For a project that comes around once in a lifetime, getting it right is paramount for Scarsdale’s village staff and board of trustees.

After considering three firms interested in serving as a planner for the upcoming Freightway renovation project, the board of trustees voted April 23 to hire AKRF, a Manhattan-based firm with an office in White Plains.

The trustees conducted a series of public sessions to interview candidates earlier this month about their backgrounds, qualifications and ability to work on a project that’s expected to have an impact on the village for years to come.

The village will pay AKRF on an hourly basis not to exceed $55,000 for four tasks, which includes developing a Request for Proposals, review of RFP responses, assistance with the preferred developer selection and public outreach.

The other tasks, including planning, zoning, SEQRA environmental impact and land use process review and oversight, are expected to be paid for by the preferred developer selected for the project.

The original planner, Manhattan-based BFJ Planning, left the project when Frank Fish, a BFJ founding principal, reviewed the proposals from the development community in response to the village’s RFEI.

Village Manager Steve Pappalardo said Fish realized an architectural firm BFJ has a business relationship with was included on the project team for one or more of the developers who submitted proposals. That posed a potential conflict of interest for BFJ, Pappalardo said.

Nina Peek, principal-in-charge at AKRF, said she spent time reviewing the documents BFJ and the ad hoc committee previously published.

“While the BFJ study focused on what the village would be willing to do, the proposals were different,” she said. “We felt we should take a look at what your criteria [are].”

Peek said public participation and engagement is a big part of the process and Scarsdale is a community whose residents are interested in what will happen to the site.

A comparable project AKRF worked on is the United Hospital site in Port Chester. Peek said the firm reviewed developer plans and SEQRA documentation for the mixed-use redevelopment of the 15-acre block of land, including fiscal and economic analysis.

So, SEQRA is something the firm is comfortable doing. Peek said.

“Helping the village choose the right development and right developer is critical,” Peek said. “We help communities all around the county with environmental review … and we understand there will be a very engaged process.”

And, while the village will have to work and cooperate with the MTA because the site is adjacent to the train tracks, Peek said the firm is up for the task.

One point the AKRF principal emphasized was the need to allow creative freedom for the developer while staying true to what the village wants for the design and construction of the project.

Now that the village has hired a planner, the board is set to hit the ground running and move the Freightway project forward.

“I’m excited that we have identified a firm that will partner with the village as we continue to work toward redevelopment,” said Trustee Jane Veron. “We worked with the firm to make it clear that it’s important to provide comments from the community in addition to the other criteria we set.”

Planning for the project began nearly two years ago when the village assembled an ad hoc committee charged with creating goals and objectives for the redevelopment of the 2.3-acre Freightway site.

With the help of BFJ Planning, the steering committee held several open workshops and meetings to listen to residents’ comments about the project.

The committee produced a report with four potential options.

One option is to repair and refurbish the garage with some development on the Popham Road side of the site. In September 2017, Jon Martin of BFJ said the market for the Freightway site would be residential development. Any retail would be minimal because the driving principle of the project isn’t to compete with the village center, but to complement it.

The second option is similar to the first, but adds a connection to Scarsdale Avenue over the railroad tracks. Martin said this option could improve the connection with the village center and create the opportunity to have a small village greenspace.

The third option doesn’t bridge over the tracks, but it assumes the development would be built as an addition to the parking garage.

Martin said any of the options presented would not result in any lost parking. In fact, there would be a chance for the amount of parking to increase.

The fourth option took some pieces from the other options, with development on the open lot, but adds a connection over the tracks as seen in the second option.

“In a way, [the options] are cumulative,” Martin said.

While the board hasn’t chosen any one of the options yet, they do have to decide on a planner to move forward.

In addition to AKRF, the board had interviewed planners from WSP of Briarcliff Manor and Phillips Preiss of Hoboken, New Jersey, in back-to-back interviews on April 8.

WSP has a long history working in Westchester with experience collaborating with Metro-North, including a project in Sleepy Hollow that required working on the Metro-North line. The firm also worked with a number of boards of trustees to come up with financial planning, and has a background in land use, finance and traffic. Representatives for WSP said they have experience in dealing with community concerns and referenced a Whole Foods construction project WSP managed in Chappaqua.

The third candidate, Phillips Preiss, has 50 years’ experience in preparing and reviewing Requests for Proposals, working with zoning and looking to get the best deal for clients. Its representatives told the board of trustees it takes a scientific approach to building evaluations and figuring out what proposals meet a municipality’s requirements. The firm previously has worked with three out of the seven developers who submitted a Request for Expressions of Interest, and worked with Metro-North on a project in Ossining.

Holding public interviews for potential consultants was important for Mayor Marc Samwick.

“One of the primary things we’re trying to do is to show we are open and transparent,” he told the Inquirer. “By doing that and inviting the public to participate, the public can hear what the consultants are saying and be a part of the process.”

Fox Meadow Road resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez said she commends the village government for having public meetings and hopes this trend continues, but worries the Freightway process is moving too quickly.

She said she believes the village should come up with a financial and strategic plan for the next five years, otherwise the village may run into problems.

“I find it perplexing why after so many years of trying to get it done, there’s a rush now,” she said.

Kirkendall-Rodriguez also said the village should be gathering even more feedback from the community, such as the types of businesses they’d like to see move into the Freightway site in the future.

Bob Berg, a Tisdale Road resident, has been outspoken about his reservations and concerns over the Freightway renovation.

Though he said he’s relieved that the pace slowed down recently, he said the village should choose a concept before hiring a developer.

“Hopefully the planners can help guide the process,” he said.

The conversations are ongoing and the board had not selected a developer as of press time.

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