Despite several objections, the North Castle Town Board last Wednesday scheduled a September public hearing on Mariani Gardens’ special permit application for its residential plan and conditionally approved the first installment of its Community Benefits Agreement.
The hearing on the permit will open on Sept. 25 provided that the applicant, 45 Bedford Road LLC, progresses in addressing several site plan issues before the Planning Board. It is also required to place the initial $250,000 installment for the $1.25 million Community Benefits Agreement into an escrow account by the end of this week.
Attorney Mark Miller, representing the partnership that is looking to build 43 units at the four-acre site on Bedford Road in Armonk, requested the Town Board schedule the hearing even though there are outstanding matters.
Partner Mark Mariani hopes to receive final approval this fall and break ground on the multifamily housing project before the end of the year, he said.
“We understand that if you open the hearing on the 25th and for whatever reason, if you’re not comfortable closing it that night, we’ll be prepared to present whatever it looks like at that time, hear from members of the public, who I’m sure will want to speak, and will adjourn it as you see fit,” Miller said. “We get it.”
The Town Board had approved rezoning the parcel from Nursery Business to a residential multifamily zone in June following a contentious public hearing where many residents feared the project would compromise the Bedford Road Historic District.
There could be as many as two Planning Board appearances for the applicant to resolve site plan issues before the hearing on the special permit is opened. A work session with the Planning Board has been set for Sept. 9. There is also the possibility that representatives for Mariani Gardens could appear on Sept. 23, Miller said.
Director of Planning Adam Kaufman said the key issues include how to make the Bedford Road and Maple Avenue intersection attractive because it is an important gateway to the hamlet; enhancing pedestrian safety with the possibility of sidewalk installation to connect the property with Armonk Square; and roadway improvements along Maple Avenue from Bedford Road to Route 22.
“The applicant needs to take that a little bit further and give us some ballpark, rough estimate (about) how much that’s going to cost and how does the board figure out how to pay for these improvements, figure out the timing of these improvements and to factor that into thinking of how development occurs in the hamlet,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman wrote a letter on July 30 that the Planning Board requested the Town Board wait to hold the hearing on the special permit until it has additional time to review the plans.
While there is still plenty of work to do on the application, most of the Town Board agreed the hearing should be scheduled. Supervisor Michael Schiliro said if the board isn’t satisfied with the progress made in the next six weeks, it can open the hearing on Sept. 25 and immediately adjourn it to a future date.
“I just want to make sure you’re clear on that,” Schiliro told Miller. “We want to make sure we’re in a proper position to hold proper hearings and have the right information and a lot of that is the Planning Board and the work that they’re doing.”
However, Councilman Jose Berra, the dissenting vote who also opposed the rezone, said the town shouldn’t be in a hurry until progress is made regarding the critical issues that are being worked on.
“I would let the Planning Board do its work, I would get more information, I’d let things progress and not make it seem to some at least, and maybe a sizeable part of the community, that this is just being rushed along,” Berra said. “I really don’t see a negative impact to the applicant doing that.”
Two residents who spoke during last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting reiterated their reservations about the project. Co-town Historian Sharon Tomback said little by little the project could jeopardize the historic district.
“Now we’re nibbling away, just nibbling away,” she said. “So we’re going to have a sidewalk and we’re going to have a road and what else are we going to have?”
Resident Susan Shimer urged the board to postpone scheduling a hearing until there are some more definitive answers related to the expected improvements. She said the board has up 60 days to schedule the hearing after a completed application has been submitted.
“I see it not as a completed application but an application in flux and until you have a completed application, I think it’s premature to set the public hearing,” Shimer said. “Certainly, there is no requirement that you do so.”
She also questioned how much the Community Benefits Agreement would help the town since the project would require expansion of the town’s Sewer District #2 and Water District #4.
Since Mariani Gardens received its zoning change there has also been a revision to the four four-bedroom units, the two so-called A buildings, that are closest to Bedford Road.
Project architect Jon Halper said the A Building units, which had been turned 90 degrees so the front of the structures to face the entrance drive, will once again face Bedford Road. However, the garages for the units will be attached in the rear, obscuring them from the street, he said.