Virginia/Lefurgy
Debacle


The Problem with Plans that are
Currently Before the Dobbs Ferry Planning Board
Regarding Proposed Development of the Virginia/Lefurgy Area

June 18, 2002


The responsibility of the Village of Dobbs Ferry's Planning Board is defined in the following way in the CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF DOBBS FERRY, Section 300-71 of 'Zoning and Land Use', which bears the title 'Planning Board review':
... In its deliberations, the Planning Board shall consider each site plan with the following purposes and objectives in view:
  1. To protect the character of the neighborhood and prevent the depreciation of adjoining properties.

  2. To achieve a harmonious relationship and maximum compatibility among the uses shown on said site plan and uses located in adjacent districts.

  3. To assure the adequacy of buffer landscaping, screening and building setbacks.

  4. To prevent the overcrowding of land with buildings and the inappropriate concentration of same.

  5. To lessen and, where possible, prevent traffic congestion and hazards on the streets which provide access to the site.

  6. To assure the adequacy of vehicular ingress, egress, interior circulation, parking and loading facilities, particularly in regard to traffic and pedestrian safety.

  7. To conserve significant environmental features and lands.

  8. To prevent the inappropriate sitting of buildings and other improvements without due regard for the limitations of slope soils, hydrology and vegetation on the site.

  9. To provide adequately for the cumulative effect on infrastructure, particularly roads and utilities, of reasonably anticipated future development.

The Planning Board, in other words, is required by code to take the nine factors enumerated above as its 'objectives' in arriving at a decision as to whether a proposed site plan warrants approval.

Residents from the Virginia Avenue and Lefurgy area of Dobbs Ferry have raised objections to two development projects that are being proposed for that area, arguing that site plans fail to meet at least seven out of the nine objectives listed above - items 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9.

Let us begin by summarizing their argument in such a way that puts it in the context of the nine points enumerated above. The site plans that have been presented -

  • do not protect the character of the neighborhood [point 1],
  • are not compatible with existing land use in the area [point 2 ],
  • overcrowd the area with buildings and families [point 4],
  • put additional stress on the infrastructure in the area (which already suffers from significant pre-existing traffic, parking, and sewage problems) [point 9] - all problems that can only be exacerbated by the planned development,
  • threaten to create further traffic congestion and hazards [point 5],
  • pose significant problems regarding vehicular ingress and egress into the area, threatening to aggravate pedestrian safety [point 6], and
  • do not provide adequately for the cumulative effect on infrastructure of the proposed development [point 9].

    Let's consider these points one or two at a time.


    The code requires that the Planning Board take it as an objective of theirs to:

    1) Protect the character of the neighborhood [point 1], and
    2) Achieve compatibility with areas adjacent [to the development] [point 2]

    In the plans under consideration for Virginia and Lefurgy, it is being proposed that nine two-family houses be constructed in an area roughly equivalent in size to a football field (300 by 200 feet) - an area that is currently populated exclusively by ONE FAMILY structures. The neighborhood is now, and has been for the past century, a ONE-FAMILY neighborhood in character.

    One side of Virginia Avenue (the north side) is, for the most part, zoned one-family. Although a few houses on that side, near Lefurgy, are zoned two family, the houses are in fact one-family dwellings. Although the other side of Virginia Avenue (the south side) is 'in theory' two-family (i.e., is zoned for two family residences) there are IN FACT no two-family houses there. Virginia Avenue is a neighborhood of one-family residences! There has NEVER been a two family house on that side of the street. Even the old Delmerico family house (which actually fronts on Lefurgy) - although it was used as a two-family residence, was originally built as a one-family dwelling.

    The only reason that property on the south side of Virginia Avenue was zoned two-family in the first place was that all of it was/is comprised of long lots that front on Ashford Avenue, and Ashford Avenue IS (in fact and under the zoning laws too), two-family in character. It is a mistake to think that if and when those parcels are divided in half, the land fronting on Virginia should automatically maintain a 'two family' designation in the code.

    To permit the construction of two-family houses there would be to drastically change the CHARACTER of that neighborhood - in a fashion that is clearly red-flagged in Point 1 of the section of code reproduced above.

