The buzz surrounding the potential redevelopment of the Freightway garage dominated the news in Scarsdale last year. Public meetings were held to get a sense of what residents might want to see in the updated space, and residents were encouraged to submit their thoughts and ideas. An ad hoc committee was formed to collect data and disperse information. After considering three firms interested in serving as a planner for the Freightway renovation project, the board of trustees hired AKRF, a Manhattan-based firm with an office in White Plains. In November, two developers, LCOR/East End and Avalon were named as finalists in consideration for the project, if the village should decide to move forward. But many residents and some business owners expressed concerns about the process, transparency and the plan for the redevelopment. A petition to halt the process began circulating in December and garnered more than 600 signatures by year-end.
On several occasions, Mayor Marc Samwick has made a point of saying the decision of what to do with the garage is far from being determined, but considering all options that could enhance the village, including a transit-oriented development, is part of the responsibility of the board.
In an effort to alleviate parking issues, the village contracted with Pango parking system to allow residents to pay with a credit card and an app. Meters were retrofitted with the app-based service in June.
ProPark valet parking service, which has served the Scarsdale train station since 2015, also became more widely available to serve customers visiting Scarsdale businesses.
In addition, since June a Scarsdale police cruiser retrofitted with new license plate reader technology was used to scan cars on village streets and parking garages. The introduction of the reader was mainly to enact digital permitting — the village introduced electronically recorded parking permits in May to make the process easier for residents to obtain a permit from the village, remove the fee for residents losing their paper permits, and crack down on residents using copies of paper permits to outwit parking enforcement officers. The village hoped the addition of electronic permitting and the use of the license plate reader technology will result in additional parking compliance from residents. The village generates approximately $600,000 a year from parking fees and tickets. The money is considered general fund revenue and is used for general government purposes.
The Scarsdale Business Alliance hosted a blockbuster music festival in the village center, with food vendors and a wine tasting via Zachys. The all-day event in mid-September attracted thousands from near and as far away as Philadelphia. Admission was free with suggested donations benefiting local charities.
New arts advisory council
In April, the board of trustees introduced the Arts Advisory Council, an arts-focused body modeled after the village’s other advisory councils, whose interests range from technology to parks and recreation. The AAC consults the village board on arts-related issues and coordinates events, while building relationships with existing arts organizations in the area, such as ArtsWestchester.
A goal for the council, not to be confused with the local nonprofit Scarsdale Arts Council, is to create engaging arts experiences in Scarsdale and draw attention to downtown revitalization efforts.
Business comings and goings
Lange’s Deli, a downtown staple since 1972, closed in May and the space will be rented by Akai Lounge, a New Jersey-based Japanese restaurant. Other new restaurants with modern cuisine, farm-to-table food and family-friendly vibes helped spice things up and bring more foot traffic to the village. The arrival of Sapori II, Via Forno, Jackie B’s and Westchester Burger Co. expanded the downtown dining scene, joining Cooked & Co., which reopened at the end of 2018 after an extensive renovation.
In October, Scarsdale Improvement Corp. property owners envisioned an ambitious future redevelopment of the downtown center featuring mixed-use buildings and more parking spaces along Popham Road, Scarsdale Avenue and Spencer Place.
Village leadership changes
Marc Samwick of Mamaroneck Road was elected mayor in March, along with Rachelle Waldman and Jonathan Lewis who joined the board of trustees. Samwick previously served two terms on the board and as deputy mayor under Mayors Bob Steves and Jon Mark. Projects like the library renovation and the Freightway renovation make this a pivotal moment in the village’s history, he said, and he affirmed his commitment to engaging with residents.
Following former Department of Public Works Superintendent Benny Salanitro’s retirement, the village hired Jeff Coleman who left a similar job in Cortlandt to head up the DPW.
Aylone Katzin became the assistant to the village manager, replacing Josh Ringel, who left Scarsdale for a job in Tarrytown in June, and the board of trustees voted in December to retain the services of White Plains-based McCarthy Fingar LLP on a $95,000 per year retainer to serve as the village’s attorney, replacing Angela Sapienza-Martin.
In the village assessors office, former Village Assessor Nanette Albanese retired at the end of March after 20 years, and Jane Lawrence was appointed as acting assessor in May. After a new recruit declined the job in September, the trustees continued the effort to find a permanent assessor.
Budget and taxes
The village’s capital improvement projects in 2019 included plans to pave between three and five miles of road while updating the pipes. In November/December, department heads submitted future capital budget requests to Deputy Village Manager Robert Cole, who prioritized those needs and shifted the less essential items to a future budget.
Under consideration is resurfacing and repairing public tennis courts and shared costs for maintenance of several properties around the community, such as the Girl Scout House and Wayside Cottage.
Freightway garage was slated to be maintained at a basic level with a budget allocation of $50,000.
The village anticipates a windfall in 2020 from Westchester County sales taxes, which increased after the passage of the Westchester County Property Taxpayers Protection Act in August raised the county’s sales tax by 1%.
In other taxation news, the state’s 2% property tax cap, first instituted in 2011 and renewed periodically, was made permanent in the 2019-20 budget. The act was passed to lessen the blow of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal act which limited property owners’ state and local tax deduction (SALT) to $10,000, a hard hit for many residents in Westchester. The county property tax cap is frozen at 2% for 2020 and 2021.
