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October 16, 2015


Village character

The Village Board of Trustees voted unanimously Oct. 13 to keep the zoning code the way it is as it pertains to the treatment of gravel. The trustees listened to what was being said at the many public hearings and carefully weighed the issues before coming to the decision to let gravel remain defined as pervious, against the recommendation of the planning board. The moratorium on building applications in which any portion of a proposed gravel surface would be used to meet lot coverage requirements has been lifted.

Residents, builders, developers, real estate agents and other stakeholders in Scarsdale spoke passionately about the negative impact of a change in the code from pervious to impervious —among them, lower home values, fewer home sales, infringement of current property owners’ rights.

Trustee William Stern defended the moratorium as a response to complaints about large houses on small lots. “Gravel is the easiest path to the largest house on the smallest lot,” he said.

The debate has raised the larger issue of managing development in Scarsdale. Despite objections to the proposed change in the zoning code, residents are concerned about overbuilding, the appearance of “bulky homes,” setbacks, village character and open space. It may be time to readdress the FAR (floor area ratio) issue, revised 10 years ago.

Mayor Jonathan Mark said at the board meeting, “Open space is what the present proposal was really about. I am not in favor of adopting it. However, there remains a question as to what to do, if anything, going forward. We can leave the code alone, turn our attention to other matters and simply allow development or evolution to proceed as is. Based on what is observable, this may, over an extended period of time, lead to the filling in of our remaining open space with structures. Or we can take a further look at our code and attempt to modify it in some other way to address directly the question noted. … We all benefit and property values benefit from the spaciousness of our physical surroundings. Based on what this board hears from some of our neighbors, that community value deserves more attention. For these reasons I believe that it would be worthwhile to continue the discussion on this issue to determine whether or not there is community interest in making some other sorts of refinements to the code. The answer may be difficult to arrive at and ultimately may depend on what we as a community want to leave to those who come after us.”

Former Trustee Stacey Brodsky, who was in favor of the moratorium and aligning Scarsdale’s stormwater law, which counts gravel as impervious, with the zoning code, said in a note to the Inquirer this week, “In my experience, zoning changes are among the knottiest and most hotly debated issues the board has to face. It would be a whole lot easier to duck these hard issues and to allow things to continue without re-examination. But when residents repeatedly expressed concerns that oversized houses were being built, the trustees began a process of seeing whether there were ways to modify the zoning laws to address those concerns. And with respect to gravel driveways the current board did what a good board should do. It studied the issue without bias and reached a considered decision. It seems from my reading of the press coverage of the various meetings that the people who opposed this change pilloried the trustees for even considering it. I think the residents of Scarsdale, and the builders and real estate brokers should be grateful to the trustees for having the backbone to do their jobs thoroughly and objectively.

“I hope that the board continues to look for ways to address the pressures that new construction creates within the community and I hope that next time around those who have an interest in the issue have a little more faith in the trustees' fair mindedness.”

While we are disappointed with the decision, it was a tough decision to make. The trustees and village staff are to be commended for their willingness to listen and the integrity of their decision-making. Let’s honor their commitment to the village by finding other ways to reach consensus on the stewardship of our village in a park.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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