The Scarsdale Forum’s Zoning and Planning, Downtown Revitalization, Education, Municipal Services, Scarsdale Fiscal Affairs and Sustainability committees prepared and released April 2 a report “under expeditious treatment” opposing New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed Housing Compact Program.
As part of the state’s fiscal year 2024 proposed budget, the Housing Compact Program (https://bit.ly/3ZZXxYB) is, according to the governor’s website, “a multifaceted approach to address New York’s historic housing shortage” by building 800,000 new residences over the next 10 years and “will encourage growth by removing barriers to housing production, incentivizing new construction, and setting local housing targets across every New York community.” The goal is to “make it easier for families to live and thrive in New York, for employers to accommodate the workers that they need to keep their businesses growing” and for New York to “expand fair access to quality housing.”
The state is committing $20 million in “planning and technical assistance” and $250 million in “infrastructure funding to municipalities” as part of the plan.
Under the Compact, Scarsdale would have to increase its housing supply by 3% in the first three years and by 3% every three years going forward under the 10-year plan. If that doesn’t happen, it would automatically set in motion the allowance of multifamily approvals that would override any local laws in place relating to zoning, planning and land use.
According to the Forum report, Scarsdale would be required to add about 173 “new housing units” by the end of 2027, based on its current 5,454 units. The same would be true again every three years.
Additionally, the compact includes Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which would require planning and zoning changes within the three-year time frame to allow development of multifamily housing within a half mile of a train station.
Of the four tiers of the program, Scarsdale is in Tier 1 designated as “no more than 15 miles from the New York City border.” Tier 1 means Scarsdale would have to change its zoning to account for the creation of “50 units per acre for all properties within a half-mile radius of a train station,” according to the Forum report, which continued:
“The TOD proposal mandates a zoning change, but not a building mandate. As a result, homeowners within a Tier 1 area would not be forced to increase the number of units on their property. However, developers would potentially incentivize owners to sell and develop larger multi-unit buildings on single-family zoned lots. A ‘worst case scenario’ assumes every current property owner within Tier 1 sells, and their property is developed to the maximum units per acre within the half-mile radius of the train station. New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents Scarsdale, estimates that the number of units in Scarsdale and Hartsdale combined would be in the range of 10,000 units. [New York] State Senator Shelley Mayer, whose district now includes Scarsdale, posits the requisite number of units would be in the range of 13,000 units.”
The Forum said even one conversion from single-family to multi-family zoning in this area would “forever change the landscape and fabric of the Scarsdale community, let alone if this proposal proliferates on the scale estimated.”
The code changes would be exempt from a state environmental quality review and the village would not be allowed to impose “unreasonable provisions relating to lot coverage, open space, height, setbacks, floor area ratios or parking requirements,” the report said. Should the village not comply on its own, the state would mandate adherence to the portion of the compact under enforcement by the office of the New York State Attorney General.
There has to be a better way
The Forum report offered two major conclusions/recommendations:
“While the Committees agree that affordable housing is needed in Westchester County and throughout New York State, the Committees oppose the Governor’s Housing Compact proposal. The position of the Committees is that it is the incorrect way to effectuate increased housing in New York State, and it will create irreparable damage to local communities including Scarsdale.
“This Report recommends that the Village take the following actions immediately:
“1) Issue a formal resolution in opposition to the Housing Compact; and 2) Encourage the Village Board of Trustees and the community to contact the Governor’s office, as well as Scarsdale’s State Senator Shelley Mayer and State Assemblymember Amy Paulin, to voice opposition to this proposal.”
The rezoning of Scarsdale under the Compact would create the chance for developers to buy properties on Fox Meadow Road, Walworth Avenue, the Overhill area and Old Scarsdale neighborhood and put up apartment buildings or townhouses, potentially raising the skyline within that half mile of the train station. “These neighborhoods contribute greatly to the leafy Village in a Park character of our residential neighborhoods close to the train station,” the report said, and the proposal is counter to the “home rule” of the New York State Constitution, which allows municipalities to govern themselves.
The Forum called the Compact “mostly unfunded” and took exception to the “one-size-fits-all mandate” that is “unworkable and simply bad public policy.”
The report cited cities like Yonkers, New Rochelle, White Plains and Peekskill, which have already made plans for development around their transit centers and called the Compact a “financial windfall” for them as they will benefit from additional state funding.
“But Westchester has many municipalities similar to the Village of Scarsdale which are primarily small, residential villages, with a tax base that is nearly entirely supported by single-family home property owners,” the report says. “Particularly in lower Westchester, many of these smaller Villages — in the Tier 1 region — have long been fully built out. No new land is available for residential development. The redevelopment that occurs in these villages largely consists of knocking down older residences and replacing them with brand new residences maxed out as to allowable square footage for the land parcel.”
