By PHIL NOBILE
Citing protection of the village’s historic appearance and character as the rationale, the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees enacted a law altering development guidelines in the village’s central business district, making it tougher to develop downtown than ever before.
But some village residents question the true intent of the law, and whether or not it targets specific projects such as the repurposing of the Mamaroneck Playhouse, a contentious issue in the village since its closing in April.
Passed by a 3 to 1 vote, with Democratic Trustee Leon Potok voting against the measure and Trustee Ilissa Miller, also a Democrat, abstaining, the new law requires developers wishing to build in the village’s downtown district to obtain any additional permits, such as demolition, at the same time as standard building permits in order to move projects forward.
Under the old law, developers could acquire building permits without any requirement of having set project plans in place.
The new legislation applies to the central business district, defined in the law as all properties on either side of Mamaroneck Avenue from Boston Post Road to the Mamaroneck train tracks.
Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, urged his fellow trustees to move the law forward swiftly to protect the village’s downtown district.
“My concern is with any of the buildings downtown—which are the image of the village—is that, when you have an empty lot, it’s not viable or conducive to the development of the village,” Rosenblum said. “I think it’s important to move ahead on this; there are pieces of property that could be potentially affected immediately by this.”
Before it was passed, the new law was met with much debate at the June 23 Board of Trustees meeting. Fears of overreaching ran rampant during the public hearing on the issue, with requests for further comment from other village land use boards made by trustees and residents alike.
“We should take a little more care when we pass laws, and we should wait to hear feedback from the Planning Board and Board of Architectural Review on how this law will improve the avenue and whether or not to expand beyond the avenue,” Potok said. “It’s better to be cautious and proceed carefully.”
Whether or not the new law targets a specific, controversial project along Mamaroneck Avenue was also questioned by residents.
In April, the Mamaroneck Playhouse movie theater was closed by Bow Tie Cinemas, which purchased the theater in June 2013 with promises of renovating and revitalizing business. Although no clear intentions or announcements have been made by Bow Tie regarding the theater’s future, the company told Rosenblum in April they planned to develop it into condominiums.
Clark Neuringer, a current Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission member, called the law “inconsistent,” arguing it was targeting the potential future development of the playhouse and the village could face a lawsuit as a result.
“A private property owner wants to change his business on his property. The municipality should not interfere,” Neuringer said. “Since when is delaying the land use process good strategy for a municipal board?”
Rosenblum denied that the law was targeting specific projects like the Playhouse, saying his concern came from when The Regatta, an upscale apartment complex located at 123 Mamaroneck Ave., was “an empty hole for 10 years,” and the village cannot benefit from unattended empty space along the avenue.
According to the law’s language, any applications for building permits in the central business district “shall be accompanied by all applications required for any improvement to be erected thereafter.” The law goes on to state the Planning Board must follow set guidelines to take into consideration “visual and aesthetic relationships between neighboring properties,” as well as the style and height of potential new buildings.”
Such measures and amendments to the village’s zoning laws were approved by the Westchester County Planning Department and its commissioner Edward Burroughs, who said that, under general municipal law, the county board “supports the village’s efforts to enhance the economic viability of its downtown.”
The county approval was echoed by Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, who said the law was imperative to the future of the business district.
“It’s a vital law to preserve the business core of our village, which is one of the things responsible for the village becoming so successful in the past decade or so,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “I don’t think this would appreciably slow down any project; it doesn’t add any steps to the land use process. It simply says if you want to knock a building down in the central business district, you need the permit for what comes next.”
Miller said she was in support of the law overall, but the process of not consulting other boards for comment was wrong.
“Our process was completely improper on this,” Miller said. “I’m in support, however I feel as if it’s being jammed down our throats in a way that’s inappropriate. I wish we could take our time and make sure our boards get our input.”