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Local moratorium ends with vote to define gravel as gravel


Community suspense was mounting prior to the village board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 13, and the verdict is in: gravel is gravel.

The unanimous vote to keep the zoning code the way it is as it pertains to the treatment of gravel follows a five-month moratorium, numerous public hearings, an outside consultant's report, a planning board recommendation to the contrary, and no shortage of community outcry.

Earlier this year, the village board declared a moratorium on building applications in which any portion of a proposed gravel surface would be used to meet lot coverage requirements. A gravel driveway, for example, would not contribute to the total impervious surface calculation whereas a blacktop driveway would. Thus a property with a gravel driveway could currently have a larger house built on it in keeping with lot coverage regulations.

The moratorium, set to expire Oct. 30, gave planners time to consider a comprehensive study governing issues pertaining to neighborhood character. Based on its review of the issue and an outside consultant's report, the planning board recommended defining gravel as impervious.

The consultant's recommendation said including gravel surfaces as impervious would protect open space, bring Scarsdale's code into conformity with state environmental regulations, and would make the village's stormwater definition of gravel comport with its building code definition.

At a public hearing Sept. 21, speakers assailed the proposed code change from the standpoints of effectiveness, aesthetics, drainage, fairness, legality, cost, home values and home sales. At this week's meeting, at which a continued public hearing on the matter was scheduled, the auditorium was packed with many of the same speakers prepared to make their cases again. But after board members expressed their individual views on the matter and it was clear how the vote would proceed, many people left.

While voting against the proposed change, Trustee Matthew Callaghan offered a historical view on the importance of planned development in the village. He said, "Maintaining character should not be confused with an anti-builder mentality," and added the 1994 comprehensive plan focused on preserving the existing architectural character and scaled development of the community.

Trustee William Stern noted the proposed zoning change would disproportionately impact owners of larger lots and people who buy small homes with the intention of expanding them. He added, "Most states consider gravel impervious." Stern defended the moratorium as a response to complaints about large houses on small lots and said, "Gravel is the easiest path to the largest house on the smallest lot."

Trustee Deborah Pekarek called the proposed redefinition of gravel "too blunt an approach" and suggested reviewing or modifying floor area ratio and other aspects of the code to address issues of bulk and lot coverage. Trustee Marc Samwick echoed Pekarek's view and called for "addressing overbuilding in a more comprehensive fashion." He added the gravel redefinition would not address the primary development concerns in the village and cautioned, "Zoning changes are the most important issue before boards."

Trustee Carl Finger expressed concern about the proposal's impact on large lots and on making many small lots nonconforming. He also stressed that gravel is impervious and noted, "Nobody is suggesting redefining gravel as pervious in the stormwater code." Finger also noted many houses are built in violation of the coverage code and, "While they may be outliers, they are not so to their neighbors." But, he concluded the proposed redefinition would not provide sufficient relief to justify its implementation.

Mayor Jonathan Mark said he is concerned about open space in the village, but argued the proposal "does not address the issue of managing development." He said the redefinition would inhibit builders on large lots from adding accessory structures such as pools and tennis courts and those on small lots from expanding. "An apparently oversized house does not appear so because it has a gravel driveway," he said.

All of the trustees thanked the community members for their input and the village staff members for their hard work. They also made clear they are concerned about overbuilding, village character and open space and said other potential revisions to the code would be considered. The limited number of people who spoke during the public comment session thanked the board for its disciplined consideration of the proposal and for the inclusion of the community in the process. A resounding applause followed the unanimous vote on the gravel issue and the unanimous vote to lift the moratorium.

Other business

The mayor announced Metro-North had granted final approvals on the replacement staircase between East Parkway and the northbound train platform. He said he hopes to have the completed staircase in place "before winter sets in."

Resident Bana Choura was appointed to the Conservation Advisory Council to fill the unexpired term of resigning board member Julie Weinstein. Committee for Historic Preservation member William Silverman was appointed chairman of that board following the resignation of former chairman Paul Diamond.

A new program fee of $75 for the youth soccer, basketball, and softball leagues was approved for the 2015-16 season.

The next village board meeting will take place Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m. at village hall.

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.

October 16, 2015