Also not considered, the report says, are impacts on water and sewage service, emergency services such as police and fire, road construction, parking, recreation and the impact on the school district. “Each of these areas alone would necessitate major infrastructure as well as the hiring of many new full-time employees, creating a massive financial burden for Scarsdale’s taxpayers,” the report says. “To cover these costs, the Governor has offered $250 million as the stipend for the entire State of New York. This statewide stipend, however, would not begin to cover the infrastructure needs of a community like Scarsdale, let alone the many other communities which would be affected by the proposal.”
The Forum included an impact report for each committee involved in putting the report together:
• Fiscal Affairs: The committee ruled the impacts on the budget “impossible to predict,” but said that tax revenue on multifamily housing is often lower than single-family housing, so between the village and school tax revenue it “would mean tax increases for existing residents.”
Despite paying among the highest property taxes in the country, the village and schools have been dealing with deferred spending and projects since the market crash in 2008 and again as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to dealing with rising wage and benefits costs for all union employees.
“The bottom line is that the Governor’s Housing Compact destroys the Village of Scarsdale’s neighborhood character, imposes tremendous infrastructure demands, and makes the existing residents who live in single family homes pay for much of the increased costs,” the report says.
• Downtown Revitalization: Between a study from 2010 and more recent work done with FHI Studio to look at options for downtown development, a large number of additional residents would further overwhelm the downtown with traffic, and make access to the train station even more difficult during peak times.
The “Village in a Park” concept would also be threatened. “The Tudor architecture and height limitations on buildings have made the Village Center inviting and charming. Consumer and merchant surveys confirm the widespread sentiment of maintaining this sense of serenity despite the speeding traffic of the Bronx River Parkway to the West and the New York State Post Road to the East,” the report says.
• Education: Based on the 2021 statistics that 40% of households in the U.S. had kids under 18 with an average of 1.96 kids per household, based on 173 new housing units in the first round of potential development, that would mean 69 units would have at least two kids, adding 138 new students to the Scarsdale School District. The Forum called this a “low estimate” based on the “desirability” of the school system.
With 4,624 students currently enrolled in the district’s seven schools, that would be an increase of 3%, not counting the potential for a bigger increase and the following three-year increases. Fox Meadow and Greenacres elementary schools, which are within the designated range of the proposed development areas, would be taking on those added students.
The Forum said this all “would cripple” Scarsdale’s schools based on the size of the buildings. “In order to physically manage this potential increase, the schools would need to be retrofitted or have new schools constructed — a project that would increase taxes to the public school system,” the report says. “The school budget would also increase to cover the new teachers, administration and custodial staff that would have to be added to the payroll. These changes to the educational foundation of Scarsdale would affect one of the core identities of the Scarsdale community.”
One size doesn’t fit all
• Municipal Services: The report says that “attempting to fix long-term problems by bureaucratic fiat and a one-size fits-all solution is an unacceptable approach. The Housing Compact’s cavalier dismissal of environmental protocols and protection, as addressed by the Forum’s Sustainability group below, is unacceptable.”
The Forum noted the village’s already notable traffic and parking issues would be further impacted, especially as developers won’t care as they “will welcome the open invitation to gerrymander Scarsdale pursuant to Albany’s urban mandate.”
Degrading the environment
• Sustainability: The Forum believes such a large population boost will bring more pollution from cars, water pollution with more impervious surfaces and less natural space, the loss/disruption of “environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands and wildlife corridors” and increase the “already significant” flooding issues, resulting in an “overall reduction in quality of life.”
“These harms associate with loss of biodiversity, which is needed to support human existence, and sprawl causes direct harms to both humans and other animal species alike,” the report says.
The Forum also noted the density required in the space around the train station would be difficult to achieve safely and responsibly at 50 dwelling units per acre.
“Looking at Village land around the train station, almost none of the existing dense multi-family units that already exists within that circle would achieve that level of density. Chateaux Circle is approximately 16 units per acre, and 50 Popham is approximately 28 units per acre,” the report says. “Out of necessity, this will mean re-zoning to allow for even denser development elsewhere to make up the difference in areas that are not infill, eliminating existing green space that is supposed to be preserved in well-designed TODs. The scenario for Hartsdale train station is even worse, as the Village would get none of the ‘credit’ for existing density on the Hartsdale side and no infill opportunities are available.”
Goodbye to local control
• Zoning and Planning: The Forum wondered what would happen when the half-mile radius from a train station overlaps into another municipality and how the numbers would be calculated.
“What is clear is that the Governor’s proposal would allow for a near complete loss of control over local land-use regulations and laws,” the report says. “This would open the door for developers to build multi-unit projects, bypassing existing local zoning laws and regulations including those governing lot coverage, open space, height, setbacks, floor area ratios, and permeable surface requirements currently in place.
“Moreover, these projects would not require state environmental laws to be triggered, let alone any local codes as relate to floodplains, wetlands, and impermeable surfaces, potentially causing the already problematic issue of flooding and water management to become even worse.”
The Forum’s report has been approved by the aforementioned committees and the executive board, but has not yet been voted on by membership.
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