Justin Arest sometimes likes to “get into the weeds” of a topic.
He likes to explain the ins and outs, sometimes diving deeper or clarifying much needed background information. At many public meetings, he can be seen peering at his laptop, digging into a topic and finding something credible to reference. In many cases, though, he likes to sit and listen intently, as listening can in many cases lead to better ideas.
“I have thoughts, I have opinions. But I will keep my mouth shut and listen as long as other people want to share their views because, guess what? Maybe they’re better,” he said.
Arest has always believed in volunteerism — he was class treasurer when he attended New Rochelle High School — and he always tried to prioritize public service in his life, even after starting a family and moving in 2013 to Scarsdale, where his wife grew up.
As the March 18 election approaches, Arest hopes to be re-elected to his seat on the Scarsdale Board of Trustees. A candidate on the Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party slate, he said he looks forward to turning good ideas into action.
“If you have an opinion, it’s very easy to just criticize and it’s very easy to tell everybody else what to do,” said Arest. “It’s a lot harder to actually do it. Ideas can be cheap, but execution is what’s important.”
As one of the younger members on the board — he’s 39 — his approach stems from his youth immersed in the hospitality business. At the age of 6, Arest had his first stint checking in backpackers at the front desk of his family’s 2 1/2-star hotel in New York City. He said working the front desk at a hotel is “one of the best jobs anybody can have” as it helped him understand the importance of managing people.
“When you’re looking at a hotel and you have guests, their problem is the only problem,” he said.
That perspective, he said, carries over to his work as a trustee — when residents come to village hall with a problem, their problem is the only problem.
A graduate of New York University Stern School of Business, Arest has a B.S. in finance and international business and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He said he went for the law degree not just for “an incredible education,” but he wanted to use law as a tool in his pursuits.
After a brief career in mergers and acquisitions at a prominent international law firm, Arest realized he wanted something more hospitality-focused and eventually took over a family-owned real estate investment company, now known as Arest Associates, LLC.
“Part of what I love about my job … is that I get to touch upon so many different things,” said Arest. “I think it’s what helps me be a better trustee.”
Even before becoming a trustee, Arest was active in the community, and he spent more than two years in various village meetings learning the system. He said he noticed a lack of younger residents participating in government or volunteering, so he decided to step up to the plate.
“We have to make sure that we’re representative and we have to get not just young people [but] everybody involved, everybody’s voices heard,” he said.
His first involvement was on the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2014 and, from there, he took part in the Scarsdale Public Library renovation project. Although initially critical of the plans, after asking a lot of questions and visiting other community libraries, Arest served on the fundraising campaign and the building committee and was a co-chair of the Community Council that focused on the library project.
In 2016, Arest joined the village Ad Hoc Communications Committee and in 2017 served on the Freightway Steering Committee. He also was involved in multiple committees of the Scarsdale Forum.
And yet, Arest doesn’t believe a long list of volunteer experience in Scarsdale is necessary to be a trustee.
“I don’t think it matters what your volunteer experience is in Scarsdale. I think it’s very helpful for [the CNC] and the community to have a better understanding of who someone is — not by what they think, not by what their preconceived notions might be or their views are — but their [willingness] to do things, not just talk about them,” he said. “It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and say ‘I know better.’ [But] it’s not very easy to do the work.”
Arest said he always keeps an open mind and, though he’s opinionated, he’s flexible. As a trustee he’s been hyperfocused on teamwork and using all the other trustees’ experiences to enact change, because governing the village has to be collaborative.
His first effort as a trustee was to facilitate a technological overhaul and streamline board processes to make information easier to find.
“When I joined … it was very difficult to get information,” Arest said. “When it’s difficult to get information and you’re a working professional, how hard are you going to try? So all that information should be available.”
As the chair of multiple personnel search committees, Arest was heavily involved in the process of finding a village attorney and town assessor. “It’s about finding the right person,” he said. “I’m very proud of what I think I’ve been able to accomplish in those regards.”
Arest said maintaining infrastructure is a constant concern for the village, as is the future of the Freightway garage on Garth Road.
“I think the priority has been, currently is and always will be doing what’s best for the community,” Arest said, referring to the Freightway project. “Why would we ever want to do anything that would hurt who we are or change who we are?”
The village knew the aging garage would need to be fixed and officials did their “due diligence” in investigating all possible options, Arest said.
“Everything was done in the interest of finding the best outcome and also keeping the community involved … having as many opportunities for residents to be part of it,” he said. “We did it very slowly intentionally. Who knows what’s going to happen? But if there is any decision to move forward in a specific way, it’s still very early and that was done intentionally.”
Referring to the meeting last December, where dozens of residents expressed dissatisfaction with the project, Arest said there was a “fundamental misunderstanding” among the public about the intentions of the board.
“There was this misunderstanding that we didn’t share the same concerns, that we weren’t on the same team, and I think once that disconnect happened … to some extent, it was almost certain people didn’t hear us anymore,” he said.
Arest said he’s proud of the board for its vision and effort to look at all the options before fixing the garage, and he added, “I want to listen a lot more. I want to have a lot more conversations.”
Arest said the board had been focused on the causes of and solutions for the vacancies in the village center even before he was elected, and different impediments have surfaced over time to slow down activity there. Village hall should remove hurdles for merchants who want to move into downtown spaces, he said, adding that the Pango parking app and less restrictive ticketing practices are helping the situation.
Retail trends and real estate ownership in the village are “not in our favor,” he said, “but we are absolutely committed … to ensuring that our downtown is vibrant.”
If re-elected, Arest said he hopes to continue looking for creative ideas to solve longstanding issues, such as reducing the tax burden on residents, meeting capital project needs and making information about the village more accessible.
“I’m proud to not just sit there and say, ‘We can’t do anything,’” he said. “We’ll do what we can.”