In a pre-application public meeting on Sept. 1, members of the Greenburgh Town Board and the community heard from a Westchester-based real estate development company that’s proposing to construct multiple single family houses on the site of the Maplewood Swim & Tennis Club on W. Hartsdale Avenue. Current president Richard Lewis has sought to sell the 8.47-acre site since 2016.
The developer, Valon Nikci, the CEO of Westchester-based Bedrock Co., tentatively proposed building 18 houses on half acre lots at the site, although he said the number of houses in actuality would be much lower. Each house, he estimated, would sell for between $850,000 and $950,000.
“We are in [the] very, very initial stages,” said Nikci. “Before we do any due diligence … we’re going to speak to the community and see if there’s any objections and then we’ll take it to the next step.”
The Maplewood Swim & Tennis Club was a fixture in the Hartsdale community since 1958, but recently fell upon hard times when membership dwindled and debts began to pile up.
By 2016, Lewis, who took control of the club in 2015, realized it wouldn’t be able to overcome its debt burden, even with new memberships, and told the existing membership that he couldn’t save the 60-year-old institution.
“Believe it or not, I have other things in my life that I would like to do besides run a failing swim club,” said Lewis, who joined the club as a member in 1984.
Since that realization, the club has gone through a long list of potential buyers and interested parties eyeing a range of uses for the site from day camps to assisted living facilities.
The most recent venture involved Columbia/Wegman Hartsdale, LLC, which was looking to redevelop the site into a 106,000-square-foot assisted living facility with 115 units and 137 beds. The deal fell apart when the New York State Department of Transportation said the developer would need to build a left-turn lane into the proposed assisted living facility.
“Despite 60 years of left-hand turns … they nixed the deal,” said Lewis.
According to Commissioner of Community Development and Conservation Garrett Duquesne, the developer thought the required road change would be too complex and expensive and decided to relinquish its application.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has actually led to membership doubling at the swim club, Lewis said it won’t be able to sustain itself, given its long-term debt.
Lewis met with Nikci a year ago and deemed him to be an alternate, in case the assisted living facility didn’t make way. He reconnected with Nikci a number of months ago as a developer with the resources to build private residences on the site.
“Since then we have met a few times; we … have a good understanding of what he’s getting into and what I’m getting out of and I look forward to doing this deal with him,” Lewis said.
According to Duquesne, the Maplewood Swim & Tennis Club is zoned within the R-20 one-family residence district, which permits the construction of municipal buildings, places of religious worship, and elementary and secondary schools. With a special permit, nonprofit clubs, nursery schools, group homes and day care centers can also be built on the site.
“Anything proposed would be subject to a process [and] depending on the use, that drives which board or boards … would be involved,” said Duquesne. “But typically, in the one-family residence districts … single-family home subdivisions are the jurisdiction of the planning board.”
Duquesne told the Inquirer on Sept. 10 that Nikci hadn’t submitted a formal application for the proposed project.
“I am very pleased with [Maplewood]. It seems like everyone’s for it,” Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner told the Inquirer. “My gut feeling is that it’s probably going to take into 2022 [to construct].”
Lewis said if Nikci decides to not move forward with the project, two religious institutions are interested in the site. One would build a house of worship and the other would create a religious retreat area.
During the presentation, Nikci drew some criticism after he described the Greenburgh Central School District as not being “10 out of 10” when referencing how much the houses there would fetch on the real estate market.
When asked for an explanation, Nikci said he’s involved in real estate and knows that Hartsdale is “one of the best towns in Westchester.” He said his comment reflected feedback from people who move to Westchester.
“What I meant by 10 out of 10 is the value of the properties,” Nikci said.
Both Duquesne and Feiner defended the school system and spoke highly of its students. Councilman Ken Jones said the reason people slight the school was “a racist reason.”
“Historically, residents of Hartsdale were resistant to the integration of the school and one of the reasons that realtors now repeat what you have repeated tonight is a vestige of a time when things were different, when white people didn’t want to be around Black people and thought that the places where Black people were, were somehow inferior,” said Jones. “I would just be careful how you characterize the school district.”
Elaine Taylor-Gordon, a resident who lives in Hartsdale Estates, said she was “very offended” by Jones’ comments.
“I don’t think that we should give Valon [Nikci] the impression that there is any concern among the non-Black members of the community about going to school or sending their children to school with people of color,” she said.
Community members who attended the informal Sept. 1 pre-application meeting responded well to the developer’s ideas, aside from expressing some concerns about blasting, water runoff and traffic associated with the project.
“We think it’s a great potential use for the site. We’re excited about the increase in tax revenue,” Hartsdale Neighbors Association president Eric Zinger said. “We look forward to hearing more details about the plans.”