Column: We’re working on a vision for downtown

 

Mayor-MarvinOur downtown business consultant, Phillips Preiss and Grygiel LLC, recently sent the village a progress report of our Downtown Planning Study.

They suggested some straig-htforward changes to the village code for which there was strong support within all the constituent groups surveyed.

The consultants recommend loosening the restrictions on outdoor tables/eating to allow a broader range of downtown uses to take advantage of seating through both a zoning change and the institution of an annual licensing program.

As example, a code change would allow a business like Chantilly Pastry Shop to have bistro chairs out front in which a customer could have a coffee/breakfast and read the paper.

They also recommended that outdoor dining licenses, when granted, be valid for one year and renewed annually. Currently, when our land use boards grant these licenses, they last as long as the business is in operation.

The consultants’ logic is the merchant can be made more accountable for cleanliness, garbage removal, sidewalk obstruction if renewal of the benefit was predicated yearly on adhering to village standards.

The consultants also received very positive feedback from the groups interviewed concerning the display of outdoor merchandise. However, they do believe the village is remiss in not having regulations delineating standards for both the type and location of the merchandise.

They recommend stores be permitted to feature large items, such as garden equipment, household furnishings, antiques and plants as they provide attractive and visually interesting displays within the public right of way, which enhance a pedestrian experience in an outdoor/walking business district such as ours. Sidewalk display items should only be of the kind that would normally grace a store window. Small merchandise items, such as clothing and shoes, canned and bottled items should be prohibited in order to avoid a cluttered and unattractive appearance. Additionally, since retail displays may impede pedestrian traffic, distance standards must be set forth to ensure safety is paramount over merchandising.

Again, the consultants recommend a yearly renewal process to ensure the merchants remain compliant with all provisions of the permit.

Per the trustees’ directive, the consultants were also tasked to review our zoning code and procedures with an eye toward identifying and then implementing changes that help to create a more “business friendly” environment and providing greater clarity and certainty to merchants seeking to enter Bronxville.

Some of the issues that came to the fore include re-defining various commercial uses, such as personal services, retail uses and “service establishments” to eliminate confusion. Given the prevalence of on-line purchasing, the consultants also suggested we revisit the current restrictions on personal service establishments along Pondfield Road. As example, would it be a detriment to have a bright, airy ballet studio among the shops?

Our consultants also re-exa-mined the current square footage cap of store occupancy of 5,000 square-feet, given the needs of some very successful stores looking to come to our area.

Most importantly, they encouraged us to create a user-friendly land use application checklist so prospective merchants/tenants would know up front exactly the needs and timeframe to open a business in Bronxville.

Our colleagues in Scarsdale just recently employed the same consultants and acted on many of their suggestions, resulting in very positive changes and increased occupancy in their village and we expect to do the same.

On a very positive note, village landlords have at least six new businesses that have received all their approvals and will be up and operating this spring, greatly adding to the vitality of our business district.

The trustees are acutely aware many of our zoning and planning code regulations were written for a time and an economic environment that no longer exists and will never return.

To that end, emulating our neighbors in Scarsdale, we plan to work with our zoning, planning and design review boards as well as our merchants via the Chamber of Commerce to craft changes to our regulations that reflect the current economic reality while, at the same time, not sacrificing the ambience and standards that make Bronxville a unique village and shopping destination.

We also are investigating ways we can work with our art students/garden clubs/high school in conjunction with our landlords to make what empty stores remain attractive to the passerby.

Our business district is a crown jewel in Westchester and we as a community must do everything we can to keep it vibrant and attractive.