When the Scarsdale Board of Architectural Review met Jan. 11, board chair Brad Cetron told 4 Kingston Road owner/developer Joseph Ciarletta to have a conversation with 171 Brite Ave. owner Mark Nadler to come up with a compromise to best suit the needs of both property owners — Ciarletta from a standpoint of trying to get the most out of his land, Nadler as the one who had to look at the proposed retaining walls and landscaping plan that he felt would destroy the hill and the aesthetics of both properties.
When Ciarletta showed Nadler the plans later that month, with the pool moved away from Nadler’s property line and a decrease in reliance on retaining walls on the hill, Nadler believed the book was closed. However, what Ciarletta submitted to the BAR for the March 1 meeting came as a shock to Nadler as it extended the retaining walls, added fencing on top of the walls and had, in his view, an unacceptable landscaping plan.
Even more shocking to Nadler was that the BAR approved the project 4-3 on March 1. Daniel Finger, Suzanne Cregan-Donat, Tamara Zgonjanin-Li and Cetron voted in favor; Nicola Rosendorf, Sigal Hurvitz Bin and Christian Callaghan against.
Ciarletta purchased the property for $1.15 million in October and had at one time listed the yet-to-be redeveloped property for $3.8 million, more than doubling the size of the existing house and maximizing the yard for a pool and other amenities.
Ciarletta told the board he was “gently reminding” them that his “team accommodated every single suggestion that was made” from the Jan. 11 meeting, including relocating the pool, pool equipment and propane tank “to an area of ledge rock, which is a major disadvantage to me, but it seems to appease the neighbor and some of the board members so I sacrificed and made a compromise here.” He said he took into consideration all planting suggestions, saying, “Everything behind the wall up to the property line was designed specifically for the benefit of the accommodation of my neighbor.”
There will not be any Redi-Rock used — even though it had been originally approved by the BAR — only natural stone finish.
Ciarletta said he forfeited $15,000 in a nonrefundable deposit, but called the change “the path of least resistance and would appease the board and the neighbor, so I was willing to accept the loss to keep things moving forward in a positive direction.”
He said he “overaccomodated” on pushing the walls farther from the property line, 13 feet at its closest, 25 at its farthest as it is a curved wall. He said the walls remain necessary in order to “provide usable land,” and “provide extra support” to prevent erosion and stormwater runoff reduction.
“As mentioned at the last meeting the walls are not just for the pool, rather the walls are used to provide horizontal expansion of the rear yard and also from rear yard access to my driveway,” he said.
Ciarletta said he wants what is best for his property and “to preserve and promote the character and appearances of the neighborhood.” He called the project as it relates to the front of the home “a gift to the entire community,” saying that with the entire project he “went above and beyond” and made an “overcompromise.”
In presenting the new plans to the BAR, 4 Kingston Road landscape architect Tracee Neuman said the backyard is “where we obviously made the most significant changes based on everyone’s comments and suggestions,” noting the pool was “relocated” to the “other side of the yard,” which gave “the ability to move that wall on the side of the property further back, creating a much larger planting border.” Neuman said the plan was based around Nadler’s request that three large trees be retained.
“So we did everything we can to keep this tree, minimize the walls and give an increased planting border,” Neuman said. “We did add a second wall here — this is a 4-foot wall — and this helps to really level this lawn area out for a play set. But again, this curved wall [gives] much more freeform organic shape, is a 6-foot wall, and it’s also natural stone veneer wall...” Of the area, she said, “It’s generously planted and diversely planted plant border.”
Neuman showed a rendering of what the plantings would look like on “Day One,” and said the ability to see the wall is “very much softened by this woodland border,” with “significant improvement” in the first two years and by the fifth year “it will be quite a magnificent vista for the neighbors, so much so that I think it would actually increase their property values having this in their backyard, for their view.”
Neuman said the grade of the slope would not be adjusted. “We heard all your concerns about changing the walls, pushing them back, relocating the pool and this is a wonderful compromise for what we had showed before and what should really benefit Mr. and Mrs. Nadler as well as the residents of 4 Kingston,” she said.
The lowest wall was initially a few feet from the property line and has now been pushed back about 10 more feet away from the property line. Neuman said 25 new evergreen trees are being added and “hundreds of new shrubs and perennials.”
Rosendorf called the wall “attractive” since it is natural stone.
Callaghan had questions about the walls, including why they were necessary and why they were so long. Ciarletta said the Jan. 11 suggestion was to move the wall back 4 to 6 feet and he doubled that. Neuman said part of the reason for the walls is to allow for flatter surfaces for planting, as opposed to trying to do that on the natural steep grade.
Hurvitz Bin said that adding 3 feet of fence on top of the 6-foot walls is “problematic,” but added that Neuman “did a beautiful job bringing in a lot of interest, and a lot of beautiful plans, I’m sure everyone would appreciate that. But I still think that they’re not enough to cover what… they’re going to be looking at.”
