Pros Oppose New Larchmont Building Rules
by Judy Silberstein
(May 11, 2006) It was billed as a public hearing on a new site plan law, but the discussion at the Village of Larchmont’s Board meeting on Monday, May 8 was actually an opportunity for building professionals to argue for less regulation, not more. Also, the new administration continued filling vacancies on Larchmont's numerous boards and committees.
What the New Law Requires – and Why
The latest ordinance, passed at the end of last year, was motivated largely by residents’ unhappiness with construction near Kane and Willow Avenues. (See: Stricter Zoning Code Passes.) The law decreased the size of projects requiring review by the Planning Board. Demolitions of 20% (rather than 50%) of a home and additions of 125 square feet of “building coverage” must now be reviewed, even if no zoning variance is needed.
Because the Planning Board requires a public hearing with public notification before it votes to approve a site plan, sending projects for that board’s review accomplishes the twin goals of extra notice to the neighbors and extra oversight of the plans.
The residents had also called for “early notice” provisions that would alert property owners near a proposed project when it first goes before the Planning Board, which may be many months before the formal hearing. Caught up in the electoral season and in the complexities of crafting a law that balances individual and community interests, the Village Board has tabled formal consideration of an early notice law.
Is So Much Regulation Needed?
Mayor Liz Feld explained that she, the trustees, the building inspector and Planning Board had been fielding numerous questions and complaints about the new rules, and she wanted to get them out in the open. "Village Board should not be in the business of adjudicating neighbor disputes through land use legislation, and if that's what this is about" perhaps there was a problem, the mayor said. Trustee Anne McAndrews suggested that some further “tweaks” might be needed. Trustee Mike Wiener noted that small additions on the "proverbial one acre lot” were not the problem, but that much of the Village consists of small lots where even small changes are felt.
The new regulations are definitely having an impact. According to Frank Blasi, Larchmont's building inspector, more applications are going to the Planning Board, though some have been handled with only one or two meetings. He has no problem with the new rules, but "the architects are more challenged than they were before,” he said after the meeting.
From the point of view of the professionals at Monday’s board meeting, much of the new and proposed law is unnecessary and overly burdensome. Architect Jim Fleming, suggested a “reality check might be needed on change.” A small cluster of three controversial cases might have made the situation appear worse than it is, but “ninety-nine percent of the jobs go with no problems. Don’t make a knee jerk reaction and plug up everything,” he pleaded. He also suggested the board research how notification is accomplished in nearby communities like Rye, where the process is simpler.
Rick Yestadt, another local architect, suggested that the Planning Board was meant for reviewing larger issues – “not 125-foot decks.”
Arthur Wexler, an architect and member of the Mamaroneck Town Zoning Board, described how layers of regulations limit what a homeowner can build on a property – rules on zoning, setbacks, bulky houses – and now having to go to the Planning Board even on small residential projects. “They’re burdening and burdening the homeowners and requiring the architect to represent them at meetings and meetings,” he said. “There are hours and hours -- and someone has to bear the expense.”
Trustee Marlene Kolbert reminded the architects that the legislation was in response to “great concern.” She said, “That’s why we’re doing this – it’s a job we’ve been asked to do – whether you like it or not.”
The board closed the public hearing on Monday without taking any action, but further discussions at future meetings are expected.
Musical Chairs at the Library Board
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved Miriam Curnin, a former mayor of Larchmont, to head the Larchmont Library Board to replace Bill Dentzer, who is stepping down after fifteen years on the board, nine as chair.
Commenting on the appointment the next day, Mayor Liz Feld said Ms. Curnin “was the unanimous choice of Bill Dentzer, [Mamaroneck Town Supervisor] Valerie O’Keeffe and myself.”
“She would obviously come to mind,” said Mr. Dentzer, “she is so able, and having served a previous term, she has the experience to be chair.”
Ms. Curnin had been appointed to the Library Board in 1997 by Mayor Cheryl Lewy. However, when her term expired in 2002, she was not reappointed by Mayor Ken Bialo. Now, she said she’s looking forward to serving as chair. “It’s such an essential institution – and a healthy and thriving institution in the Village, that it’s really an honor to serve,” she said.
Two other members are leaving the Library Board, Hari Taranto (who will remain on the Zoning Board) and Jim Milstein, newly elected to the Larchmont Board of Trustees. Filling their shoes are two Larchmonters who Mayor Feld cited for their finance backgrounds:
Other appointments include: