sentiment: “You’ve pounded away at this for two years because you want it,” he said. “But a lot of us don’t.”

There were a handful of supporters among those who called in at Monday’s meeting, among them Karen Schatzel, a member of the village’s Housing Committee, who read a statement from the full committee voicing its “unanimous support” for the new plan and encouraging the Board to raise the affordable housing ratio required of any multi-family project going forward from 10 to 15 percent.

The motivation behind the new North Broadway “Multi-Family/Office District” was to protect a valuable tract of land already wildly out of sync with its original zoning intent from the whims of future politicians, developers and land-use lawyers. But there are still plenty of variables that may yet steer it in unforeseen directions, not all of them as dark as this re-zoning’s critics envision, nor as rosy as its most fervent supporters wish. Where it goes from here will still be under the control of trustees, a Planning Board and an Architectural Review Board with a reputation for exactitude bordering on finnickiness.

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