News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Frequent visitors to Pleasantville can easily recognize there have been significant development changes in the downtown in recent years.
The new building at 70 Memorial Plaza is steadily moving toward the finish line, following two previously completed projects on Washington Avenue – the mixed-used structure between Manville Road and the firehouse and the Enclave at Pleasantville, the 68-unit Toll Brothers development down the road.
With another 70-plus residential units slated for opening on Depew Street in close proximity to the Saw Mill Parkway’s Grant Street exit and the news that an assemblage of four parcels totaling 20 acres on Campus Drive are up for sale, there are those wondering whether there has been or will soon be too much development for Pleasantville to handle.
Former mayor Bernard Gordon is one resident who has expressed some skepticism about the direction of the downtown. More than 20 years ago, before the 2001 opening of the Jacob Burns Film Center, the village’s downtown needed a spark, he said. The debate was whether attracting residential development in the downtown business district should be allowed.
But today, Gordon worries about Pleasantville’s infrastructure, including whether the roads can accommodate the growth.
“We needed to encourage some development, some housing so that there would actually be people to patronize the businesses,” Gordon said. “But that was then; it doesn’t mean it should be encouraged now if it’s been fully developed and there aren’t the roads and the utilities available to accommodate for the development.”
Current officials see different obstacles. A vibrant community does attract more attention, including developers, but Pleasantville is an appealing place for people to settle, said Mayor Peter Scherer.
Despite that attractiveness, the village’s population has been remarkably stable over the past 50 years. In the past decade school enrollment has fallen, he said.
“One of the things that we confront right now is a lot of people want to be here because a lot of good things have happened for a long time, and there are a lot of great virtues to being here because people want to live here,” Scherer said.
The issue of traffic has also been a sticking point, especially at peak hours when there is some significant congestion. One of the biggest trouble spots is near the 7-Eleven on Bedford Road, where most of the vehicles are funneled to the right.
But Scherer believes that the traffic situation has been worsened with the ongoing Saw Mill Parkway road-raising project, accounting for some of the increase. Motorists looking for shortcuts to avoid the construction wind up on the village’s roads.
“The amount of traffic that we have is not proportional to population,” he said. “We’ve had a big spike in traffic that obviously is related to other stuff.”
Pleasantville’s population, which stood at 7,110 in 1970, grew to 7,513 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. All of that growth has occurred in the past 10 years, where nearly 500 additional residents now call the village home compared to 2010.
However, that has not translated into additional students in the Pleasantville School District. Over the past 10 years, there has been about a 150-student reduction, although that figure has fluctuated on a regular basis, said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tina DeSa.
The state Education Department Report Card for the district showed that in 2012-13 there were 1,766 students enrolled.
As a result, DeSa said she is currently not worried about the impact development might have on the village. The two projects that have been completed, Toll Brothers’ Enclave at Pleasantville and the Washington Avenue mixed-use project, currently generate 30 students, which is on target with pre-approval projections.
When the other projects that are under construction open, the district will do its job and educate all students that might live there, she said.
“I have no concerns about overflow coming from these developments,” DeSa said.
For Village Trustee David Vinjamuri, staying stagnant is not an option. A certain amount of growth is essential to increase the tax base because the village would be unable to raise taxes enough to pay for its underlying costs, he said.
Vinjamuri said some of the pushback that he has heard concerns the issue of rentals as part of the newer housing stock. He was unapologetically in favor of having renters be part of the community.
“To say that we don’t want renters is to say that we don’t want anybody living in Pleasantville that can’t afford a million-dollar house,” Vinjamuri said. “I don’t want to live in a place where a million dollars is the minimum entry point, and I don’t think many people who’ve been here for two generations would like that if that’s the only kind of listing that we have.”
But the news that the 20 acres on Campus Drive is for sale once again brought the development topic to the forefront this summer, particularly with the real estate company brochure marketing the property as a way to build up to 100 condo units.
Helene Dahan, a co-president of the Pleasantville Special Education PTA, said she hoped that the property could attract a developer that would build either senior housing, which is desperately needed in the community, or an independent living facility for adults with special needs.
A large housing development in that location would be detrimental to Pleasantville, said Dahan.
“It’s going to significantly change the village and not for the better,” she said. “Already, we are having traffic issues. We have a whole Pedestrian Committee.”
Scherer said he would have loved to have seen an occupant like Bank of New York continue to underutilize the property, but a largely empty 140,000-square-foot office building with hundreds of unused parking spaces is not something that was going to last forever.
The village can’t dictate what an owner does with their property, although the Village Board has control over the zoning.
“I totally respect that idea (for housing for the disabled),” Scherer said, “and I have talked to a bunch of people over some years about how that might be manifested, but I think that would get developed on a small scale, not a large scale, not the scale of the Bank of New York property.”
Trustee Nicole Asquith, the Village Board’s liaison to the Pedestrian Committee, said the increase in downtown apartments within walking distance to the train station and restaurants, should limit any traffic explosion in the future.
“I think the downtown apartments are designed for people who don’t want to be driving out much, which is not to say they won’t be driving at all,” Asquith said. “I can’t say for certain, but I don’t see those as a major source of pressure on infrastructure.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/