Mark and Victoria Nadler of 171 Brite Ave. filed an Article 78 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York Westchester County March 25 against the Village of Scarsdale Board of Architectural Review and EJK 4 Kingston LLC, the owners of the property that has a sideyard hill that adjoins the Nadlers’ backyard.
The BAR approved what Mark Nadler called unnecessary, “fortress-like retaining walls” and “sparse landscaping” that devalue his property, estimated at $1.29 million, by 10-15%. The goal of the lawsuit is to “annul and deem void” the BAR’s March 1 approval of 4 Kingston Road’s project to “destroy” the natural beauty of the hill by adding two retaining walls with fences on top.
The lawsuit accuses the BAR of making its 4-3 ruling in favor of 4 Kingston Road in “an arbitrary and capricious fashion,” and calls the decision “an abuse of discretion” which causes “detrimental harm to the Nadlers in enjoying the Nadler Property.”
Nadler said the builder “hasn’t been honest and forthcoming” and that he is “disgusted” with the three BAR members and chair who voted “just to get rid of” the item from the BAR agenda.
Joseph Ciarletta, the owner and developer of 4 Kingston Road, told the Inquirer this week he was pleased to see the BAR agreed that his final plan was in accordance with its wishes. “I think it’s a beautiful project and I think the revisions were definitely cooperative, but also very, very overcompromised,” he said. “I went above and beyond everything they said.”
At the March 1 BAR meeting, Ciarletta and George Janes, Nadler’s visual impact expert, showed two very different renderings of what the landscaping would look like, one lush with native plantings, the other leaving the Nadlers a clear view of the walls, including one that is 121 feet and goes the length of the property.
“The code the BAR is supposed to be protecting against is financial and visual damage of what the neighbor is looking at and the character of the neighborhood,” Nadler said. “If this isn’t the most blatant example of what the BAR is supposed to be protecting, I don’t know what is.”
After the BAR told Ciarletta at the meeting Jan. 11 that it would not approve his plan at the time and told him to work with and compromise with Nadler, the two did connect, but have different stories about how their interaction went leading up to the March meeting, at which Nadler felt Ciarletta submitted a very different plan than what he had showed Nadler in late January.
While Nadler said “the plans kept getting progressively worse,” Ciarletta said it was just a natural process for planning. Ciarletta contends he was showing Nadler the plans as they were being done, which meant landscaping first and then the walls later added by engineering.
“I never told him the plan wasn’t going to have retaining walls,” Ciarletta said. “I have the email conversation telling him this was a concept and there will be retaining walls on the design.”
In an email sent to Nadler on Jan. 29, Ciarletta wrote: “We are finalizing engineering plans including grading, retaining wall and SWEC [Stormwater and Erosion Control]. As we finalize these we can then finalize the architectural site and landscaping plans.” He also noted the renderings were outdated and “are still very conceptual and don’t tell the full story.”
Ciarletta additionally listed many of the changes being made:
• Relocated pool and pool equipment;
• Removed Redi-Rock material and replaced it with natural stone finish;
• Removed one wall from Nadler’s side of property;
• Shifted the remaining wall to a minimum of 14 feet off the property line;
• Added a plantable slope for buffer;
• Planned to plant a variety of native species to add to the natural look currently existing on the slope, saving all trees/vegetation to the left of the new natural stone wall;
Curved the path created by the wall around the existing magnolia tree.
Ciarletta said he presented his new plan in good faith by moving the lower wall not 4 to 6 feet away from the Nadler property line as suggested by the BAR, but by another 10-plus feet and adding what one BAR member referred to as “a botanical garden” of native plantings on the hill to screen the wall and for the Nadlers to enjoy. Ciarletta also moved the pool from that side of the property to the far side, which Nadler believed would then eliminate the need for the walls. Nadler later took exception to the addition of fences on top of the walls, which Ciarletta said are for safety reasons with a 60-degree hill looming at the end of the flat top of the property.
Both parties agreed the use of the walls is solely to expand the yard at 4 Kingston Road, but Nadler objected to destroying the hill for that purpose.
“Retaining walls provide usable land,” Ciarletta said. “I needed rear yard access and I needed horizontal expansion of my rear yard. I desired it. I wanted a backyard to fit a larger size house. It’s perfectly permissible. It’s allowed. It conforms to code. There’s nothing telling me I can’t do it other than the neighbor not desiring it.”
This week, tree removal began at 4 Kingston Road as construction on the property, which Ciarletta expects to last about nine or 10 months, finally ramped up with BAR and Zoning Board of Appeals approval granted and tree removal and building permits being issued.
“There really are so many people in the neighborhood who are so opposed to this,” Nadler said. “One of the neighbors across the street … said she was so sick to her stomach she had to leave her house so she didn’t see them destroying the property across the street. It’s just mind-boggling.”
Ciarletta said his goal has been to work with Nadler even prior to going to the village for approvals, but he was rejected in that effort.
“I sent letters and knocked on his door,” Ciarletta said. “I tried speaking to him. Left my business card and never got a call back to review the plans. I really wanted to work with him from Day One. He was never really cooperative. He didn’t really want to speak to me, so I went about my approval process blindly not knowing if he was in opposition or not. I just couldn’t get an answer out of him. He was no help. No constructive criticism. Nothing. He just wanted to be difficult and make my life a living hell.”
He added, “I did my best to make this project not only good for me and him, but also for the entire neighborhood. I’m building a beautiful house.
4 Kingston Road was purchased for $1.15 million in October 2019 and last year was listed for sale for $3.795 million based on the nearly doubled size of the house and expanded usable property and amenities.
Ciarletta said he is “not sure” if he will still sell the house or live there once construction is complete. “I haven’t decided,” he said. “I may just want to move in now at this point. I’ve lost enough money.”