North Castle officials have agreed to a feasibility study of the proposed Eagle Ridge project. The $10,000 study, which is being paid for by the developer, will determine if building only a hotel and no rental units is economically feasible. Developer Frank Madonna wants to build a 91-room boutique hotel, restaurant, two ballrooms on the first three floors and 70 rental apartments on the top two stories at 3 North Castle Drive in Armonk, the parcel formerly owned by IBM. A change in the Town Code would be needed to construct multifamily housing in what is now the Office Business Hotel zone. Madonna has contended that a full-service hotel by itself would not be economically feasible without the apartments. The town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for up to a 300-room hotel.
Because there have been numerous concerns and comments at the project’s public hearings, at last week’s town board meeting Supervisor Michael Schiliro was authorized to sign an agreement to proceed with the study. “This study will look at our current zoning to see if a hotel would be economically viable,” said Schiliro. “The professional doing this study knows this market extremely well and he will look at the developer’s submission and advise us.”
The study will be done by Thomas Dolan of DD Hotel Advisory (DD|HA) out of Woburn, Mass. In a July 23 letter to North Castle Planning Director Adam Kaufman, Dolan said he expected to complete his study within 30 to 40 days and offered to present his findings in person. According to his letter, Dolan will check the marketing information in the developer’s environmental impact statement (DEIS) to determine if “the hotel is feasible under various room to apartment unit ratios.”
At last week’s town board meeting, Armonk resident Ann Dantzig said she understood why the feasibility study was being done. “Even if the study comes back and says the only thing that’s going to make this man (developer) money on that piece of property is a hotel plus rental plus townhouses or some combination thereof, I don’t see why it’s your obligation to even think about changing the zoning so he has an economically viable investment.”
Addressing Dantzig’s comment, Councilman Stephen D’Angelo said, “We just want to find out if they can build a 200-room hotel, with very little apartments — maybe that’s the right way to go,” he said. “This is all part of the process for us to get information. We’re not here to make them money. There’s no way this is a done deal.”
Jan Bernstein, a long time Armonk resident, also questioned the validity of the town’s zoning laws under the current comprehensive plan and why it seems the town wants to accommodate the Eagle Ridge developer. “I’m concerned about recent and current proposals for significant zoning changes in the town,” said Bernstein. “I don’t understand why the board continues to hear petitions for substantial zoning changes and grants them on what seems to be a more regular basis. I don’t understand the point of the zoning laws if you’re not going to enforce them. The town seems to be doing a very good job looking out for developers’ financial interests and not necessarily the resident’s interests.”
Kaufman was on hand to explain the overall scope of the comprehensive plan when it came to zoning issues. “One of the main take-aways from that document is the town wants to diversify the type of housing that’s provided in the community and to provide other types of housing other than single family residential,” he said. “The zoning that we have in place is being enforced. No one is looking the other way or allowing things that aren’t permitted by zoning. The applicant is asking if it makes sense to rezone a piece of property.”
In his conjecture about the study, Councilman José Berra said, “Even if it concludes that the project could only be feasible with all that housing, I don’t see how that would necessarily drive me to approve it. We are trying to do our homework. We are proverbially kicking the tires and putting a lot of time into it. A number of us share the concerns about density and increasing the crowdedness and parking.”