|by Barrett Seaman|
For several years, almost without break, officials in Irvington have been wrestling with applications to build large projects that do not neatly fit into the character of a village that prides itself on its small scale and rural atmosphere. Efforts by The Continuum Company to build a 100-plus unit assisted living and memory care facility on four-and-a-half acres at 30 South Broadway ran afoul of widespread resistance to its mass and density.
No sooner had Continuum withdrawn than local developers Joseph and Silvia DeNardo applied to build a 30-unit condominium complex on the same piece of property, and the Brightview Corporation proposed to build a 150-unit independent/assisted living complex on 8.5 acres at 88-94 North Broadway.
Unlike Continuum, however, both projects are progressing towards approval. And both applicants share a constructive relationship with the village board that reflects a willingness on both sides to achieve the often-conflicting goals of building less obtrusive multi-family housing projects on the one hand while reaching mandated affordable housing targets on the other. In both cases, the builders and the village board appear to be seeking creative solutions by taking advantage of existing, historic structures on their respective properties.
“In my opinion,” said David Steinmetz, a partner in the law firm Zarin & Steinmetz that represents both the DeNardos and Brightview, “each application is effectively attempting to modernize and update the village code, while simultaneously respecting the village’s express goal to protect and preserve historically significant structures, and to adaptively re-use them where possible.”
According to the Irvington’s inclusionary zoning statute, adopted in 2012, no less than 10 percent of a development of more than 10 units shall be devoted to “fair and affordable” housing. In the case of the DeNardo application, that means that at least three units out of the originally proposed 30 must be sold at prices affordable to lower-income buyers who otherwise qualify (teachers, public employees). In the Brightview case, that means that eight of the 85 units must be reserved for lower-income buyers.
The DeNardos have since reduced the overall number of units from 30 to 27, but their application proposes six affordable units. To achieve that, they plan to re-adapt an existing single-family residence on the adjacent property at 40 South Broadway, at the corner of Broadway and Station Road, into two affordable units within the shell of a classic colonial house that has been there for decades.
At the proposed Brightview site, several old stone outbuildings that would otherwise be demolished will be converted to affordable units, thus absorbing some of the requirement outside the main building.
While intent on increasing the village’s affordable housing stock, Irvington trustees also want to maximize the amount of undeveloped space in order to maintain the open, tree-lined character of the village. So they have set a maximum limit on the percentage of land that can be occupied by buildings. What the DeNardo and Brightview proposals have done is lead them to the creation of an exception in cases where existing structures are deemed by the board to be of historic value. In such cases, the builders will be given a bit of leeway. This new exception, which is scheduled to be the subject of a public hearing on November 2nd, is designed to encourage the developers to use older existing buildings rather than tear them down.
The scheme has the additional benefit of skirting another constraint of the affordable housing statute: according to the current law, the affordable units “shall be indistinguishable in appearance, siting and exterior design from the other single-family homes in the development to the furthest extent possible.” Because they are situated in structures deemed to be of historic value, however, the affordable units on both properties can look different and still be acceptable. In short, historic preservation trumps outward appearance in service of the greater good.
The two projects, observed Steinmetz, “are both attempting to adaptively re-use exiting buildings. We don’t have that opportunity very often.” Both also represent residential categories that Steinmetz said Irvington currently lacks: a high-end condominium complex in the case of 30 South Broadway and senior living in Brightview’s case.
“We think that Brightview presents the village with a wonderful opportunity to introduce a much-needed land use into the community and address a housing type and affordable component long overdue in the rivertowns,” Steinmetz said, adding, “We feel good about where we are, but it’s still a process.”