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LATEST DRAFT OF GREENBURGH COMPREHENSIVE PLAN DELETES PLANS FOR APARTMENTS AND ‘CHARRETTES’

The Town’s much-maligned Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee this week released a third draft of a proposed plan for the unincorporated areas of the Town which, in an apparent effort to quiet critics, this time eliminates all proposals in Edgemont and elsewhere that would allow for apartments to be built on top of retail sites.

The latest proposal also deletes prior calls for the creation of “charrettes” or informal meetings between developers, residents and town officials in which agreements were to be hammered out on changes to zoning to accommodate new developments not otherwise permitted under the Town’s existing zoning ordinance.

The latest plan — the third within the past 18 months — will be the subject of a public hearing at Town Hall on Thursday, October 1, 2015.

The Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee was formed eight years ago for the purpose of providing a vision for the Town’s growth and development over the next several decades.

State law recommends that municipalities develop such plans so that future zoning legislation may be enacted consistent with the objectives outlined in such plans – and to avoid the kind of ad hoc zoning changes typical of Greenburgh that arise whenever a developer comes up with a new project.

Greenburgh last adopted a Comprehensive Plan in the 1970s and prior efforts to adopt a plan since then have all ended in failure with no consensus on what changes, if any, should be made.

The committee’s first draft of the plan, released last year, received a negative response from residents of Edgemont because it called for the development of several “nodes” along Central Avenue and at the Hartsdale Train Station where hundreds of apartments could be built on top of retail sites in buildings four and five stories high.

Current zoning does not permit retail and residential uses  to be housed within the same buildings.  Those buildings where such mixed uses already co-exist were grandfathered in before the 1970s, when the Town’s last Comprehensive Plan, which barred such mixed-used, was adopted.

Under the committee’s first and second drafts of the plan, the actual zoning required for such “mixed-used” buildings today would have depended on the results of so-called “charrettes” or informal meetings that town officials would then set up among developers, residents and themselves in which efforts to reach informal agreement in private on what should be built would be undertaken, which would then be followed by formal adoption by the town board of zoning changes to accommodate such agreement.

Edgemont residents lined up in droves to oppose the proposal for apartments and charrettes, both last year and again earlier this year, when the committee came back with a second draft which kept the proposals for “nodes” and “charretes” largely intact.

Edgemont residents expressed concern that adoption of the plan with its potential for hundreds of new apartments would impose huge financial burdens on the school district in which one third of all housing in the district already consists of multifamily housing units.

They also worried that the “charrettes,” which are nowhere provided for under New York law, would make it even easier for developers to get plans approved by a pliant town board which they perceive as insensitive to the needs of Edgemont residents — and on which no Edgemont resident has served for years.

The third draft, which was released this week, not only eliminates the “node” at the corner of Mt. Joy and Henry Streets in Edgemont, but it also eliminates entirely the concept of having apartments built above retail locations.

Thus, other “nodes” still remain in place at the intersection of Central Avenue and Ardsley Road, at Four Corners at the intersection of Central and East and West Hartsdale Avenues, and at the Hartsdale Train Station, but the buildings that would be permitted there, assuming the plan were adopted, would all have to be commercial, with no residential components allowed.

The elimination of proposals in the plan that caused the greatest amount of controversy may grease the wheels for it to be approved by the Town Board.

But the latest version of the plan is still likely to draw criticism from those who say that it fails to accomplish its fundamental purpose – which was to draw up a blueprint for future development of the Town.

Instead, the plan largely calls for maintaining the status quo. Other than making a few technical changes to the zoning ordinance by, for example, calling for the elimination of the so-called Urban Renewal District, which was created in the northern part of the Town in the 1970s and is no longer used for that purpose, the plan largely retains existing zoning districts as is.

The Central Avenue district, for example, which was formed in the 1970s to create a balance of retail stores and multifamily housing, to be housed in separate buildings, has essentially satisfied that objective.

Hence the committee’s new plan now calls for relatively minor tweaks in existing zoning there in order to encourage the combination of existing retail lots in exchange for constructing more environmentally friendly structures with more structured parking resulting in fewer curb cuts that make entering and exiting these facilities on an increasingly crowded Central Avenue more and more treacherous, as well as less impervious surfaces required for parking, and more open spaces.

Whether the committee’s proposals go far enough to accomplish those objectives though is a subject for further debate and discussion.

The committee also suggested that there ought to be a discussion as to what retail and other commercial uses along Central Avenue should be permitted and not permitted, but stopped short of undertaking that analysis itself. In the 1970s, the Town Board adopted a series of permitted and not permitted uses which some see today as obsolete and economically self-defeating.

For example, in the 1970s, the Town barred gas stations and new car dealers as permitted uses, but grandfathered in existing gas stations and car dealers. However, within the past two years, those specific uses have since been permitted, but only in response to specific requests. The committee recommends an overall review of such uses to determine whether other uses should be allowed.

The committee’s work is also likely to be criticized for not conducting any substantive analysis of the Town’s future needs. There is, for example, no analysis of the economic needs of the Town’s ten school districts was undertaken. School districts generally account for at least 60% of a property owner’s property tax bill — yet the plan does not foresee, analyze and provide for the future economic growth of each school district.

Thus, for example, there is nothing in the plan which appears to address the economic needs of the Edgemont school district; thus, the plan nowhere discusses the types of future development necessary to keep Edgemont economically affordable. Nor is there any similar analysis for any of the other school districts.

Such an analysis could only be undertaken by the Town, if undertaken at all, because school districts have no legal control over zoning and planning within their districts.

Following the conclusion of the public hearing and comment period, the committee  will make any changes it deems necessary and forward its recommended plan to the Town Board. The Town Board will discuss the plan during its public meetings, ensure compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and consider adoption of the plan.

The comprehensive plan steering committee is chaired by Francis Sheehan, a town councilman.  Also serving on the committee is the chair and vice chair of the planning board, the chairs of the conservation advisory and historical preservation committees, a resident of the northern part of the Town who serves as the “community representative,” and a resident in one of the apartments on East Hartsdale Avenue, who serves as a “commercial real estate liaison.”

The Town Board years ago refused to allow any member of the Edgemont Community Council to serve on the committee.

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