Community debates changing FAR parameters


The Village of Mamaroneck is considering changing its floor area ratio regulations, which would pave the way for expanded development. One of the places the change would have the most effect would be near the village’s Metro North train station, where a transit-oriented development study has been conducted. File photo

Tensions have flared regarding possible changes in floor area ratio within the Village of Mamaroneck, with those against the potential change saying it will allow for irresponsible construction and proponents believing it will help develop vacant areas of the village.

The proposed change would be to remove parking space area from the floor area ratio, or FAR, formula for all uses other than single-family residential development. In essence, the move would allow developers more room to build on.

FAR, which is used in municipalities’ zoning codes, is the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio.

One of the areas that would be most effected by the change in the village-wide FAR is the neighborhood surrounding the Metro North train station where a transit-oriented development study has been conducted.

Transit-oriented development includes a mixture of housing, office and retail construction in a walkable neighborhood located within a half-mile of public transportation. In the village, the TOD study was used to determine how best to develop the area surrounding the train station, located at 1 Station Plaza, which has been historically flood-prone and damaged.

The village is still waiting for the recommendations of the TOD study to be sorted out and put into a review format subject to comment, according to Trustee Leon Potok, a Democrat. The TOD study assumes that the FAR changes will be approved.

The proposal to amend the FAR is for the purpose of increasing financially and aesthetically successful development, especially in the downtown flood-prone areas. Removing parking from the formula will idealistically help to build because developers will have more space to work with.

But some residents are concerned with the changes to the village-wide FAR because they feel that the code’s language could be too vague and left open for interpretation, causing overdevelopment or development used for purposes unbeknownst to the village.

Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, said professionals in the village wouldn’t allow for overdevelopment to happen. The mayor said that he won’t approve high rises and large office buildings like those found in New Rochelle and White Plains.

“I like small village character and you have to balance that and be realistic,” Rosenblum said. “It also will help to maintain the character of the village, which is an extremely diverse community.”

Rosenblum said that it’s important for the village to focus on retail and residential combination development. “It will in­crease the tax base and allow people to stay here,” he said.

Village resident Dan Natchez, an opponent of the FAR change, said excluding attic area from the formula could allow for developers to use it as an extra floor for unmentioned purposes and create high-density housing developments that might not be necessary in the village. Natchez said the FAR laws were amended in 2008 to prevent what was seen as uncontrolled development. He said he is worried irregularities in the language of the law coupled with certain exemptions will allow developers to circumvent regulations and result in overdevelopment.

Natchez and his colleague Paul Milliot wrote a letter to the Planning Board on Aug. 1 stating that the proposed changes to FAR parameters should be rejected entirely and outlined their reasoning. Natchez said he is concerned the public and governing boards aren’t being completely honest with their intentions for changing FAR.

“It’s a major gift to have high-density development from a developer standpoint, and if everyone is saying that, they should say so,” Natchez said. “That’s why I think changes are going to be made before it’s well thought out.”

Nancy Wasserman, a real estate broker in the village, said she and other property owners and residents are in favor of changing the law at the Sept. 3 Board of Trustees meeting.

“We are here to support mixed-use, controlled development with both affordable and market-rate units with efficient, green building design,” Wasserman said.

Keeping the FAR and zoning codes as they are stops economically feasible development, she said, and people will continue to leave the area due to quality of life issues stemming from deteriorated, flood damaged buildings. Natchez’s comments are “scare tactics,” Wasserman said, and there is no potential for wholesale abuse if the FAR guidelines are changed because there will
be oversight.

“We have an excellent Planning Board and Building Department; plans are reviewed and inspections are completed at every course,” Wasserman said.

But Natchez argued that Wasserman wants to see the village construct high rises because that’s where the money is for a realtor. He said the issue shouldn’t be what the immediate gain would be, but rather what the long-term effects of changing the codes are.

“The only way you could make her development ideas pan out is by taking away the FAR. Mamaroneck is developed with very little open space left,” Natchez said.