A plan by Pace University to merge its Pleasantville and Briarcliff campuses took a major step forward last week when the Mount Pleasant Town Board unanimously approved zoning changes sought by the university.
The board granted Pace’s request to amend the code pertaining to colleges and universities that legislates height and building separation as well as reducing the distance between athletic fields and public property.
The changes allow for the buildings housing the new dormitories to be as high as four stories and 55 feet, up from the current limit of two and a half stories and 35 feet tall, and for the minimum distance between buildings on the campus to be lowered from the current 110 feet to 30 feet. A third zoning amendment allows the distance between the proposed fields and public property to be lowered to 25 feet. Previous zoning required at least 100 feet between the fields and the closest public land, which in this instance is the Taconic State Parkway.
In addition, a new subsection to the town code allows for zoning revisions for a college or university if it is located at least 25 feet within permanent open space, a state highway, playgrounds or playing fields.
“We appreciate the town board spending the time and effort to evaluate our proposal,” Ruth Roth, an attorney representing Pace University said after the vote to approve the zoning changes. “There’s been substantial study over this for the past two years.”
The university must also obtain site plan approval from the planning board, which granted Pace’s Final Environmental Impact Statement last fall.
If it can gain planning board approval, Pace would sell its 35-acre Briarcliff campus and add new facilities to the 200-acre Pleasantville campus, including new dormitories and athletic fields. Pace representatives estimated that it would take five to eight years to complete the work.
Thus far, there has been no significant opposition to the university’s application. During the March 12 public hearing, Pleasantville resident Anthony Suozzi recalled that before Pace University first opened there were opponents who he described as “alarmists.” Past critics of the university also erroneously claimed that the state Department of Transportation would build a six-lane highway through the town.
“(Pace University) has been a wonderful neighbor,” Suozzi said. “Whatever you do there is fine with me.”
Though Suozzi said he supported Pace’s proposal, he said he was concerned that the code changes could prohibit property owners and developers from bringing a for-profit business to a parcel that had been off the tax rolls.
Suozzi advocated for a hotel for a large parcel in town that is not on the tax rolls, apparently referring to the Legion of Christ parcel on Columbus Avenue.
“Let’s get that property back on the tax rolls,” he said.
Supervisor Joan Maybury told Suozzi the code changes only applied to colleges and would not prevent a religious organization or a non-profit entity that pays no taxes from selling its land to a developer who would want to bring a for-profit business to the site.
The zoning revisions were approved only a week after the majority of the town board expressed concern that extensive zoning text changes could attract other schools to Mount Pleasant that would also request sweeping changes to the town code.