With restrictions on public gatherings forcing people to stay cooped up in their houses during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses that rely on live audiences, such as movie theaters and concerts, are hurting. Using a drive-in movie theater as reference, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner put forth a proposal July 17 that the town should rezone parking lots within the office building (OB) zoning district on Route 119 to allow for drive-in entertainment, such as concerts, theaters and even church services.
“This is a way where the landlords could make some extra money, people would be thrilled with the entertainment,” Feiner told the Inquirer. “There could possibly be side businesses: more restaurants, maybe a deli, there could be additional economic development activity.”
Over the years, the office building zoning district has gone through multiple iterations, expanding its use and, most recently, allowing private indoor recreation and self-storage, according to Commissioner of Community Development and Conservation Garrett Duquesne.
A zoning change to allow for outdoor recreation would need to be amended into the code and approved by the town board after a public hearing.
Duquesne told the Inquirer that, more than likely, the rezoning would be under special permit which would allow landowners to apply for a zoning change and would require them to identify a specific use.
“If you’re talking long term, post pandemic, it’s just a concept to bring a little more to these office buildings,” said Duquesne. “They have the space and [the] office market is generally hurting to a degree.”
With many people working from home since March, office buildings and parking lots across the state have been left vacant. Feiner said the zoning change would help stimulate the local economy and also get people out of their houses safely and distanced. He said he hopes the zoning change would be permanent, rather than just in effect during the pandemic or the summer months.
“The goal really is to help the local economy, but even more than that, to provide some quality entertainment and the arts for people who basically don’t like this whole pandemic and are just bored and want to do something fun with their families,” said Feiner.
Duquesne said zoning changes are “never a speedy endeavor” and it could take between three and six months for a revision to pass.
“I think this would be planning for next year as opposed to enabling something this weekend or next weekend,” he said, although it could happen sooner with an executive order to temporarily change the code.
Feiner told the Inquirer he was interested in issuing an executive order to enact the zoning change if and when the town was able to find a landlord who was interested in applying.
Duquesne said he was sending out mailings to all the property owners within the OB zoning district on Route 119 to gauge interest.
“I’m going to be making a major effort to see if we can find one location,” said Feiner.
Drive-in movie theaters, long seen as a declining industry in the United States, have enjoyed a renaissance during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has constrained human contact and indoor gatherings. With traditional movie theaters closed, several municipalities in Westchester have offered drive-in movie events to sold out crowds.
On July 18 the Greenburgh Recreation Department had almost 100 vehicles at a drive-in theater set up at Anthony F. Veteran Park for a showing of Disney’s “Frozen 2.” Another drive-in event is planned for Aug. 1 featuring Disney’s “Remember the Titans.”
“This is the type of thing that … really gets people all excited,” said Feiner. “I never really thought that … people would be so excited and looking forward to it.”