How did this happen? How was a development of apartment buildings allowed in a completely residential neighborhood zoned for condominiums and single residences?
Now, disclaimer here: I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t have any specialized knowledge about zoning or real estate law. The following is just what I’ve learned from attending Planning Board meetings and digging into this on my own over the past two years. To my understanding, below is (more or less) what happened:
Let’s go back about 10 years, to 2007. At the time, 87 Hawkes Avenue was home to the Hagedorn Insurance Company.
If you squint really hard, you might be able to make out the Hagedorn signs by the front door
The site was then zoned “O-RM,” which stands for Office-Research Manufacturing. (Curiously, if you Google the Town of Ossining Zoning map, it still notes that 87 Hawkes Avenue is zoned O-RM.)
At some point, the insurance office closed and the land was sold. Then, on March 22, 2011 the Board held a “Public Hearing – to consider Local Laws to amend the Zoning Law.” Nothing was mentioned or discussed about Hawkes Avenue at that meeting. At least, not that was noted in the minutes.
(Zzzzz . . . I know, right?)
Then, at the next Town Board Meeting, on April 11, 2011, a new zoning designation was created, called “MF-I” which stands for MultiFamily – Inn. In the minutes from that Board meeting, it states that the Board was considering “A local law, for the purpose of amending the Zoning Law and Zoning Map to create a multi-family-inn (MF-1) Zoning District and to place a certain property on Hawkes Avenue into the new district.” In these minutes, it states that the Board had had a public hearing on this and other zoning changes on March 22, 2011. So, they voted on this at the April meeting and it passed unanimously.
(I should note here that only one Board member from that time remains on the Board today.)
The thing is, it seems that no advance notice for the March 22 public hearing was actually given — in fact, the date for this public hearing was changed at least once — and the specific address under consideration for re-zoning was never published.
When the Parth Knolls project began making its way through the Planning Board in 2015, these issues in the re-zoning process were uncovered. In June of 2016, the lawyer for Deerfield Condominiums wrote a letter to the Town Board detailing these issues, noting the “lack of due process,” the fact that there was “no proof of proper notice of the public hearing to create the Multi-Family/Inn District”, and that the “property was not specified during the public hearing.” It all added up to “deceptive practices.” (If you’d like to read the whole letter in full, you can request it from the Town Clerk via the Freedom of Information Act.)
Alas, the lawyer’s letter came too late (so Dickensian!) Apparently there is a very short statute of limitations for zoning irregularities, and in 2016 nothing could be done to change what had taken place in 2011. Parth Knolls plodded through the Planning Board and here we are today.
Why am I so intent on detailing this? First, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but mostly because I think that what happened at 87 Hawkes Avenue should be seen as a cautionary tale. With so many other even larger developments currently being proposed, it is essential for all of us average citizens to pay attention. Get on the email list from the Planning Board, the Town Board, the Zoning Board, scan the agendas, download the proposals and attend the meetings. (And yes, many Hawkes Avenue residents attended the Parth Knolls Planning Board meetings — so many, in fact, that the location for these meetings often required a change of venue to the largest room at the Rec Center.)
In my next post, I’ll detail some of the projects currently before the Planning Boards of both the Town and the Village of Ossining (they are separate entities).