With the reduced SALT deduction impacting many Scarsdale residents, the board of trustees voted in February to become a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the IRS. The lawsuit was prompted by the IRS ruling in 2018 that blocked the option to establish a charitable gift fund workaround that would help high-tax communities like Scarsdale.
In an effort to protect residents, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and the lawyers set up Citizens for the Charitable Contribution Deduction Inc., a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) corporation, to take all the liability for legal fees off residents. A 501(c)(4) is a nonprofit organization designed to promote social welfare causes. In this case, the funds raised will go toward legal fees.
Heathcote Bridge rehab
In 2018, the village applied for and received a grant from the state’s department of transportation for up to $1.6 million for preliminary design, design services, construction and construction inspection services in connection with the rehabilitation project of the Heathcote Road Bridge that spans over the Heathcote Bypass. Abutment, joints and bearing plates of the bridge, which help support the bridge, need work done.
A local match of $84,086 is required.
In October, the board of trustees approved a contract with Albany-based Barton & Loguidice for a fee not to exceed $260,129 for design and other related services. The state transportation department reimburses 95% of those costs through a federal aid local project grant agreement, and the village covers the remainder of the costs.
In July, the village board voted to move ahead with a plan to design and build a comfort station next to the tennis courts at the Scarsdale Middle School, and in December hired Goshen-based engineering firm LAN Associates for $32,350, including $3,600 for on-site inspection costs, to study the proposed site and review possible designs. Because the village plans to use its own skilled laborers for the project, it is expected to come in under the budgeted $150,000.
According to the concept developed collaboratively by village and school officials, the comfort station would include a storage area for athletic equipment, an office for an attendant and a covered area for use during inclement weather.
With construction ongoing for the past year, the $20 million renovation that will eventually become the new and improved Scarsdale Public Library — and a community hub — has started to take shape. The framing for the interior is built and a roof is now on the additions, including the west and south sides of the building, the new meeting room and the café area. In addition, new underground plumbing is complete as well as a new staircase with room for a new elevator.
The project will expand the 31,000-square-foot building located at 54 Olmsted Road by about 10,000 net square feet — about a third bigger than the former space. Costs and approved contracts were tracking according to the original budget plan, and a grand reopening is being planned for late summer 2020.
MTA station changes
The Metro-North’s manned ticket booth inside the old station building closed in January, but there are plans to renovate the station’s platform and access in 2020.
While Scarsdale has been a pacesetter with its measures for sustainability and environmental consciousness, a Climate Resilience Committee was formed in June by the nonprofit Scarsdale Forum to push the village even further in its response to climate change. In October, the committee released a statement on climate resilience, which called for two immediate actions — that the village join the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Climate Smart Communities program and that the village should issue a proclamation establishing a “Sustainability Day” to celebrate the accomplishments to date by the village to make Scarsdale a more sustainable community. The group is working on a comprehensive report with concrete steps to help make the village stronger, better able to resist extreme weather conditions and to look at climate resilience planning.
When the Urban Horticulture Institute of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science sought to plant some 250 saplings in 60 municipalities across New York State, Scarsdale Friends of Scarsdale Parks bought five hybridized white swamp oak saplings for $50 each and donated them to the village for planting in George Field Park along Post Road. Cornell scientists will analyze and track the trees’ long-term growth in the wild.
In an effort to convince the village to codify against pesticide use in order to protect public health, welfare, safety and the environment, the Scarsdale Forum’s Sustainability Committee released an update in April to its 2018 report on sustainable landscape management. The report outlines policies adopted by municipalities around the country to counteract their pesticide use and recent litigation that arose due to individuals who were exposed to pesticides. The village ceased pesticide and insecticide use in 2017, but a prohibition against the use of such chemicals has not yet been introduced into village law.
Scarsdale Village added its first fully electric car to its fleet in August. Not only does the car reduce the village’s carbon footprint, but it also saves the town thousands of dollars in its reduced purchase price, and fuel and other service costs.
The board of trustees passed new amendments to the village tree code in February to address clear-cutting throughout Scarsdale. Clear-cutting is the one-time mass removal of trees and is commonly frowned upon by environmentalists. With the amendments, any person removing a tree or trees with a total DBH — diameter at breast height — equal or more than 48 inches must plant a specified number of replacement trees expected to grow to maturity at a similar size to certain removed trees.
Residents not in compliance will be fined between $250 and $2,500 per tree, or more if the village determines a property owner has removed an excessive number of trees without a permit.
Homeowners who remove dead, dying, diseased or hazardous trees are not required to plant a replacement tree.
Barry Road sewer pipes
Residents on Barry Road have waged a multiyear battle to resolve raw sewage that’s backing up into their basement slop sinks.
The Drake Edgewood Neighborhood Association representatives attended multiple board of trustees’ meetings throughout the years and various village staff had been in conversation about the flooding and sanitary issues. After the completion in 2011 of a Westchester County flow study, the village conducted a number of smoke tests in the area to determine if there were residential discharges into the sanitary sewers, and affected residents were advised to mitigate any unauthorized connections. In November, Village Engineer David Goessl cited additional recommendations might help to resolve the overflow problem.
— with reporting by Madailein Hart