Irvington: Late in Coming with Comp Plan, but Getting There

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by Barrett Seaman – 

The draft report from Irvington’s Comprehensive Planning Committee is late by five months, and it’s still only just a draft. But a copy obtained by The Hudson Independent offers a generally clear picture of the direction the eight-member committee wants the village to take going forward—and it’s not a lot different from what village officials outlined when their work began almost a year ago.

The process, launched last February with an ambitious goal of finishing up by Christmas, was slowed mid-summer when committee members realized that they needed more community input. As a result, they launched an email survey and solicited opinions from neighborhood associations, builders, developers and merchants that helped unpack some of the thornier issues.

The plan is organized around five categories: how to guide development of the Broadway corridor; how to improve Main Street; how to protect the character of the village, including its historic buildings; how to modernize the zoning codes, and how to encourage sustainability in the process. Here are some of the key points, as contained in the draft final report:

  • Broadway corridor: Observing that the stretch of Broadway north of Strawberry Lane contains most of the remaining undeveloped or underdeveloped land in the village, the committee’s stated goal is to “have the Broadway corridor remain much as it is now in appearance.” To facilitate that, the committee recommends revising zoning so that it reflects the current mixed use of the land, leaving open the approval of commercial (though not retail) enterprises, as well as non-profits (like Abbott House), private clubs and bed and breakfast venues. The report speaks favorably of allowing more B&Bs in the village, but only on the Broadway corridor and along Main Street.
  • Code modernization: Acknowledging “a 21st century reality” as well as the high cost of ownership, the report will recommend permitting homeowners to offer short-term rentals beyond the current limitation of one room. However, it will recommend setting a cap on the number of rentals at any given time, a registration process and a fee to offset village expenses for monitoring rentals. Recommended also will be a loosening of restrictions on home-based businesses, though with a requirement to register any business that brings in clients, as would be the case with a therapist. Homeowners who want to use their garages for offices or studios, currently prohibited, could do so, provided they do not impinge on the residential character of the surrounding neighborhood. Bee-keeping would be allowed on single-family lots—but not chicken-raising.
  • Downtown: The report will encourage pursuit of the village’s ongoing Streetscape project goals, which involves the creation of curb cuts and more visible crosswalks for the protection of pedestrians, as well as improved lighting. The report will endorse building electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around the village and a public jitney service from Broadway to Bridge Street. Small breweries would be permitted in the Business and Waterfront Zones.
  • Sustainability: The report will recommend amending the village’s building codes to encourage environmentally friendly construction. It also favors reducing the minimum lot size for cluster housing projects. The report further proposes a program to educate homeowners on watercourse management—how to deal with vegetation and debris along stream beds that run through private property. It suggests further study of how other villages manage construction on steep slopes. And in addition to adding EV charging stations, the report will call for more bike racks as a further incentive to move away from combustible engine vehicles.
  • Use of Village-owned properties: At the beginning of the process, there was much enthusiasm expressed for moving the firehouse and the Department of Public Works (DPW) complex elsewhere, freeing their current prime locations for better uses. The two big challenges for the committee were to find new homes for each and to reach consensus on what to use the old sites for. So far, the comprehensive planners have not come up with either.

Since both services need to be centrally located, there are no obvious choices for relocation in a downtown district that is close to fully occupied. As for re-use of the vacated firehouse property, the committee’s survey indicated close to an even split between those who favored additional parking—even a multi-story garage (currently banned under village law)—and those who wanted to build more commercial, residential or park space.

As for the DPW complex, east of Astor Street and south of the village library, survey responders seem to agree that some combination of residential and commercial zooming, with some much-needed parking thrown in is needed. Looking at the entire Astor Street corridor, paralleling the Metro North tracks and the riverfront, the committee recognizes the need for further study of how best to encourage development that exploits the proximity of mass transit. That might eventually lead the village to bring in outside experts.

Still on the table will be aspirational goals, like a riverfront marina with dockage for tour boats, underground parking garages and a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks to facilitate access to Scenic Hudson Park.

With the delay, a final report is not expected until May, but Village Administrator Larry Schopfer believes the pause will prove itself to be “a wise investment of time.”

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