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Briarcliff Rezones Business Campuses Leaving a Developer Perplexed

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A rendering of a proposed layout for 180 townhouses at the corporate campus at 345 Scarborough Rd.

Five Briarcliff Manor business campuses have been rezoned to encourage more varied use of the properties that officials hope will spur greater investment in the community but without including residential uses for the sites.

On Dec. 15, the Village Board revised its zoning from Business (B) to Complementary Transitional (CT) for the parcels at 345 Scarborough Rd., the former Philips Research campus, 600 Albany Post Rd., 320 Old Briarcliff Rd., 555 Pleasantville Rd. and 333 Albany Post Rd. There had been a moratorium in place for the last year-and-a-half at the sites to allow for the board to make its zoning decision.

Mayor Steven Vescio said because only 6 percent of Briarcliff’s tax base is commercial, one of the lowest percentages in Westchester County, the goal was to prevent the loss of commercial properties. Another goal was to increase business districts that add vitality to the community.

Furthermore, the village wanted to avoid overburdening various services that are typically associated with residential developments, particularly the Ossining School District, Vescio said. Four of the five properties are zoned for Ossining schools, which are already stretched thin, while only the Pleasantville Road parcel is in the Briarcliff School District.

“We are looking at keeping them as commercial because having a healthy mix of commercial to residential taxpayers reduces the overall tax burden on residents,” Vescio said of the parcels. “So we’re looking to not only salvage the small amount of commercial tax base we have, we’re updating the zoning to increase additional commercial development, which will ultimately reduce the tax burden on residents.”

However, a New Jersey-based developer that bought the 94-acre Philips site in 2017, by far the largest of the five parcels, and has plans for a 180-unit age-restricted townhouse community criticized the village not just for its zoning decision but its refusal to sit down with him and his representatives to consider what his team could offer Briarcliff Manor.

Jonathan Grebow, president and CEO of Ridgewood Real Estate Partners whose company reportedly bought the property for $12.2 million, said at a time when many corporate campuses in the region are empty and the demand for housing in the suburbs is exploding, it’s frustrating and bewildering why the village wouldn’t at least listen to his proposal.

No formal application was submitted because of the moratorium, Grebow said.

Elsewhere in Westchester, towns are clamoring for residential communities for adults 55 and up with amenities, including a proposal his company is pursuing in Greenburgh, he said.

“There really is no corporate campus market in Westchester, especially one in northern Westchester not on a highway,” Grebow said. “There really is nothing north of Greenburgh where Regeneron is now. There really isn’t much. There’s a lot of vacancy in offices.

“We had approached the village and our initial impressions that residential uses was a better use for the property, and an active adult community is usually welcomed with open arms because it generates tax revenue, it has no school-age children, it’s a less impactful use.”

Projections by Ridgewood Real Estate Partners pegged the total revenue to all taxing entities at $3,232,117, including just over $2.3 million going to the Ossining School District. Grebow said he would commit to not having any school-age children live in the community.

Another $489,597 would be generated for the village, $287,121 to the county; $67,215 to the Town of Ossining and $84,572 for sewer and water district.

But Vescio said it’s not how much tax revenue is generated a but what a community nets after the cost of services associated with a residential plan are factored in that counts.

Officials also pointed to a long list of potential uses that are now allowed under the new CT zone other than offices. The village’s documents list conference centers and event space; medical offices; research laboratory and biomed facilities; fitness clubs and training facilities; recreational and self-storage facilities; hotels; institutions of higher learning; nursery schools; light manufacturing; arts; retail; and mixed-use development with commercial as the primary use.

Plus, the village will be able to more effectively monitor development because special permits will now be required, said Briarcliff Manor’s planning consultant Patrick Cleary.

“All of these new uses in the CT (zone) are established as special permit uses, and for all of these uses there are additional requirements that are general to the special permit process and specific regulations for each of these uses,” Cleary said.

Vescio pointed to the tax incentives the village is offering as an attraction. Any of the property owners investing at least $50,000 in one of these commercial properties will only pay the village half of the additional taxes the first year. The balance would be phased in over a 10-year period.

While the mayor acknowledged that it will take time to entice tenants, there will be changes in a post-pandemic economy, including companies that may have satellite offices in the suburbs closer to more of their employees’ homes.

“I think the tenants are out there but none of these properties are under village ownership,” Vescio said. “So, it’s really up to the owners to try and do their best to market it and offer it for rent at a reasonable price. If you’re asking $100 a foot, you’re not going to get anybody, but if you’re asking (for) a more reasonable number, you’ll probably get somebody tomorrow.”

But Grebow said his company’s proposal would provide the tax revenue that communities like Briarcliff need. Plus, there would be less traffic on Scarborough Road than what the village is looking to do. A development that includes medical or professional offices would significantly overstress the road, while his preliminary traffic studies point to 36 additional vehicles generated for the morning peak and 47 for the afternoon peak.

Grebow mentioned he is weighing legal options against the village but wasn’t prepared to discuss that matter further.

“Frankly, this is the first administration in a community that has ever been unwilling to sit down and have a conversation,” Grebow said. “I’ve actually been told no before. As developers we’ve all been told no. However, we’ve been surprised there’s been no willingness to sit down, there’s been no conversations about residential use at all.”

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