Protests Prompt Irvington Board to Delay Rezoning Vote

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by Barrett Seaman – 

On a night when the Irvington Board of Trustees was poised to enact major zoning changes for the village’s North Broadway Corridor (see The Hudson Independent, February 2020 issue), a group of residents submitted petitions and followed them with comments at the board’s February 20th meeting, calling for the board to vastly alter the allowable uses of the property or scrap the legislation altogether.

Coming as they did more than eight months after the bill was introduced last June and following eight subsequent public hearings in which various stakeholders requested changes, the 11th-hour challenges left Mayor Brian Smith and fellow trustees frustrated. In a Facebook exchange with several of the legislation’s opponents, Smith reminded them of the extensive outreach that had gone before. “I have sent emails,” he wrote. “There have been other articles. We have incorporated the input received over the last nine months from neighbors, residents and property owners into the draft…”

“I just found out about it a few days before the February 3rd meeting,” explained Peter Budeiri of Meadowbrook Road, just west of the affected area. He learned from a neighbor and said he subsequently discovered that there were others who didn’t know about the legislation. “It’s on us that we were not keeping up with what the board was doing,” he conceded but went on to say they felt the last-minute appeal was warranted.

The legislation, which was based largely on recommendations put forth in the village’s Comprehensive Plan Update, adopted in 2018, would allow a mix of uses ranging from restaurants, doctors’ offices and private clubs to multi-family housing and assisted living facilities. Over the course of the public hearings, adjustments were made at the behest of various constituencies, including the owners of a four-acre tract currently used by the Maxon Corporation who were anxious to accept a bid by a company proposing to build an assisted living facility, as well as by homeowners along Strawberry Lane along the southern border of the zoning area. The plan was the product of a committee of citizens. Considerable attention was paid to protecting structures with historical value, view sheds and traffic patterns on Broadway.

One of the petitions stated: “In our view, the best option is to retain the existing 1F‐40 (two-acre residential) zoning for this area. If the Board considers this to be impossible, [then] restaurants should be omitted from the allowable uses, and assisted living facilities and hotels should be reduced in allowable size, to 50 beds and 25 rooms respectively.”

“Multi-family development,” the petition went on, “should not be allowed in the new district, except within existing historic buildings, in order to encourage their reuse.”

At the board meeting on the 20th, about a dozen residents took to the microphone to take issue with various elements of the plan. Many of the concerns expressed focused on the prospect of having an assisted living facility in the zone. They echoed concerns raised by the two previous applications—the Continuum facility on South Broadway and four years later the Brightview plan for the Carrafiello property. These included size, traffic, parking and increased demand for village services, especially EMT. Remarks made indicated little recognition that these issues were addressed publicly throughout deliberations and reflected in the legislation.

Another fear resurrected in public comments was that large tracts would be bought up by non-profits that would pay no property taxes. Smith assured the audience that there were various ways protect against the loss of tax revenues but that, in the end, state and federal law prevents municipalities from blocking schools and religious organizations from buying land and rendering it tax-free.

Indeed, one of the virtues of the proposed re-zoning is that by attracting acceptable commercial uses, the new zoning would reduce the risk of having a school or religious group take the property off the tax rolls. A case in point: In 1998, the Mt. Vernon-based Fortress Bible church bought 6.5 acres of land in an area of Greenburgh zoned for mixed use by the town, with plans to build a 500-seat church and a school for 150 students. Greenburgh resisted, citing concerns about traffic but also indicating its reluctance to take the property off the tax rolls. Fortress sued and in 2010 won a $6.5 million settlement, based in part on its claim that Greenburgh’s refusal violated its constitutional rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

With no time to digest the concerns expressed, the board felt it had no choice but to keep the public hearing open—at least through its early March meeting.

Indoor Parking Wins Approval

In contrast to the contentious public hearing on the North Broadway Corridor, legislation permitting indoor parking in existing structures in Irvington (except on Main Street and North Astor) breezed through without opposition and is now law.

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