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Pleasantville Mixed-Use Application Submitted Despite Looming Moratorium

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The nearly century-old Chase Bank building in downtown Pleasantville. Its owners are looking to redevelop the property into a mixed-use project and plan to claim a hardship exemption if a moratorium is enacted.

A formal application to transform the iconic Chase Bank building in Pleasantville into a mixed-use project is moving forward despite the possibility of a moratorium on new development in the village’s downtown business district.

The building is on a half-acre parcel at 444 Bedford Rd., including its adjacent parking lots. Just before the start of the pandemic, the bank vacated the building, relocating to Washington Avenue.

Last week, the Pleasantville Planning Commission reviewed the plans submitted by applicant Beldotti LLC, owners of the site. The plans reflected changes suggested by the commission at an informal presentation in September and were presented by the applicant’s lawyer, Jeffrey Gasbarro. He was accompanied by property owner Mike Beldotti and architect Jorge Hernandez.

The project, known as The Landmark 444, would preserve the five-story bank building and add four other structures with 36 rental apartments, down from the originally mentioned 40 units. The residential component would contain 16 one-bedroom and 20 two-bedroom apartments, four of which would be affordable housing.

One commercial space originally proposed was a coffee shop or similar business to occupy the ground floor, but the revised plan suggests a retail store or professional office.

While the main concern was the imminent moratorium discussions, which are scheduled to formally begin at a Jan. 23 public hearing, and possibly resulting in zoning changes, the commission spent the majority of the meeting criticizing the proposal’s potential traffic impact.

A spreadsheet prepared by Creighton Manning Engineering showing peak traffic times based on standard national models didn’t seem to satisfy the commission.

Commissioner David Keller stressed that Pleasantville is a small village, where schools and residential areas are close to one another.

“Traffic surveys should take into account traffic to school in the morning and from school in the afternoons,” Keller said. “It also has to look at weekend sports activities, church on Sundays, Saturday’s farmers market and events on certain days of the weeks.”

Commissioner Anjali Sauthoff asked if the traffic study would consider changed patterns during the last three years due to the pandemic. Traffic to the train station has decreased during that time.

Gasbarro said Creighton Manning’s detailed traffic report will be presented to the commission and should answer all questions.

Another serious traffic concern expressed by commissioners was cars entering and exiting a planned two-level garage facing Bedford Road. One entrance/exit would be on Bedford Road, two doors from the bank building. The other would be on Wheeler Avenue. The commission was concerned that a car exiting onto Bedford Road wanting to turn left could dangerously back up traffic for a considerable distance.

Suggestions were made to reconfigure the garage so that the entrance and exit would only be on Wheeler Avenue.

“Wheeler is a quieter street and there’s a light at the corner and drivers have room to go right or left,” Keller said.

Other criticisms about the plan included the need to change the new residential buildings’ façade to create a smoother transition from the existing colonial structures on Bedford Road to the Art Deco-style bank building. Some commissioners asked if the proposed new apartment buildings on Bedford Road could be reconfigured to allow more green space. Another concern was limited natural light for some of the units.

Commission Chair Russell Klein addressed the looming moratorium.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Klein said. “We can review this (project) up to a point with regards to the moratorium happening in the village.”

A six-month moratorium was proposed last month to pause development in the Central Business A1 District after numerous complaints were received about potential negative impacts of accelerated development. The public hearing is set for 8 p.m. at Village Hall on Monday. If approved, the prohibition would be effective retroactively from Nov. 16, 2022, the date of the special town hall meeting on village development.

A six-month temporary moratorium would impact new land use applications seeking site plan approval, special use permits, subdivision approval, variance relief and building permits. However, the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals may process new and ongoing applications while the moratorium is in effect.

Gasbarro noted last week that the moratorium had not been enacted by the Village Board.

“It’s a hypothetical because it hasn’t happened,” he said. “We’ve submitted comments to the Village Board suggesting that a moratorium is not wise. Our project would be disproportionately affected were they to enact a moratorium.”

Although The Landmark 444 application was filed after Nov. 16, Gasbarro said that they presented informal plans in September in good faith to work with the village. The feedback from that meeting shaped the revised plan.

“We think it would be inequitable to penalize us for starting an informal process, which we went through because we believe it results in a better project for the applicant and the municipality,” Gasbarro said.

Gasbarro said the applicant would likely file for a hardship exemption if a moratorium is enacted.

“Only 37 percent of the building is occupied and the loss of Chase was major,” he explained. “The rental income doesn’t cover the costs of running the building, and without a tenant in the building, it’s a cashflow negative.”

Currently, there are a few small businesses operating in the building.

Village Counsel Jennifer Gray said that even if there was a moratorium the application could still be reviewed.

“The applicants could proceed at their own risk knowing that (zoning) codes could change and that might impact the project,” Gray said.

Klein said the Planning Commission would continue to review the application.

“But it is with a caveat that we might not be able to conclude that review depending on how the village acts and how your application for an exemption goes, one way or the other,” he said.

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