First, it’s July 17, 2019 and here’s the current status of the Parth Knolls project at 87 Hawkes Avenue. Building #1 awaits final exterior work and building #2 is well on its way to completion:
I can’t help but compare this to what stood here before (photo taken from almost the same spot in March of 2017):
What I’m finding so hard to understand is the Ossining Town Planning Board’s perspective on what constitutes “residential.” It just doesn’t make logical sense that two apartment buildings, consisting of 52 units, are at all comparable to this simple one family home surrounded by wide lawns and gracious trees.
When this project was moving though the approval process, this was the issue that I think galvanized the community to speak out. Sure, there were issues with school overcrowding, traffic, environmental concerns, additional stress on our water & sewage systems, but ultimately, for me at least, the main thing was the change that would happen to the character of the neighborhood.
I attended many meetings during that approval process, and the thing that I found most incomprehensible was that the Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Ossining actually has language that addresses this very issue of a development project that would change the character of a neighborhood. And it gives the Planning Board the power to veto such projects.
According to paragraph 55-8A:
In considering an application, the ARB (Architectural Review Board) shall take into account the natural and manmade features of the site and its surroundings, and the character of the zoning district and its peculiar suitability for particular purposes with a view to conserving existing values and encouraging the most appropriate use of land.
It goes on to state that:
The Architectural Review Board may . . . disapprove any application, provided that the ARB finds the project as proposed would be so detrimental to the desirability and property values so as to cause . . . striking dissimilarity, visual discord or inappropiateness in general or with respect to other structures located . . . on the same street.
Yet Parth Knolls was approved and here we are.
I lay all this out as an introduction to a very similar situation happening just down the street at 40 Croton Dam Road. Formerly the Stony Lodge Psychiatric Hospital, there is currently a proposal to develop this property and build a 188-unit apartment building called River Knolls (check out the developer’s site here.)
You can also check out a blog post I wrote about the site last year here.
This project has been wending its way through the Planning and Town Boards since 2015. As with Parth Knolls, the developer is asking for a zoning change — here, from R15 (single family homes) to MF-2 (a newly invented designation, Multi-Family 2.) However, unlike Parth Knolls, the community has been kept informed about this proposed zoning change and the community does not like it. (See here for a description of how the Parth Knolls zoning change was slid through without the community being aware until it was too late.)
Last night, July 16, 2019, there was a Work Session of the Ossining Town Board. And though they were not required to allow community members to speak at this meeting, they allowed it. Everyone was given four minutes to share their thoughts on the development and/or the proposed zoning change.
First, I highly recommend you watch the video here yourself – yes, it’s two hours and ten minutes long, but it’s really the first 40 minutes that are most informative. You’ll hear Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg speak, along with David Stohlman, the Town Planning Consultant, and the Town Counsel Christie Tomm Adonna.
Now, I’m not a land use attorney, nor do I have any specialized knowledge in this field, but having watched the process unfold with Parth Knolls, I can see some of the same patterns at work here.
Here’s are the highlights for me from last night’s meeting (full disclosure — I didn’t attend, but reviewed the video today):
First, there were well over 100 community members in attendance. All the seats in the meeting room were filled and the lobby was standing room only.
David Stohlman, the Town Planning Consultant, explained exactly what the definition of spot zoning is. (Backstory: Many community members feel that this proposed zoning change, and the fact that the 2015 amendment for the Town Comprehensive Plan specifically mentioned this site is an example of spot zoning. And spot zoning is illegal.)
Stohlman read out the definition of spot zoning from Anderson’s American Law of Zoning:
“The process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of said property and to the detriment of other owners.”
He went on to explain that the River Knolls proposed zoning change is not an example of spot zoning because:
- This is not a small parcel
- This is not an attempt to put a commercial zone in a residential area, but rather a residential complex (ie 188 apartments) in a residential area (currently all one one-family homes.) Same land use classification, so no spot zoning here.
- It is in accordance with the current Town Comprehensive Plan because that document states that the Town “should be open to reassessing the use of the under-utilized and non-conforming use of the former Stony Lodge Hospital property.”
I must add that his words were met with some derisive laughter from the community. It is especially curious to me how the Town Comprehensive Plan was amended in 2015 with language that specifically mentions this property. How did that come about? Who suggested this amendment? So many questions . . .
Town Supervisor Levenberg explained that the proposed development is still wending its way through the approval process, and implored the community not to allow their emotions to take over, but to read all the supporting material, such as the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the traffic study. You can find all those documents here. She asked the community to take the facts into consideration before coming to conclusions.
She also clarified some items that she felt had been mischaracterized in social media and in the community:
1. The developer has offered to make a $450K one-time payment to the Ossining School District in addition to paying property taxes. This is not to be considered a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT.) She noted that property taxes on the site are currently $95K/year now and would go up to $1M/year if this project is built.
2. She noted that the developer would pay a $500K one-time recreation fee.
3. She highlighted the fact that only 25% of the property would be developed and the remaining 75% would be (donated? governed? maintained?) by the Westchester Land Trust. (I was not clear on this at all.)
4. She clarified that the proposal will now only have 174 units, and that more of those will be one-bedroom units. She feels that the impact of 30 one-family homes on the site would be far greater on the community due to the fact that there wouldn’t be as much tax revenue and that there would be more students in our overcrowded schools.
Then the community was given their chance to speak, and I didn’t see one person stand up in support of this project.
Now, development is not a bad thing in itself, but poor planning can result in bad development. Drive by Parth Knolls at 87 Hawkes Avenue and ask yourselves if you want to see apartment buildings plonked down in the middle of neighborhoods with one-family homes.
Specifically, if you are concerned about the character of the neighborhood adjacent to 40 Croton Dam Road being changed forever, contact the Town Board and let them know how you feel about the River Knoll project in its current form. You can find their email addresses here.
There’s much more to this story, but I think I’ve covered the high points for now. Watch this space . . .