Village of Irvington Board of Trustees Round-Up

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by Barrett Seaman – 

Short-term Rentals: Irvington’s Well-Intentioned Plan Gets Caught in Crossfire

In its ongoing quest for ways to mitigate the high cost of homeownership in the village, Irvington’s trustees have allowed homeowners to take in boarders, maintain home offices, open a B&B and keep bees. Yet the one proposal intended to do the most to offset high property taxes, by allowing short-term rentals (STRs such as Airbnb), continues to face headwinds.

The draft legislation permits home rentals up to 30 days, provided the house meets all state and local building codes, albeit with numerous provisions including a $250 fee, a limit of 180 days-a-year total, no parties and no more than 30 such properties are rented out at any one time.

Objections came from three different factions. One argument was that allowing STRs would threaten the residential character of the village and turn Irvington into a sea of transient hotels. Another faction saw the law as too restrictive, contending that provisions effectively defeated the stated purpose of providing economic relief to a broad segment of homeowners.

A third set of objections came in a five-and-a-half page, single-spaced letter from attorney Robert Bernstein, representing Martin Dolan, owner of Ardsley Park’s 16,000 sq. ft. Villa Nuits, a focus of tension over the last couple of years resulting from Mr. Dolan’s practice of renting out the estate through Airbnb and VRBO. Mr. Bernstein contended that, rather than free up his client to rent out his home to offset property taxes of over $200,000-a-year, depriving high-end taxpayers like his client would force them to sell—potentially to a non-profit that would then pay no taxes. The limit of 30 simultaneous rentals, he argued, meant that less than three percent of the nearly 1,200 homeowners in the village could enjoy rental income at any given time.

“Make no mistake,” Bernstein wrote, “no matter how proponents of this measure may try to dress it up, this proposal will extinguish the rights of single-family homeowners in the village, now and in the future, to use the sharing economy to help pay their growing property tax bills.”

Bernstein reasoned that because the current village code is silent on the question of short-term rentals, they are therefore “of right,” and to deprive that right constitutes a “taking.” Marianne Stecich, the village attorney, argued that Irvington takes the position that “if something is not listed as a permitted use, it’s not allowed.”

The Board extended its public hearing into April but also loosened up some of the original provisions—like extending the maximum number of rental days from 90 to 180 and indicating that it might expand the number of simultaneous rentals beyond 30.

They’re Back: Astorbuck has a New Parking Plan

The presentation to the Irvington village board at its March 13 work session felt a bit like a segment from the 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) keeps waking up to the sound of “I Got You, Babe” on the clock radio in his Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania hotel room. Every day is the same, yet every day, things change…if just a bit.

In this case, the wake-up call was not Sonny and Cher greeting the board but a revised proposal from the Astorbuck Corporation for a parking lot adjacent to the Trent Building in the southwestern corner of the village. For four years, Astorbuck has been trying to win approval of a parking lot that would accommodate the parking needs of Trent Building employees who now number some 250. Though the plan calls for sinking the lot behind a 10-ft. barrier, neighboring homeowners charge that the project mars their Hudson River views. And the Planning Board has repeatedly voiced objections.

Leap forward a year, and another day begins with Astorbuck presenting yet another new plan. This one includes a diminished parking area—with only 12 fewer parking spaces, still tucked beneath the wall. There were other modifications, but the big glittery bauble dangled in front of trustees was a patch of land set aside for four units of affordable housing—a highly-prized asset in a village burdened with heavy property costs that discourage low-income families from settling here.

Astorbuck’s idea is to swap some of its property on the southern end of the area for a sliver of village-owned land stuck in the middle in order to create a parcel big enough to hold four apartment units. Though the meeting was not a public hearing, there were immediate objections from neighbors, including some specific observations involving setbacks and slopes from Pat Natarelli, chairman of the village’s Planning Board, a body that would once again have a say in whether the proposal goes forward.

Past history suggests a long road ahead for the proposal, but the board’s interest seemed piqued. Trustee Dr. Laurence Lonky called the affordable housing element “compelling,” and Mayor Brian Smith labeled it “a creative plan.” Perhaps when the strains of “I Got You, Babe” are heard once again, Phil Connor’s future will look just a shade brighter.

What is “a Person?”

Village trustees may be ensnarled for weeks if not months in debates about how big a parking lot should be, but it took them less than ten minutes to settle a question that has intrigued philosophers for thousands of years: what is the definition of a “person?”

Until mid-March, Irvington’s Zoning Code said the definition “includes a corporation as well as an individual.” That might be consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, but it would surely not satisfied John Locke, who defined a person as “a thinking, intelligent being that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself…,” or Immanuel Kant, for whom creativity was the basis of human intrinsic worth. For others, a person had to have the capacity for thought, reason, reflection and self-awareness. For Soren Kierkegaard, it was the freedom to act and to feel—and to do so with passion.

But when it came to the village zoning code, the new definition for a person was “an individual as well as a corporation, partnership, firm, association, joint venture and organization of any type.”

The vote in favor was unanimous.

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