North Castle officials heard strong resistance last week to Mariani Gardens’ 50-unit residential proposal as residents argued that the development would be too dense and out of character with the neighborhood.
During the opening of the public hearing last week, opponents said the project would also run counter to the town’s newly revised Comprehensive Plan. The plan, which saw its first significant update in more than 20 years last spring, calls for “limited residential” development as one possibility for the 4.1-acre parcel at 45 Bedford Rd. in Armonk.
The property is particularly sensitive because it lies just outside the Bedford Road Historic District and is part of the gateway to downtown Armonk. The district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places 35 years ago, said Christine Eggleton, president of the North Castle Historical Society.
“The Bedford Road Historic District is special not just because it’s North Castle’s very own but because it’s just one of a few examples of an entire stock of structures that are protected and preserved in Westchester County,” Eggleton said. “Each change to the streetscape has the potential to dilute the impact of a special collection of buildings.”
Other residents pointed out that part of the property lies in a FEMA floodplain and that the town’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) issued a negative evaluation of the plan, even though it does not have purview over the project.
The ARB was “astonished at the large mass of buildings that were prepared to be built at this prime location in town,” said resident Ed Woodyard.
The applicant would need to convince the Town Board to approve a zoning change from the Nursery Business designation to a special Residential Multifamily Downtown Armonk district in order for the project to advance. The Tow Board must also amend the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Another hearing will have to be scheduled regarding a Comprehensive Plan amendment.
A request to allow structures to rise up to 40 feet on the property to accommodate the 27-unit apartment building toward the back of the property has also been made. That has raised concerns that a future owner of the property would be allowed to build additional large structures at the site.
Co-town Historian Sharon Tomback said the property owner, Mark Mariani, has continuously returned to the town seeking new or additional uses since shortly after he opened the nursery about 13 years ago. He received permission to operate a café and limited retail but failed in his attempts to introduce on-site catering and later SoulCycle, a boutique spin outfit, she said.
“It would create a brand-new bulk, high density, multifamily housing development zoning district custom-tailored for this application,” Tomback said.
Mariani Gardens’ proposal includes five four-bedroom units located in structures closest to Bedford Road, six three-bedroom townhouses in roughly the area where the current nursery building exists and 12 one-bedroom flats. The single-story flats are mostly in a deed restricted area on the Maple Avenue side of the property.
The apartment building toward the rear of the property closest to Route 22 includes 19 one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom residences.
Resident Linda Fernberg said it doesn’t make sense for the town to allow Armonk’s first apartment building on such a centrally located parcel.
“This is a wall of houses and that’s what greets you on Bedford Road,” said Fernberg after the applicant’s representatives showed a simulated drive-by of the property.
Although there was strong opposition to the plan, several residents said they were open to an appropriately-sized project with architecture consistent with the historic district.
“We believe with the right density, design and care, that a residential project could be a good neighbor to the historic district,” Eggleton said. “Please protect the future vitality of our important historic district.
Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto said rather than have the zoning allow for a 40-foot structure, the height of the apartment building should be subject to a special permit. She and Councilman Jose Berra have previously expressed reservations about the project because of its high density.
A joint Town Board and Planning Board site walk is scheduled for this week, Supervisor Michael Schiliro said. Both boards will also meet at a work session in the near future to discuss the project.
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/