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Irvington Plan To Re-zone North Broadway Corridor Stalls Amidst Conflicting Resident Views

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May 4, 2021

By Barrett Seaman—

A much-amended plan to re-zone a stretch of property along what is known as Irvington’s North Broadway Corridor ran into its second roadblock in less than a year on May 3rd, when public opposition coming from both sides of a cultural divide in the village prompted the Board of Trustees to postpone a final vote.

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Coming out of their Comprehensive Plan Update a few years ago, Irvington’s Trustees set their sights on re-zoning some 50 acres along North Broadway from Strawberry Lane on the south to Sunnyside Lane on the Tarrytown border. Zoned decades earlier for two-acre single family homes, this land on the east side of Broadway had evolved into everything but a haven for single-family homes.

Variances and special permits granted over the years had created a patchwork of commercial office buildings, a religious organization and multi-family apartments, with a smattering of historically significant buildings along the ridge line. The previous owner of an eight-acre small office campus had tried to sell the land to an assisted living developer, but that was rejected by the Board for being too big. Another commercial owner was making noises about selling, and there were rumors that a religious sect was looking to buy—which it could have by right and then paid no taxes.

In an effort to get out ahead of forces they might not be able to control, the village leaders created a citizens’ task force that came up with a plan to re-zone the North Broadway Corridor in ways that limited development to specific uses in order to give the Trustees and Planning Board some control over what it would ultimately look like.

That plan, as envisioned back in June 2019, allowed for a mix of multi-family housing ranging from affordable to luxury, assisted living, a boutique hotel, medical offices, a full-service restaurant, perhaps a membership club or a place of worship. To protect the ambience of the neighborhood, which had some large mansions on the west side of Broadway (including Villa Lewaro), the plan demanded substantial setbacks, plantings, heights limited to 35 feet, lighting and sightline protections—with notable deference to the homeowners along adjacent Strawberry Lane, a narrow, rustic road that could have been transplanted from the English Cotswolds.

That plan moved along, relatively unimpeded, for almost a year, with just a bit of prodding in the direction of looser restrictions by the owners of one tract, the Maxon Company, who were actively trying to sell. Then in the spring of 2020, just as the plan looked to be perhaps weeks away from approval, a group of neighbors discovered it and launched a campaign to defeat it. Much of the initial opposition came from neighboring homeowners with a distinct if understandable taste of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) in their objections.

In the ensuing months, this sustained opposition succeeded in lopping off almost all of the commercial elements of the original plan. Gone was the boutique hotel, the membership club and the doctors’ offices. Left were the protections for historical landmarks, commercial offices and the multi-family housing—for seniors, for so-called “moderate-income” households and affordable housing units for low-income families as defined by Westchester County. Diversity was now to be embodied in the socio-economic multiplicity of apartment residents, rather than in the use of the land.

All the other restrictions designed to preserve the village’s character remained, but the once broadly mixed North Broadway Corridor was reduced to what is now called the Multifamily/Office District.

The Board of Trustees continued to plow ahead with plans to endorse the project this spring, but many of the neighbors continued to voice objections to what they feared would be massive apartment complexes (one of which proposed for the Maxon property had 67 units) with a requisite increase in traffic and noise. At the May 3rd meeting where the Board had hoped to vote, Kimberly Raby, a Strawberry Lane resident, said, “It’s really not about 67 units; it’s about the size and the density.” Wayne Crosby of North Buckout Street, which is in the village far from Strawberry Lane, had garnered 105 signatures opposing the plan as too big. Glen Kashin, one of the signatories, told the Board, “I’m one of many people who moved here to get away from the density.”

Irvington’s Strawberry Lane

Meanwhile, a new group of opponents emerged from a very different direction: Irvington’s growing population of progressive activists who decry the village’s aura of exclusivity and lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Embodied in a group called the Irvington Activists, this cohort first made a mark back in 2017 when they persuaded Mayor Brian Smith and the Board to enact an Immigrant Protection Resolution, vowing that the village would not cooperate with Trump Administration efforts to round up and deport undocumented residents. Only recently, they were the driving force behind a successful campaign to open the once village-residents-only Matthiessen Park to the general public. Their criticism of  the Multifamily/Office District plan was that it didn’t go far enough in promoting affordable housing.  They argue that the village should focus its incentives on creating 100% affordable housing projects and offer no incentives for moderate income or senior housing. Taking issue with Mayor Smith’s assertion that the new Broadway zoning would encourage “balance,” Activist Lisa Genn argued at the May 3rd public hearing, “We’re starting from a society and a community that is very much off balance—one that is overwhelmingly affluent and overwhelmingly white. A balanced approach is not going to help to rectify that.”

“You’ve said that your goal is to fortify the middle ground,” said longtime resident David Zweibel at the hearing. “This zoning allows for affordable housing but also allows for luxury housing. If you have an absolute balance between the two,” he advised, “in a village like Irvington, luxury housing prevails.”

Echoing the notion of inclusivity, village resident Kathy Kaufman urged the Board to drop housing dedicated to seniors. “Any type of housing that is homogeneous in any way by design is probably not in the spirit of what we’re trying to do in terms of multi-generational housing, in terms of having people live closer together with people who are different from them in myriad ways,” she argued.

Katerina Kireyeva Medina, an immigrant from Russia now living with her family in the village, brought the attack from yet another angle. “Economic diversity is great when it doesn’t come out of your pocket,” she said in a call into the meeting. “Single family homeowners pay on average $40,000, in property taxes while apartment owners pay on average $1,900 a year. The burden has shifted to single family homeowners. More economic diversity will drive our property taxes even higher.” Or as another caller, Jennifer Friedman, contended in making an entirely different point, the cost of housing has driven some families of color to leave because “they couldn’t afford to stay here. We just do not have ethnic or racial diversity in Irvington; that’s just a fact.”

In the end, it seemed like the only encouragement for the plan came from the lawyer representing the owners of the Maxon property, who have the prospect of selling… if there was an acceptable zoning plan in place. Whether or when that happens will be decided at yet another Irvington Board of Trustees meeting.

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