There’s been a great deal of buzz and excitement surrounding the upcoming redevelopment of the Freightway garage.
Public meetings were held to get a sense of what residents might want to see in the updated space. Residents have been encouraged to write in about their thoughts and ideas. An ad hoc committee was formed to collect data and disperse information.
Is it enough?
Some residents and business owners continue to express some concerns and reservations about the process, transparency and the plan for the redevelopment.
Robert Selvaggio, a Rochambeau Road resident, said he’s heard some concerns about the lack of information about firm plans for the site.
“It’s hard for us to express because most of the fears are over what might happen,” Selvaggio said. “It’s been an opaque process to this point.”
Selvaggio said his main concern stems from what will happen to the village’s property taxes.
“One of the key things for downtown development is what people will want,” he said. “The number one thing that residents want will be some kind of relief in property taxes.”
A visioning study was created with different options for the trustees to consider.
The first was to develop the open lot area. An analysis of the lot’s condition showed repairs and maintenance would cost $1.8 million, new LED lighting would cost $250,000 and a new façade would cost $250,000, for a total of $2.3 million.
The second scenario was to develop the open lot with a platform over the tracks. Similar to the first scenario, it would also platform over the Metro-North railroad tracks along the Popham Road Bridge.
“The platform area could be added as public space,” the report reads.
The third scenario is to develop the open lot and the Freightway garage area. The challenge here is to maintain the existing parking supply when the existing garage is removed. To successfully complete this scenario, the development would be done in phases.
The fourth scenario is to develop the open lot and Freightway garage area with a platform over the tracks, which the report describes as the most ambitious of the scenarios. It means redeveloping the open lot and Freightway garage in phases, much like the third scenario.
Selvaggio said he fears the residential units in the development would be rental units and the residents living in them would pay a fraction of what single-family home owners pay in taxes.
“The issue then becomes [new residents] using our services and paying disproportionate share of property taxes,” Selvaggio said.
Should the residential units be condos, he said the Homestead Tax option should be passed.
Exercising the Homestead Tax option is meant to allow a balance between the commercial and residential property tax burden. The condominiums would be assessed at fair market value like single-family homes. Proponents of the option say it is the only way to fairly tax all homeowners in the village. Those opposed to the option, such as some residents of the condominiums on Christie Place — which are currently taxed as commercial rentals — feel adopting the Homestead Tax option would unduly burden them with disproportionate property taxes.
This option was brought up shortly after the 2016 revaluation but was ultimately voted down.
Selvaggio said he is worried if there are rental units, there would be a large number of families moving from the city to the rentals in Scarsdale for the high-quality school district, and he wants to make sure the people are paying their fair share for services.
“Aside from financial aspects, [we] have to worry about classroom size,” Selvaggio said. “I think there are segments of the population in New York City that are concerned [about] the schools there.”
Jingqing Chai, a Rochambeau Road resident, said she’s worried the village isn’t considering all the possible scenarios of a potential decision. With a background in overseeing the procurement of publicly funded infrastructure projects, Chai said it appears the board is looking at one optimistic scenario but isn’t looking at any other plausible scenarios that may lead to adverse effects on the village.
“It’s not just an effect on taxes down the road, but on schools and other ramifications, like crowded classrooms and a changed character of the town,” Chai said.
Rather than looking at only the initial data that was collected during the survey distributed by the ad hoc committee, Chai said the village needs to look at current data, such as school enrollment in Scarsdale and the impact on the property value of similar projects, to update the trajectory of the project. That would then be used to assess the developers’ proposals, she said.
“I don’t wish to hold the village to an impossible standard, but there are good practices out there on procurement of public projects that the village can look at,” Chai said. “We need to have a town hall discussion to test the assumptions made in the proposals whether these assumptions are realistic, what the risks are and their implications for taxes, schools and the village’s fiscal sustainability.”
Fox Meadow Road resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez has engaged in an email exchange with the village regarding Freightway, asking about the process in choosing a developer.
“As a resident, I’m very passionate about the potential success [of] Freightway,” she said. “We need downtown revitalization.”
However, she said she worries there isn’t enough feedback from residents to make a solid plan.
“This is going to be developed without any real input from the residents and data from what the residents want,” she said.
Kirkendall-Rodríguez said different demographics and age groups might want different things. So, while younger families may want a space where parties can be held, older residents might want a senior facility.
“My fear is this project is being rushed,” she said.
Kirkendall-Rodríguez also said she’s concerned about the number of firms that responded to the RFP, given the fact that the firms invited to respond to the RFP were those that responded to the Request for Expression of Interest.
“If it’s such a great project, why not ask anyone who’s interested to bid?” she said.
Kirkendall-Rodríguez also said not knowing the backgrounds of the companies that submitted responses to the RFP raises questions about the financial integrity of the companies.
“Are they financially stable?” she asked. “We don’t want them to start a project and then go broke. The village has no long-term financial plan or strategic plan. We need that to understand the retail strategy of the town. What’ll happen if we go into a recession?”
Kirkendall-Rodríguez also said she’s concerned that the identities of the developers who submitted a plan in response to the RFP were not made public.
“Why don’t they just answer questions?” she asked, referring to village officials.
Mayor Marc Samwick said a meeting is slated in December for the finalists to present their plans to the public.
Tisdale Road resident Robert Berg said while the garage site is an eyesore, he doesn’t see how it can be an economic success for the village.
“It should only be done if it’s a clear economic winner, and that means lowering property taxes,” Berg said.
Like Selvaggio, Berg said residential units may end up getting subsidized by owners of single-family homes while the new residents would be drawing on municipal and school resources.
“The world has changed enormously since the state and local tax cap was introduced,” Berg said. “There’s a tremendous economic risk.”
He also reiterated his point that if there are residential units built at the site, they should be sold as condominium units, and the Homestead Tax option should be passed.
In that scenario, “We would have the equity there at least,” he said.
However, Berg still has his doubts about the project and the longevity of what might be built. He said the village should be forward thinking when planning the project, and he cited a ride-sharing option presented to the village last month by Via Transportation, which could ease traffic, reduce the need for parking spaces and allow room for other development.
“In 10 years, we won’t need a massive parking lot,” he said. “You won’t have a car that’ll sit in the garage taking up space. We have to look ahead.”
Some local business owners also voiced concerns about the Freightway project.
Jay Todd, a partner at Lulu Cake Boutique on Garth Road, said he believes there’s been a total lack of transparency and no involvement for businesses like his in the planning process.
“Parking is a crisis without the construction. There’s no foot traffic because there’s nowhere to park,” Todd said, which has forced him to adapt his business to rely on customers who aren’t brought in solely as foot traffic.
Todd said his main concern is the parking and traffic congestion that will result from construction. He said he’d be more on board with the redevelopment if there was more effort to get input from local businesses, especially those on Garth Road.
Philip Gasparino, a partner at Jackie B’s bistro, said they knew about the Freightway project when they were planning to open on Garth Road earlier this year.
“Those things are bound to happen,” he said. “I don’t feel negative or positive about it, I feel neutral.”
Giannoni’s Deli owner, Scott Weishaus, said he believes the project is a great move for the village, but it may displace his business, which is also on Garth Road.
“I go with the speedbumps as they come,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, and it might be a little scary if we’re displaced but we’re still excited. It’ll make this block more of an attraction.”
Gasparino said he knows the building his restaurant is in might be torn down and redeveloped but, if that does happen, he said he hopes to move the restaurant to another location in the village.
“I’m a businessman, no matter what, so Jackie B’s will adjust,” he said.