Finger said, “I actually happen to think that the whole thing is beautiful … Personally I think this is a good, interesting solution to what is always a difficult problem. And to me, I would rather see a whole bunch of 3-foot tiered and retaining walls. I mean, the last thing I would want to see if I was the neighbor would be a staircase leading up from my house essentially that goes like their entire backyard. Looking at your renderings, I think it looks fantastic.”
Cetron applauded Ciarletta for “making what I consider to be significant accommodations,” adding, “I imagine we may hear from neighbors who feel the opposite, but as far as I’m concerned, you made significant changes, you moved the pool, that cost you a fair amount, you’re more or less planting a botanical garden on the slope for the neighbor to enjoy … I think you tried very hard to meet the criticisms that you received from both us and some of the neighbors who commented, so I like the design and I thank you for doing it.”
Clifford David, the attorney for the Nadlers, said the BAR had previously “rightly rejected” the “Walmart boxlike wall,” and that with the change and swimming pool location “there was no need for a retaining wall.” He told the board what Ciarletta submitted to the Nadlers on Jan. 22 and how it was “not the proposal submitted before you” at this meeting. “The plan was a win-win,” he said, adding, “Once the applicant moved the pool and eliminated the need for a retaining wall he must have had some sort of buyer’s remorse, and had developed the present plan, which seeks to maximize every square inch of the backyard in the property causing now the creation of two walls on the slope as to which there will be fences on both of the walls. One wall is the entire length of the Nadler’s backyard. Approximately 107 feet, which is now 26 feet longer than the 81-foot wall, which this board, in January, thought was a monstrosity. And the other wall is a bit shorter.”
Cetron said all that mattered was the plan before the board that night.
David said under the most recent plan the Nadlers are “facing a fortress. It’s one wall, after another wall, after another wall.” He added, “When the neighbors are sitting in their backyard, they’re looking up at a wall, and then it’s another wall, and then there’s fences on top of that. The only thing missing is the holes for where you’re going to put the turrets in for a gun.”
David urged the BAR to “keep it simple” after moving the pool. “Now that the pool is removed the slope should stay where it is,” he said.
Cetron allowed Ciarletta to respond at that time to what Ciarletta called the “irrational and unreasonable things that I’ve just heard,” adding he did not want the board “to be manipulated by any of the lies or intimidation tactics that they’re utilizing.”
“I understand I can’t bend the property to my will, but I do have the right to develop my hill,” Ciarletta said. “I designed a curated beautifully landscaped side and rear yard and my neighbor has no right to bend my property to his own will.”
He also added, contrary to David’s claim that the Nadler property value would go down significantly, that the property would increase “by at least 10 to 15%.”
“This is all obvious dilatory tactics just to delay my project, and if they continue I will press charges for harassment and prepare for defamation of character, slander, libel, and emotional and financial stress that they’re causing,” Ciarletta said.
Nadler’s zoning specialist, George Janes, presented a very different illustration of the landscape plan showing a lot of bare spots that will make most of the walls, fences and the house visible from Nadler’s backyard. To illustrate this, Janes used “reasonable worst case conditions” — bare trees — for what the Nadlers will see much of the year when they aren’t in bloom. “The difference really is that the existing trees don’t look anything like the trees in their simulation, or in the rendering,” Janes said. “They’re completely different.”
Nadler said the project — between what has been approved already and what is proposed — will destroy the very reason why we bought [our] house,” between the “character of the neighborhood,” “privacy from neighbors” and the “beauty of the natural setting.” The changes to the hill, he said, will take away the “natural buffer between our properties.”
Nadler cited the 728 signatures on a petition opposing the plan and read a letter from Laura and Peter Strauss, Peter being a former mayor: “This proposal lacks any concern for the sense of the look of the neighborhood, the destruction of wildlife habitats and the flooding possibilities that will affect anyone on the downside of this construction, this willful destruction for personal gain. We have lived at 156 Brite Avenue since August of 1966 and value our community and want to see it survive in a positive way.”
Bob Harrison, a former village trustee, who lives at 65 Meadow Road, said, “A 121–foot-long wall in a residential neighborhood? Come on, BAR. Do your job … If you want to do your job to preserve this community, we shouldn’t have anything like this.”
The board then proceeded to approve the plan.
Following the meeting, Nadler wrote to Mayor Marc Samwick about the “failure” of the BAR in this case and was sent the following response by Village Planner Gregory Cutler: “Please note that the Board of Architectural Review operates independent of the Mayor and Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees convenes on an annual basis to appoint members to the land use boards, including the Board of Architectural Review, but once members are appointed they review applications in accordance with Village law and without the involvement of the Mayor and Board of Trustees. Your comments are certainly noted but it would be inappropriate for the Mayor or Board of Trustees to comment on the substantive or procedural aspects of a matter that had been considered by a Village land use board.”
Nadler said he is considering legal action against the village.