Armonk Nursery Proposal Criticized, Referred to Planning Board

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Mariani Gardens representatives make their pitch for a zoning change to allow a beer and wine cafe at the Armonk nursery.
Mariani Gardens representatives make their pitch for a zoning change to allow a beer and wine cafe at the Armonk nursery.

The North Castle Town Board referred the controversial Mariani Gardens application to the planning board last week before it considers amended zoning that would allow the nursery to serve wine and beer and host parties.

In another 3-2 vote, the board approved sending the matter to the town’s planners so they may generate a report but not before several residents leveled harsh criticisms regarding the proposal. Speakers urged officials to reject the referral because the expanded operations would generate too much traffic and noise and risk compromising the character of the Armonk business hamlet and the town’s historic district.

Mariani Gardens is seeking to expand the current cafe from 1,000 to 2,800 square feet, increase seating capacity from 16 to 60 patrons, have the ability to serve beer and wine and have an unlimited number of catered social functions with as many as 200 guests. There is a cap on the number of events as well as more restrictive guest limits when there is amplified music.

Armonk resident Neal Baumann, a parishioner at St. Stephens Episcopal Church located across the street from the nursery, said the applicant’s request amounts to illegal spot zoning. A change would transform the 14,600-square-foot establishment with a nursery as its primary use into a catering hall with a nursery. Also, the guest limits proposed by the applicant would be unenforceable, he said.

“This new proposal is far worse than the last and it will have a direct negative impact on St. Stephen’s and the historic district,” Baumann said. “In fact, there are so many issues with this application it is impossible to see a reason for the referral.”

Comments also focused on Mariani Gardens being issued a notice of violation late last month. A few speakers urged the board to hold off on any action, including the referral, until it is in compliance with current zoning. Mariani Gardens was cited by the building department on April 26 for selling merchandise prohibited in the Nursery Business (NB) zone.

“If a result of a zoning violation is that the town board simply alters the zoning ordinance to legalize the violation, why bother having zoning laws at all?” said resident Susan Shimer, a former town justice. “Why have a master plan?

Another resident, Ed Woodyard, also appealed to the board to make sure the business is in compliance before any further consideration is given to the application.

“It just seems like if you allow this to go ahead you’re giving them amnesty for something they are already in violation of,” Woodyard said.

Christine Eggleton read a letter from Shimer, who is also chair of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, calling the proposed expanded use “not compatible with the historic district.”

But the board majority of Supervisor Howard Arden and council members Diane DiDonato-Roth and John Cronin said a referral allows the planning board to start reviewing the details of the application in order to make substantive changes. Arden and Cronin said they were uncomfortable with the proposed intensity of use, but the applicant should have a chance to work on the proposal.

“It’s not to suggest that I would support this application at the end of the day if there was not some alteration or modification made, but I’m willing to send this to (the planning board) and get their report back,” Cronin said.

Arden said the planning board often makes significant changes to an application. He said the big change in the parcel’s zoning was made prior to Mariani Gardens’ 2007 approval that first allowed a limited cafe. Furthermore, the application still must return to the town board for a public hearing on the zoning, he said.

Meanwhile, DiDonato-Roth said what the speakers were suggesting presented a double standard. Recently, the board rezoned a Banksville property to accommodate  requested uses by its property owner in order to help the owner have a more productive enterprise.

But the board’s minority, councilmen Stephen D’Angelo and Michael Schiliro, were concerned with the enforceability of the provisions and whether it was appropriate to make the requested zoning amendment.

“This proposal is unenforceable, you can’t regulate it, there are so many things in here that are wrong,” D’Angelo said. “If we pass it to the planning board, it’s never going to get fixed.”

Schiliro added that the referral could give the planning board and the public the appearance the board largely agrees with the proposal.

“If I’m not comfortable with a zoning proposal, then in good conscience how can I refer it to the planning board until I am comfortable with it?” he asked.



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