Eagle Ridge Zoning Hearing Closes; North Castle to Focus on Findings Statement

The North Castle Town Board closed the public hearing last week on a potential zoning amendment for a portion of the former IBM property in Armonk where a 115-room hotel and 72 age-restricted condominiums have been proposed.

Following the hearing for the project known as Eagle Ridge, town officials delayed voting on amending the zoning of a 21.9-acre portion of the 32-acre site on North Castle Drive. Developer MADD Madonna Armonk LLC has requested that the Office Business Hotel zone (OBH) be changed to a Residential Multifamily Senior Citizen Housing district. Written comments will be accepted for 20 days from last Wednesday.

Last week, the board continued to work through environmental-related items and conditions to include in the Findings Statement that is required under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and a community benefits agreement between the applicant and the town.

Some of the key issues discussed last week were also outlined in a letter from the town’s Conservation Board to the Town Board, which expressed concern for the preservation of scenic resources, protection of the ridgeline, the potential for removal of more than 600 trees to accommodate the project and their contention that the developer would fail to maintain at least 50 percent of the site’s gross area for open space under the current plan.

Furthermore, the Conservation Board found that the density of the site is excessive, particularly when compared to the Whippoorwill Hills and Whippoorwill Ridge developments. Whippoorwill Hills has 150 residential units on 82 acres (1.8 units per acre) while Whippoorwill Ridge has 55 residences on 24 acres, or 2.3 per acre.

Those concerns were echoed by Councilman Jose Berra, who has been a vocal critic of the project’s impact on the environment, sightlines and density, along with his opposition to condo taxation. He cited the town’s Comprehensive Plan calling for limited residential development.

“I think, as I said before, people have been saying this is way too dense for the character of the community,” Berra said. “It’s up on a ridge. Some of it will be visible, especially the hotel.”

He also said that if Eagle Ridge is approved and its density is added to the recently approved projects in Armonk, there would be an additional 241 housing units in the hamlet, which could negatively alter the character of the hamlet in such a short period of time. That figure does not take into account the hotel and residential proposal still in the early stages at the former MBIA property.

Berra also questioned whether the support voiced for the project is as broad in the community as was represented at the hearings.

Kory Salomone, the attorney for the applicant MADD Madonna and its owner Frank Madonna, said people line up at public meetings to criticize a project when there’s opposition.

“Remember Armonk Square? Two hundred people in the library opposing it. Now it’s the best thing in town,” said Salomone. “You rarely have people come out in support and you’re sitting here driving up negativity when you had people (speak) who are in support of the project.”

Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto said because the entire parcel is zoned OBH, a hotel as large as 300 rooms could be built at the site as of right. The applicant would have then avoided coming before the Town Board seeking a zoning amendment.

“You would have gone to the Planning Board for site plan approval and you would have had a building that is much larger than the hotel building that is being prepared, understanding you would have seen it from all different areas,” DiGiacinto said.

Madonna has previously stated that to develop a hotel on its own in the current environment was not economically feasible and that he needed the housing to make the plan work.

Aside from officials wanting a hotel, Supervisor Michael Schiliro said that part of Eagle Ridge’s attractiveness is that as an age-restricted development, it will provide housing for empty-nesters and seniors. There has been sentiment in town that if a person wants to downsize or shed the responsibility of keeping up a private home, there is nowhere for them to move into.

Schiliro said he is also comfortable with condo taxation for age-restricted housing because there will be few school-age children living there.

“We’re all sensitive to that (condo taxation),” he said. “We don’t say, you want condo, let’s do condo. It’s well thought out and my comment on this particular topic is that age-restricted housing to me is a different housing class.”

One of the few public speakers last week was 32-year Armonk resident Linda Fernberg who shared some of the Conservation Board’s concerns about the loss of trees and open space. She also said Eagle Ridge’s size would dwarf other projects in town.

Fernberg also wants North Castle to receive assurances that if the project is approved the hotel will be built. There has been widespread agreement that the town needs a lodging facility.

“What’s the guarantee, you give the person the zoning that they build the houses first, that they just walk away at that point and we still don’t have a hotel,” she said.

Officials have discussed obligating Madonna to establish an escrow account as one strategy to ensure that he builds the hotel.

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