Change is afoot on the issue of historic preservation in Scarsdale.
On March 20, the Land Use Committee of Scarsdale’s Board of Trustees drafted a law that would shift the process around property demolition and preservation. Currently, any homeowner who wishes to demolish his or her property must apply to the Committee for Historic Preservation for a certificate of appropriateness. The CHP considers five criteria (see box, Page 5) to determine whether the property has historical or artistic significance. In weighing their decision, members of the CHP consult archives from the Scarsdale Historical Society and the Scarsdale Public Library. Several have backgrounds in landmark appreciation, as architects and real estate attorneys, and the committee occasionally consults outside sources.
If a homeowner wishes to contest a denied certificate, he or she may appeal to the board of trustees, claiming the denial constitutes a hardship.
The newly drafted code suggests the board will invest in predesignation surveys conducted by outside consultants, rather than residents bringing claims to the CHP. It would be the second step in the village’s predesignation efforts. In 2012, Andrew Dolkart, a historic preservation professor at Columbia University, conducted a survey identifying roughly 80 houses in Scarsdale that he determined might have significant historical value, and were thereby worth preserving.
At the CHP’s March 19 meeting, the committee denied two petitions for certificates of appropriateness at 3 Hickory Lane and 75 Morris Lane, and approved a certificate for a pool house at 104 Catherine Road. CHP chair Adam Lindenbaum cited Dolkart’s 2012 preliminary study in his memorandum decisions of the two denied properties.
“The CHP found Professor Dolkart’s analysis compelling,” Lindenbaum wrote, “and did not find Mr. [John] Cotugno’s unsupported and vague opinion that the house [at 75 Morris Lane] was merely ‘ordinary’ and ‘not amazing’ to be persuasive.”
Dolkart will spearhead the next phase of study, according to former Mayor Dan Hochvert. The draft is intended to “give [Dolkart] an idea of what he should be looking for” in edifying his initial list, Hochvert said. He noted Dolkart might take some properties he initially listed off the list and add others as his study intensifies. A portion of the village’s budget will be committed to the survey project.
Scarsdale Trustee Jane Veron estimated the research would cost $3,000 to $5,000 per property, though she added, “This is definitely an estimate. … It is too premature to consider any details.”
Several residents voiced concern at the Land Use Committee meeting about the impact predesignation might have on their home’s salability.
Tompkins Road resident Carl Pforzheimer submitted a letter to the board airing his doubts.
“I live in an old but, in my opinion, not at all historic home,” Pforzheimer wrote. “In the last 54 years I have lived in it, no one has come by to look at our home, much less proclaimed it as a past accomplishment, attractive or educationally important. It has been just our home.”
Pforzheimer suggested the new code would infringe on property owners’ rights, preventing them from painting the outside of their home, changing the configuration of its driveway, altering a fence or any other labor that would affect the building’s exterior.
Hochvert argued other municipalities have permitted predesignation, and those homes have increased in value. “There are a lot of people who love historic homes [and those] people are willing to pay more for them,” Hochvert said, citing Bedford, Mamaroneck and Oak Park, Illinois, as examples.
Other concerns centered around how the new legislation would alter or minimize the role of the CHP.
Scarsdale architect and CHP member Mark Behr, who spoke at the Land Use Committee meeting, told The Inquirer, “My concern is, if something slips through the cracks and doesn’t get ... predesignated, [the CHP] loses its ability to protect it down the road. Anything that hasn’t been predesignated, the CHP has no authority to review it.”
Behr conceded that whatever the board decides, he will support the decision. “There were residents who had concerns; there were board members who had concerns,” Behr said. “Everyone had concerns about it [but] thought it was a good initial discussion.”
There is no set date to review the draft, Veron said, though the new village board will meet soon to discuss priorities for the coming year.