The Irvington Board of Trustees ended almost two years of controversy on June 7, when they voted unanimously to create a new multifamily/office (MFO) zoning district for part of North Broadway (Route 9). The measure increases the allowable population density on those properties, with incentives for multifamily projects designed to make living in Irvington more attainable for people with a broader range of incomes.
A public hearing before the vote went on for more than three hours, with objections from residents who predicted the new zoning would stress Village services and district schools, and result in massive structures that would ruin the quaint character of the neighborhood. Other residents were concerned about congested roadways, and requested more in-depth traffic studies. For another group, historic preservation was the main issue.
Marissa Marvetti, the historic preservation consultant hired by neighbors of the Maxon property at the corner of Strawberry Lane, had submitted a letter to the board contending that development could have an adverse effect on the views of Woodcliff Manor, the property’s 1853 columned mansion. Marvetti stated that allowing new construction to envelop the house would be an example of “poor preservation planning.”
Village Attorney Marianne Stecich pointed out that the rezoning “would aid historic preservation of structures that are currently not protected.” Trustee Constance Kehoe added that since any development in the zone would require planning board approval and a special permit, “I think there’s greater hope for maintaining that character with that zoning.”
Responding to residents who said the proposal was in conflict with the current Comprehensive Plan, Trustee Larry Lonky said, “Everyone’s entitled to their view of our village — our village’s past, its present, and its future. I think our view has been informed by the Village’s Comprehensive Plan.” For example, that document includes recommendations for more cluster-style housing to preserve green space, and more affordable housing.
Trustee Janice Silverberg said that she continued to support the amendment because of “the need for housing — multifamily, affordable, and senior housing.” She said that Irvington’s existing multifamily housing has been “seamlessly integrated into the community... any kind of zoning will bring change, but doing nothing is not a viable solution.”
“We’re at a pretty good balance point,” Trustee Marc Gilliland said. “I’m not swayed to do further [public] input.”
Mayor Brian Smith recalled being a student at Dows Lane School in the early 1980s when Fieldpoint [the condominium complex at the top of Main Street] was being built, and how upset he was about trees being cut down. “I think the large lawns that are required on Broadway would preserve the character of those properties,” he said. He called residents of Irvington’s existing multifamily housing “the backbone of the community” and concluded, “I think there could be a good development here, that would be good for everybody.”
Smith predicted that when developments are proposed for the zone, traffic would be a major consideration. “I think when a full traffic study is done, it’s going to be the limiting factor... a huge limiting factor,” he said.
The new zoning covers four properties on the east side of North Broadway between Strawberry Lane and the Irvington Gardens co-op complex. The properties were previously zoned for single-family housing, but the offices on the Maxon and KEF properties predated the single-family zoning.
The special-permit uses now include multifamily dwellings, senior citizen housing (for age 55-plus), offices, and a grab bag of institutional uses, such as places of worship, schools, libraries, or museums. Bed-and-breakfasts accessed directly from Broadway would be included.
The rezoning gives preferential treatment for developments with more than the Village’s current minimum requirement of “fair and affordable” housing. The usual minimum requirement is 10 percent affordable for developments of 10 or more units, and at least one affordable unit in developments of from five to nine units. In the MFO zone, a developer that builds an all-affordable project receives a density bonus, allowing 20 percent more units to be put in that building, compared to a market-rate building of comparable size.
Moderate-income project developers are also allowed to build 20 percent more units than otherwise required. The latter category would be for families earning up to 100 percent of the area median income, adjusted for household size, as compared to “fair and affordable” housing, which caps income at 80 percent of the area median.
The density bonuses do not apply to senior citizens' developments. In addition, buildings for senior citizens are required to have at least 15 percent affordable units, instead of the usual 10 percent.
Buildings would be limited to 225 feet in length, and lot size capped at 80,000 square feet (slightly under 1.84 acres). There would be limits on the amount of paved surfaces allowed, and there would be other drainage requirements to contain stormwater on the property.
A “historically significant” structure would get a 5 percent greater lot coverage allowance. Furthermore, the village board would have the discretion to allow up to 10 percent more lot coverage if a proposal fulfills some desired goal of the Village, such as more affordable housing than required by village law, or a new sidewalk on Broadway.
Buildings would be limited to two stories, or 25 feet in height, if built within 250 to 300 feet of Broadway. Three-story buildings would be allowed beyond 300 feet from Broadway.
A developer of a project containing 100 percent affordable units would be allowed to exceed, by 20 percent, the maximum number of units otherwise allowed in a market-rate building of comparable size. The provision for all-affordable buildings was added after local activists campaigned for it. They had also wanted the village board to drop incentives for either moderate-income or senior citizen housing, but the board kept both of those provisions in the rezoning.
The planning board can put up hurdles for would-be developers. It would have the right to deny a special permit if it thought a proposed development would have a significant negative visual impact. It would not pass a project on to the village board unless it was satisfied that it would “be in harmony with the character and appearance of neighboring properties and the village as a whole.” It remains to be seen whether such subjective wording will be enough to block the kind of large-scale project that concerns some residents.