Grassroots group petitions to halt Freightway process

Trustee Justin Arest, Deputy Mayor Jane Veron with Mayor Marc Samwick listening to residents' concerns during an informal meeting about Freightway at Starbucks on E. Parkway Dec. 17.

A petition to halt the process that’s edging toward a redevelopment of Freightway garage on Garth Road began circulating Dec. 18 and garnered 500 signatures by press time Thursday.

Freightway serves as the primary parking facility for village merchants, commuters and others using Scarsdale’s Metro-North train station. In 2017 an engineering study determined the 50-year-old structure would require extensive repairs and maintenance that could cost up to $2.5 million in the next few years, and would need even greater attention in the following 15 to 20 years, including a possible total replacement for more than $25 million.

Village officials are considering a mixed-use Transit-oriented Development as an alternative, but the community seems to disagree.

Signers on the petition were from “quite a diversity of residents from all of Scarsdale’s neighborhoods,” according to Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez who helped distribute the petition by email and on local social media.

“Many people who are receiving it are then forwarding it to their friends and neighbors,” Kirkendall-Rodriguez told the Inquirer. “The response has been incredible, and many people are having the courage to comment using their names.”

The petition at http://bit.ly/2sDuMGO began to circulate a week after a standing room-only meeting Dec. 11 at which the community heard from two finalists among six firms that had responded to a Request for Proposals.

The RFPs were based on prior expressions of interest and a visioning study for what might be built on the 2.5-acre site. The visioning study was created in 2017 to build ideas for alternative uses for the site beyond just a parking facility. At the community meeting, residents expressed concerns on specific issues, such as a lack of transparency about the financial condition of the two firms vying to work with the village on the redevelopment project and concerns about the firms’ ability to cover the debt involved in any such project. They also voiced concerns about the impact of mixed-use developments on the school population and on local taxes.

Some residents who asked questions in public forums and in emails to village officials have said they feel the response has been inadequate.

Thus the petition, which seeks a pause in the process and more indepth study.

The petition calls for the mayor and the Scarsdale Board of Trustees to “study and answer residents’ qualitative and quantitative questions about the project’s impact on local schools’ teacher-student ratio, the health and financial stability of residents, the Cornerstone Children’s Center on Garth Road, and merchants in the surrounding area of Freightway during project construction.”

They also are asking officials to provide more information on how the proposed project might affect the already crowded commuter trains and platforms, traffic congestion in the village, parking availability, and what the effect on residents’ property values and taxes might be.

At an informal meeting Dec. 17 with dozens of community members who came to the Starbucks on E. Parkway for a “coffee with the mayor” gathering, Mayor Marc Samwick, Deputy Mayor Jane Veron and Trustee Justin Arest explained the Freightway process and answered questions.

Samwick said the process is iterative and any plans are still in formation. He said the board of trustees is committed to listening to the community and has opened a 60-day comment period through Feb. 9. The village website has a full archive of documents related to the project, and community members can use a portal on the website to submit comments or they can send emails to freightway@scarsdale.com.

The mayor said the village plans to aggregate all comments received and then select a preferred developer from among the two finalists. Those firms’ preliminary design concepts are on display at village hall and online at scarsdale.com.

Samwick said the chosen developer would be required to look at all environmental and economic effects of any project, and then refine plans and go back to the public for review. The SEQRA process for any such project mandates a full evaluation of traffic, parking, school and environmental impact.

He also said the village would jeopardize its negotiating position if it shared many of the data points residents are requesting in regard to the developers’ financials.

The mayor pointed out that members of the board of trustees, the planning board and the board of architectural review are all residents of Scarsdale with similar concerns about the quality of life, the schools, taxes and economic health of the community, and they are prepared to work with the selected developer to scale back and reduce the scope and scale of the project if necessary.

“If we deem it will not work, we will not proceed,” he added, saying there is an option still to simply repair or replace the garage, rather than embark on a redevelopment project.

But, Samwick said, the board felt it was their obligation to explore opportunities for improving the village and creating “connectivity” between the Garth Road area and the village center, as well as a possible development that would provide an on-ramp for young families to gain a foothold in the community and a place for older residents to remain in the community.

At the public meeting Dec. 11, many residents brought up concerns about the potential burden to the schools if the site were to include rental units. One of the potential developer groups, LCOR/East End Capital, presented a design concept that would include more than 200 condos or apartments, including studio up to 3- bedroom units. AvalonBay developers presented a similar vision with approximately 200 units of various sizes.

A representative for LCOR/East End Capital said the smaller units would be less likely to attract families with children than the larger spaces. But residents who spoke at the meeting were skeptical, speculating that upward of 100 students might be added to the Fox Meadow School district, which they said has already reached maximum capacity.

Fox Meadow School currently has 475 students in 23 sections for grades K through 5.

The petitioners also want to know how much a mixed-use residential development at Freightway might impact the local student population.

At the Dec. 17 discussion with residents, the trustees said an independent engineer is preparing an analysis to supplement data in the previous visioning study, which some residents said is flawed.

At a board of education meeting Dec. 16, President Scott Silberfein said the school board is “keenly aware” that a potential residential development on the site of Scarsdale’s Freightway parking garage on Garth Road “could impact — and maybe impact significantly — the schools.”

“The [school] board and district have been kept abreast of timelines and developments and have been in communication with village leaders in the Freightway development process, including the exchange of data concerning our enrollments, including the enrollment from specific areas and also from specific buildings in town that may be relevant to this development,” Silberfein said in his opening remarks Dec. 16. “Before last week’s public forum and following it, we are intent on continuing to work with the village board to ensure full and accurate consideration of any potential impacts on the schools from any Freightway development. Whenever the village considers residential developments, there are potential impacts on the schools.”

Silberfein said the district and board will look at all impacts, including capacity, whether that be the total enrollment, the number and size of class sections, or support services and the impact on taxes, zoning and transportation.

“We are committed to continue our dialogue with the village board and the community on this very important topic,” said Silberfein.

During the 60-day public comment period and during future discussions with developers, the board has indicated it’s willing to share any data the village board might need to move the process along.

“Assuming a residential development project remains on the table, this board and the district will deepen their engagement and study of things like capacity issues, impacts and the like,” Silberfein said.

Silberfein said Mayor Samwick, Deputy Mayor Veron and Trustee Arest will attend the school board meeting Jan. 13, to “answer questions from the board and administration and potentially discuss with us what additional data and other information we need to be sharing between our two entities while we consider this work.”

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