GovernmentThe Examiner

Mount Kisco Village Board Rejects 99-Year Contract for Kirby Commons Proposal

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Mount Kisco Kirby Commons
An early iteration of the mixed-use project that had been proposed for the South Moger parking lot in Mount Kisco. The Village Board, in a split vote, rejected signing a contract with the developers this week.

The Mount Kisco Village Board rejected signing a contract that would have leased the South Moger and North Moger parking lots for 99 years to a developer to build a mixed-use project in the village’s downtown.

The 3-2 vote Monday night apparently puts an end to the Kirby Commons proposal that would have seen Gotham Organization, Inc. of Manhattan and Charter Realty & Development of Greenwich, Conn. partner on the construction of 229 apartments and about 34,000 square feet of retail space in the two lots.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Markus and Trustees David Squirrell and Karen Schleimer voted against signing the contract while Mayor Gina Picinich and Trustee Peter Grunthal supported the move.

Officials in opposition cited a contract that failed to give the village enough in exchange for leasing 7.4 prime acres for the next century in the heart of the downtown and concerns over whether transit-oriented development near a train station will be as attractive after the pandemic.

They were also uneasy about whether Mount Kisco would receive permission from the MTA to build a pedestrian crossover from the North Moger lot to the Metro-North station platform and if the village would receive a necessary easement from the state Department of Transportation for that lot.

Squirrell said he wasn’t voting against the concept but the contract.

An $8 million payment up front from the developers failed to offer good value because it would have been used to build a parking garage in each lot totaling just over 900 spaces. Roughly $100,000 a year that the village would receive during the first decade of the 30-year PILOT program might not have covered even the maintenance costs on the lot. Gotham and Charter had also indicated they were not looking to negotiate further, Squirrell said.

The PILOT agreement would have escalated from the 11th to the 30th years, to just over $3 million to the village, Bedford School District and the county in its final year before being fully taxed for the remainder of the 99-year agreement.

“These are the two crown jewel assets of Mount Kisco right now,” Squirrell said. “They’re probably the two most valuable pieces that the village owns, give or take. They’re not two distressed pieces of property that we’re trying to unload. These are two pieces of property that we want to develop for the benefit, the long-term benefit of all the residents.”

Markus said that he wasn’t convinced having apartments within walking distance of the train station, presumably for a large number of daily commuters, would be as attractive after the pandemic ends. Just over a year later, the commuter lots are empty and people who are moving from more crowded areas are looking for more space.

“People have a much better understanding of how to operate in a virtual world, and in my opinion, there’s going to be less traffic going down into the city,” Markus said.

He also questioned whether building 34,000 square feet of retail when the village is having trouble filling many storefronts is prudent.

Markus and Squirrell were joined by Schleimer who had been skeptical of the proposal nearly from the outset, sharing concerns about traffic and the economics of the deal.

“I don’t disagree that we could create a downtown scenario, with downtown housing that would provide the greenspace that I think was discussed and hoped for in the Comprehensive Plan,” she said, “and we end up with a marvelous proposal that doesn’t have all the pitfalls and problems.”

Picinich countered that the proposal addressed a significant economic challenge that the village has been facing, including extensive downtown storefront vacancies even before the pandemic. The best way to address the problem is to have people living near the shops and businesses, she said.

“That is the bottom line and the chance that we have to do that is to add residences downtown and to add a substantial amount of residences downtown,” Picinich said.

She said of the overtures from developers that the village had received, Kirby Commons represented the least density and the greatest financial reward. While the county conservatively estimated that the project would create 52 full-time jobs after it was constructed and about $10 million annually, another estimate for the village concluded it would create 105 jobs and up to $22 million a year.

Furthermore, since the proposal was unveiled in 2019, interest in the village has swelled, Picinich said.

“For me, what this comes down to is a belief that people do want to live in our downtown that they want to live in a quality residence with amenities and have access to all our village has to offer,” Picinich said. “I believe that is true and I believe this development is the solution that we need, a part of a solution that we need to stimulate and add more money to our local economy.”

Grunthal described Mount Kisco’s downtown as “a sleepy commercial zone” that has fallen behind many surrounding communities in trying to attract businesses. Transit-oriented development and more people in a commercial center is the way for Mount Kisco become more attractive, he said.

“This is how towns in Westchester are improving themselves and this, I believe, the contract, I believe, is one that will serve us very well,” Grunthal said.

While Squirrell and Markus said they would be open to having further discussions on the contract and even opening it up to a potential referendum among voters, Picinich said the village needed to make a decision to provide clarity to the developers and address other pressing issues.

The vote came after about an hour and 20 minutes of public speakers, fairly evenly split between those arguing the pros and cons of the project. Picinich said that they had also received 88 letters from residents, business owners or property owners, with 69 of those letters in favor of the proposal.

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