Planning Commission OK's "Bulky House" Zoning Changes: Now
It's Up to the Village Board
by Judy Silberstein
Draft "Code Revisions
for Bulky Houses" in PDF Format
(April 16, 2003) In a continuation of last week’s
session on “bulky houses,” the
Village of Larchmont Planning Commission spent Monday night on a line-by-line
review of proposed changes to the zoning code.
Joe Ferrucci, from
the firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Asoociates, guided the discussion and made
liberal use of a flip chart and magic markers to illustrate
in definitions and
setback requirements might impact what could be built on a lot.
“For the most part, we were in agreement with the
major items recommended by the consultant,” said Commission
Chairperson Syrette Dym Grant. “There were several
areas of concern that we grappled with and came up with the
best solutions we could given the short time frame we had.” Though
not all members agreed on all points, by the end of the
evening, the Commission did approve a draft of the revised
The meeting, which was being taped by LMC-TV, went late
into the night, as the Commission strove to complete its
review in time for the Village Board to consider the revisions
and hold public hearings before a moratorium on related zoning
variances expires on May 1.
The Commission's work received praise from Village Board
was a terrific and informative meeting,” declared Trustee
Marlene Kolbert. “It gave me an appreciation and understanding
of the issues which I would not have had without this.”
“It was so commendable,” commented Trustee Feld,
"that they actually voted on the recommendations by the end
of the evening, given that they are on such a tight deadline
and still went over everything in such excruciating detail.”
A more subdued comment came from local architect Jim Fleming. “I
would hope that the Village proceeds very cautiously in adopting
any new, more restrictive zoning parameters for residential
lots.” (See Fleming's previous commentary on
“It seems that it is recognized that balancing property
rights, with which homeowners have purchased their property,
should be considered more heavily than a false perception
of some danger ahead,” he said and added this suggestion: “Leave ‘design’ matters
out of the zoning ordinances.”
A major goal of the revision is to soften the impact of
residential additions and new construction on immediate neighbors
and neighborhoods, without unduly restricting property rights.
The Village is attempting to prevent smaller homes from being
expanded into or replaced by “McMansions” that
hulk over adjoining properties. Adding to a home is particularly
problematic in areas with small lots: additions can block
sun, air and views of neighboring homes. However, requiring
large setbacks from the neighbors may prevent the addition
of modern kitchens, master bedroom suites, or family rooms
that many homeowners desire.
In the Town of Mamaroneck, the remedy to McMansions involved
passage of a "floor
area ratio" law that restricts
the size and height of homes relative to their lots. After
studying this sort of solution for the Village, the consultants
recommended a different approach that would beef-up the zoning
code and rely on the three land use boards (Planning Commission,
Board of Architectural Review and Zoning Board of Appeals)
to keep construction from impinging on neighbors and on the
character of the Village.
There was considerable interchange between the consultant,
the Commission and the audience, which included a number
of local architects, the Village Building Inspector and Engineer,
and members of the other land use boards and Board of Trustees.
In a number of instances, the architects called on the consultant
to be sure the revisions did not overly constrain their ability
to design additions to homes on Larchmont’s smallest
lots or on lots with unusual configurations. Already, the
revisions have been modified to reflect input from previous
meetings and communications. Over the course of the evening,
additional changes were made.
Trustee Liz Feld was impressed with the level of commitment
displayed by the various residents at the meeting. “If
you write people into the process,” she said, “it’s
amazing to see the level of brain power that is available
What to do with corner lots was a particular concern as
the group considered the least invasive placements for additions.
The consultant reiterated an important design element: to
preserve neighborhood character, the front facade of homes
on a street should remain relatively parallel. When one home
juts out way in front of another, it may break up the visual
integrity of the street, he explained. The current requirement
that home fronts be setback thirty feet from the street preserves
that look and encourages additions behind the home. However,
depending on the definition adopted, a corner lot’s
backyard is a neighbor’s side or front yard. The assembly
considered new definitions and requirements for “side
front yards,” and the Commission ultimately supported
the recommendations of the consultant.
Other lengthy discussions ensued on the issues of accessory
buildings, attached garages and additions over garages. How
close may an accessory building come to the property line?
What if an accessory building becomes attached to the main
house via a breezeway? Should garages be set back from the
main house? Should construction over a garage be more limited
than construction over the main house? What about homes with
steeply sloping lots? The consultant argued for greater height
restrictions on garage additions; the architects pointed
out that this could impinge on good design or lead to odd-looking, “dumpy” add-ons.
The session adjourned after midnight with the Commission
having weighed in on each issue and fulfilled its mission
to vote on recommended changes to the zoning code. Now the
Village Board will consider the recommendations in public
hearings over the next two weeks at their regular public
meeting on April 21, and an extra meeting on April 28.
Trustee Kolbert noted, “I encourage any interested
citizen to watch the tape.”
see when tapes of the April 7 and 14 meetings are being aired.
Click here for the Draft Code
Revisions for Bulky Houses.
This is the draft under consideration by the Village Board,
complete with additions
deletions from the April 14 Planning Commission meeting.