    Section 300-72 E.7 also refers to the need for site design to enhance and protect the character of the adjacent neighborhood and to demonstrate building types and styles consistent with the adjacent neighborhood:

    Building quality and site design shall enhance and protect the character and property values of the adjacent neighborhood and demonstrate architectural styles, bulk dimensions, materials and location on the site and, in relation to adjoining development, natural terrain and vegetation, a harmonious relationship with the surrounding neighborhood.

    The surrounding neighborhood, like the Virgina Avenue houses adjacent to the property, are all one family houses IN FACT, even when the properties are zoned two family.


    The code also requires that the Planning Board take it as one of their objectives:
    To prevent overcrowding of land with buildings [point 3]

    The proposed development plans would not be unlike squeezing 9 two-family houses (plus one commercial business, and a number of parking lots) into the lower field in Gould Park (where the baseball diamond now is).

    This project would, in one fell swoop, double the number of families in the neighborhood under consideration; it would also double the number of units housing families in that area. This fact alone - a sudden radical increase in the density of structures and families in that very small area is in its own right enough to warrant speaking of 'overcrowding'.


    Another criteria for establishing whether an area will become 'overcrowded' as a result of new development is to assess the impact that the proposed development is likely to have on the existing infrastructure in the area. This is most likely why the code also requires the Planning Board -

    • To consider whether development plans assure the adequacy of vehicular ingress, egress, interior circulation, and parking and loading facilities, particularly in regard to traffic and pedestrian safety [point 6]

    • To strive to lessen and, where possible, prevent traffic congestion and hazards on the streets which provide access to the site [point 5]

    • and, in general, to seek to provide adequately for the cumulative effect of future development on infrastructure, particularly roads and utilities [point 9]

    Another section of the Dobbs Ferry zoning code (Section 300-72 E.4) reiterates the above mentioned concern for pedestrian safety:

    (4) Siting of buildings, walkways, driveways, roads and other improvements shall provide for safe, adequqate and convenient pedestrian and vehicular traffic circulation, both on the site and in the surrounding streets. ...

    Doubling the number of housing units in the neighborhood in question would put additional strain on the existing infrastructure there - the streets and sewage system. It would aggravate current parking, traffic congestion, speeding, and sewage problems - all of which pre-exist the current development proposal as significant unsolved problems in the area. These problems, along with related pedestrian safety problems, have repeatedly been formally brought to the attention of the village Board of Trustees and other village officials. These problems have not been adequately looked into, let alone addressed, and the impact that further development would have on these problems has not been studied and is not understood.


    CONCLUSION

    According to code, it is the responsibility of the Planning Board to take into consideration the points raised here and in previous Planning Board meetings and Board of Trustee meetings, and to see to it that development in the Virginia/Lefurgy area addresses these concerns and thus complies with existing code, in letter and spirit.

    Adequate study should be made of the impact of the proposed development on the area, not only so that objective solutions to these problems can be devised, but also in order to ensure that future development in the Virginia/Lefurgy area does not aggravate pre-existing situations. Since such a course of action would, of necessity, take time - a moratorium on further building in the Virginia/Lefurgy area is a prerequisite to planful decision-making.

    It is understood that a moratorium would require a vote of the Board of Trustees. We therefore encourage the Planning Board to inform the B.O.T. of the need to take such action, which would enable the planning board to fulfill its responsibilities under the existing Code.

    In a recent meeting, the Board of Trustees had no problem whatsoever unanimously approving of a moratorium on cell-phone tower development in Dobbs Ferry, until such time as adequate planning could take place. A similar moratorium, on building in the Virginia/Lefurgy area, would not only permit the necessary impact studies to be conducted, it would provide time for discussion of a re-zoning of the area so as to bring future development in that area into compliance with the character of the neighborhood as it actually exists - as opposed to how it exists 'on paper' (i.e., according to current zoning, which is anomalous).

    According to Section 300-72 E.6 of the Code, it is, after all, ultimately the Village Board's responsibility to ensure that site plans be modified to ensure conformity with the Code:

    " ... Variances granted by the Board of Appeals need not be regarded by the Village Board as satisfying the requirement of conformity with this chapter for purposes of this review and approval. The Village Board shall review any such variances and may deny approval or require modifications pursuant to this subsection in the event that it finds such variances produce or permit an unsatisfactory condition or arrangement in the site plan."