At their October 5 meeting, the Larchmont Village Board heard pleas from architects seeking changes to the zoning code and from residents advocating for a safety study of streets they fear are too dangerous for walking.
Pine Brook/Mayhew/Soundview Residents Plea for Traffic Safety Study
Blind curves, blind intersections and missing sidewalks were among conditions listed by a contingent of residents seeking a commitment from the board for a safety study “in this budget cycle” so improvements can be in place by next September. Beth Belisle, who lives on Mayhew Avenue near Stuyvesant, said her group had already met twice with the Traffic Commission, and although some changes have been implemented, the residents would like a comprehensive, professional assessment.
The Traffic Commission lowered the speed limit for the length of Mayhew and Stuyvesant from 30 to 25 miles per hour; added a new stop sign and crosswalk at the intersection of Soundview and Stuyvesant; and restricted commercial traffic to local deliveries.
The residents have additional concerns.
Megan Hildebrandt, who lives on Stuyvesant Avenue at the intersection with Pine Brook Drive, noted there was no safe way to get from her home to the nearby park, which is on the other side of a triangular traffic island. Gretchen Liebowitz said she has to dash madly across the wide intersection at Stuyvesant and Soundview, unable to see cars coming around the winding road because of a towering rock wall. “People come flying through there,” she said, but there are no sidewalks or nearby crosswalks. (See the Google map below or click: View Larger Map.)
Despite a large number of elementary schoolers in the neighborhood, it’s been difficult to recruit parents to lead a “Walking School Bus” reported Liz Fitzgerald, Chatsworth School coordinator for Walk to School Week, which began on Monday. There are eight “bus routes” from the Manor, but barely two from Pinebrook. “No one wants to volunteer because it’s so dangerous,” she said.
Board members did not dispute the existence of difficult intersections, but did not commit to the study.
Trustee Anne McAndrews said, “We can’t commit: we have no idea what this is going to cost.” She said the board needed specifics on the scope of the study and would then have to issue requests for proposals and follow other bidding procedures.
Trustee Marlene Kolbert was not unsympathetic to the residents, but called for a reality check. She predicted a traffic study could be expensive and beyond this year’s budget.
“We’d all like to make it a bikeable, walkable community,” she said, “But Larchmont was laid out 100 years ago in ways that are not ideal for the situation we’re in,” she added. She also noted that her own children used to walk from Shadow Lane to school, beginning as five-year-olds, despite the lack of sidewalks.
Ms. Belisle and Mr. Engel, speaking as vice-president of the Pine Brook Neighborhood Association, argued that times had changed: traffic is up, cars are larger and drivers are on cellphones.
The residents got the most support from Trustee Richard Ward, who said he would be “happy to work with the Traffic Commission and the group to make sure everyone has input into the design of the RFP.”
Mayor Feld said “we’ll get something together real fast,” perhaps in time for the next board meeting on November 9.
Change at Planning Board? Not So Fast
Members of Larchmont’s Planning Board are having second thoughts about proposed changes to the zoning code that would relax rules adopted in 2005 requiring homeowners to get approval before constsructing additions larger than 250 square feet. (See: Stricter Zoning Code Passes.)
Public hearings have been dragging on at board meetings for months, with little public input. However, there appeared to have been a consensus building among members of Larchmont’s three land use boards (Planning, Zoning and Architectural Review) and the Board of Trustees to bump up the threshold for required review to 250 square feet on larger lots (outside of the RC, R.5 and R7.5 zones).
However, on Monday night, two Planning Board members voiced support for keeping the 250 square feet rule.
Asked by Trustee Marlene Kolbert to explain – in one sentence – why “we should keep it exactly the way it is now,” Michael Edelstein, vice-chairman of the Planning Board, said the legislation passed in response to “bulking up” of homes is a “very valuable addition.” If the minimum size is increased, there may be instances that his group “will not be able to catch.”
Ralph Engel, also from the Planning Board, said a review of their cases showed many problems with additions on larger lots, precisely “because they are the largest, they can cause the biggest problems.” The only way to “attempt to do what you’ve asked us to do is to cover everyone equally,” he said.
Mr. Edelstein agreed that some of their procedures need “greater transparency” to make it easier for applicants to understand how and when to submit required documentation. John Parkinson, another Planning Board member confirmed earlier in the hearing that there was a draft proposal for changes, with the aim to create “as smooth a process as possible.”
Pleading the case for a higher threshold for planning review were two local architects, who had also voiced opposition to the rules in 2006. (See: Pros Oppose New Larchmont Building Rules.) Arthur Wexler said he was curtailing the size of additions so as to avoid the Planning Board. “It’s a step that’s dangerous – there are no guidelines, we don’t know what we have to present.” He called for greater leeway for larger lots, and complete elimination of Planning Board review for additions that remain within zoning setbacks.
Rick Yestadt noted there is no clear definition of “bulk,” so architects don’t know how to respond to Planning Board concerns. He concurred that the thresholds are too low. “To a person, the architects in town were taken aback when the rule was enacted,” he said.
Ms. Edelstein suggested the Planning Board now had sufficient experience with the rules and would be open to taking feedback from architects.
Mayor Liz Feld, who has regularly questioned the rules, noted that few other communities require site plan reviews for residential lots smaller than one acre. Mr. Engel reminded the board, however, why the stricter rules were enacted: “You had monstrous houses towering over others,” he recalled. It’s not enough to notify neighbors of impending construction, he said, “They need to go somewhere with the authority to say no.”
The public hearing will continue on November 9.