North Castle Denies Mariani Gardens Permit Extension Citing COVID

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The grounds of the former Mariani Gardens site as it appeared in November. The North Castle Town Board last week denied extending the special use permit, which the new owners of the property sought as they hoped to pursue site plan approval for a 43-unit residential complex.

The North Castle Town Board denied extending a special use permit for the new owners of the former Mariani Gardens site in Armonk, delaying site plan review of a proposed 43-unit residential project and property clean-up.

The board unanimously agreed last Wednesday evening to re-examine shifts in traffic patterns near the 4.1-acre parcel on Bedford Road and a growing number of commercial and office vacancies in the hamlet. Both are apparently a result of changes caused by the pandemic since the permit was initially issued in October 2019.

Town Attorney Roland Baroni told the board the vacancies are significant enough to justify the board taking another look at the project.

“I think there has been a significant change in nearby properties,” Baroni said. “Many of the office buildings (on) Bedford Road, Main Street, MacDonald Avenue are increasingly vacant, office space is no longer something that’s needed by many people. That’s primarily due to COVID and a number of property owners have approached the town, at least informally, to see if there’s a way the buildings can be repurposed to something else.”

Despite receiving the permit more than two years ago, applicant 45 Bedford Road LLC never went to the Planning Board for site plan review because of personal squabbles among the three partners. One of those partners, Mark Mariani, went into bankruptcy in early 2020, and a settlement to pay off his 50 percent share of the mortgage needed to be completed.

That was officially done earlier in the day last Wednesday, said attorney Kory Salomone, who now represents the new six-member partnership that calls itself NCD Acquisitions.

However, councilmen Matt Milim and Jose Berra, the latter being the only board member who voted against both the June 2019 rezone and the special use permit, raised the noticeable traffic pattern changes that have occurred during the past two years. With more people working from home and parents of schoolchildren more likely to drive their kids to school, it is not the same environment as it was in 2019, they contended.

“I think that these traffic pattern changes will not be just temporary,” Berra said. “They’re induced by COVID, that’s been the catalyst, but they’re continuing from everything I can see. Nobody’s got a crystal ball, but it really does look like the impact will really have to be considered.”

Salomone countered that any potential change of uses at other properties in Armonk should not influence the board’s decision because they are hypothetical. Furthermore, a right-hand turn lane from Bedford Road onto Maple Avenue would ease traffic congestion outside the site during peak hours, a point that the board agreed with in 2019.

“This is the same plan. We’re ready to move forward with it right now,” Salomone said. “If the Town Board wants to see this site cleaned up and the project comes to fruition, now is the time to extend the application and let us get going, and we’re ready to do that.”

The property has laid fallow during the past two years while the financial and legal issues among the partners were being resolved. There are gaps in the fencing near the property’s perimeter and the parking lot and former greenhouse have been deteriorating.

Since the board granted the permit, 45 Bedford Road LLC obtained a one-year extension from October 2020 until this past October and then a 90-day extension, while the bankruptcy proceedings were wrapped up. The 90-day extension expired last Friday.

At last week’s board meeting, several opponents of the plan, who had argued the project was too dense for the parcel during the rezoning and special use permit hearings and could jeopardize the character of the historic district, urged the board to reconsider its position.

Banksville resident Sharon Tomback, the town’s co-historian who was speaking only on her own behalf, appealed to officials to “stand on the side of historic preservation.”

“The town’s history assets are non-renewable, they can be lost piece by piece over time if you make the wrong decisions,” Tomback said.

Armonk resident Kate Parker said the project would be at a crucial gateway to the hamlet and should be reassessed.

“This is our history, this is who we are and to put up a development like this right across the street devalues our history and it devalues our town, and that devalues us,” Parker said. “So I think you have a choice and I think you can go one way and you can do a really thoughtful, thought-through development.”

Salomone said many of the same arguments were made during the review of Armonk Square about a decade ago. Today, “it’s the best thing in town,” he said.

“Your board already looked at all the general and specific standards here,” he said. “We’re ready to go with the plan, clean up the site, get the project moving.”

Supervisor Michael Schiliro said he agreed with his colleagues that concerns about changes in the town near the site were warranted.

“There are a lot of real things that have changed in how we operated our lives, especially in town, a small town like this,” he said.

Salomone said his clients would return with the same plan in hopes of re-obtaining the special use permit.

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