Farm Market In Larchmont? + Stricter Zoning Code Passes

by Judy Silberstein

(December 1, 2005) At their pre-Thanksgiving meeting on November 21, Larchmont’s Village Board took up one new proposal, for a farmers’ market, and wrapped up work on a longer-term issue, changes to the zoning code to increase scrutiny of additions and demolitions.

Farmers’ Market Coming to the Train Station?

If all goes as envisioned by the newly formed Farmers’ Market Committee, by next summer there should be a bustling market operating on Saturdays in the parking lot of the Larchmont Train Station.

Ossining market: photo from the Community Markets website

As explained by Wendy Weinstein Karp, who along with her husband Matthew Karp own and operate Plates Restaurant a stones throw from the proposed site, a number of Larchmonters came to the idea of a local market independently and simultaneously. Plates already works with a number of farmers who supply fresh produce, poultry and other items for their kitchen. In addition, one of their chefs happens to be married to Miriam Haas, owner of Community Markets that operates a number of markets in Westchester and Rockland counties and in New York City.

Other members of the committee come at the concept more as consumers – they want to shop at a local market in the Village.

In a detailed presentation, Ms. Haas covered most of the questions that board members had been mulling over themselves: Would the market compete with existing businesses? What about liability, logistics and cleanup?

Ms. Haas said there were very few local merchants selling comparable products. Her company supplies supervision; the farmers have their own tents (which do not require drilling into the pavement) and they remove their own trash. The markets usually run from June or July through to Thanksgiving. Ossining, where Ms. Haas lives and where her business began, keeps the market open in December to sell Christmas trees. Dates and particular items are customized to the community.

Larchmont’s demographics make this area an attractive place for the farmers. Ms. Haas noted particularly the presence of a large group of foreign residents from European countries who may already be accustomed to frequenting farmers’ markets. This will help Ms. Haas attract the farmers, who at this point are in relatively short supply and in high demand.

One big issue voiced by Mayor Ken Bialo concerned adding vehicles and pedestrians to the already congested Chatsworth Avenue bridge. This was not enough to nix the idea, but he did want the Traffic Committee brought in to brainstorm backup plans in case the market created traffic tie ups.

On the other hand, the mayor was attracted to the idea that shoppers would frequent the market and then leave their cars parked at the train station while they continued on foot to the Palmer Avenue business district, where parking is limited. Parking is free at the train station on the weekends, as Mayor Bialo reminds residents at every board meeting.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Trustee Marlene Kolbert, who shops at markets in other communities. “To have one here in Larchmont is a wonderful opportunity.”

“I detect a receptivity to this,” said Mayor Bialo, though he thought it would be sometime in early January before the board would be ready to make a final decision.

Zoning Changes Pass

See: New Zoning Ordinance

The board was ready to come to a final resolution on changes to the zoning code that have been discussed since September, when a group of residents raised concerns about demolitions and renovations to homes in the Kane and Willow Avenue area that were proceeding without oversight of the Planning Commission. (See: Renovations Prompt Village to Revise Zoning Code, Again)

Board members reviewed the latest wording suggested by the Planning Commission and alternate wording supplied by Village Attorney Jim Staudt. The entire board had not received the proposals beforehand and Trustee Liz Feld ran off to make photocopies for members to analyze.

In deciding between the drafts, the discussion focused on how to measure the percentage of the house that was being demolished or added. Trustee Anne McAndrews advocated for the Planning Commission’s approach that would have excluded parts of the house (such as the basement) in computing the gross square footage of the house for purposes of deciding whether 20% was being demolished and a site plan would be required. She argued that this would be more restrictive, triggering a site review under more conditions; however the rest of the board did not appear to follow this argument.

In the end, they opted for Mr. Staudt’s wording that did not address the issue of measuring square footage but did provide stricter definitions for determining if a space has been left or has been demolished.

Currently demolition is not considered to have occurred if the floor remains -- even though the space would look demolished to a layperson’s eyes. Under the new rules, demolition will be considered to have occurred unless a space continues to be “fully enclosed by at least three existing exterior walls or fully enclosed by the existing ceiling structure or roof immediately above it on the same floor.”

For the first time in its deliberations, the board heard from someone worried about potential burdens of the proposed rules on a planned renovation. Developers and architects who were heavily involved in previous zoning law considerations have been conspicuously absent from the current deliberations (with the exception of published commentary from architect Jim Fleming: see FrankenZoning).

Charlotte Huston, an Oak Avenue homeowner, questioned whether replacing a roof without changing its size, for example, would require a site plan review. “I absolutely think that we need the new rules, but you have to put the limit somewhere. How much of a burden of paperwork and hourly manpower can a small village handle realistically?” she asked in an interview after the meeting.

The board voted to approve the revised code, which will go into effect as soon as it is filed with the New York Secretary of State. Trustee Marlene Kolbert noted, however, that regardless of details, it’s hard to know how a zoning rule will actually function and future refinements may be needed.

Passage of the new law does not end action from the residents who asked for it.

“We’re all pleased that it passed,” said John McGarr, spokesperson for a group of Kane, Willow and Chestnut Avenue residents that asked for the changes. He noted that "this gives the opportunity for the surrounding residents to be notified." But the group is taking further action to address a project at 96 Willow Avenue that is already underway and so does not fall under the new code.

The residents have hired their own real estate attorney, Steven Silverberg, and will be appearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday, December 14. They will be “asking for the board to reverse the determination of the building inspector that the project did not require review” and will also ask “that the developer submit a plan before the Planning Commission,” said Mr. McGarr in a later interview. Though the project is far along, one hope is that during the site plan review process, the Planning Commission would require the developer to include more efforts to mitigate storm water that might stream from the property onto nearby yards.