By Mary Marvin, Mayor of Bronxville
Feb. 15, 2023: I just recently returned from the annual New York State Conference of Mayors plenary session in Albany. There were a myriad of items on the docket but all were overshadowed by Governor Hochul’s, “Housing Compact.”
I feel duty-bound to share and quite expeditiously as the ramifications of this proposal to our Village are enormous and quite frankly incomprehensible.
An overwhelming majority of Mayors in Albany agreed that the State as a whole could use more housing and most importantly more affordable housing and are quite supportive of this laudable goal. The problem lies in its execution and the sledgehammer, punitive approach.
The Governors Housing Compact is a two-part program set to commence in January 2024. The first component would require villages such as Bronxville, Scarsdale, Hartsdale and frankly every village, city and town in the New York metropolitan area to increase their housing stock by 3% in the next three years and 3% every three years thereafter.
Should we not meet this goal, a new fast track approval mechanism that allows for mixed income, multifamily projects will be automatically triggered, notwithstanding any local zoning, planning and land-use regulations to the contrary.
This provision completely abrogates the “home rule” concept that is actually a provision of the New York State Constitution, giving it great weight and gravitas. The home rule principal grants municipalities the ability to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit. According to Article 1 of the State Constitution, “Every local government shall have the power to adopt local laws as provided by this article.”
The 3% requirement for Bronxville translates into 75 new housing units by the end of 2027 or we lose all control over our local land use laws.
As example, an applicant may propose a “qualifying project” and thus will be exempt from the SEQRA or environmental review process and may not be denied for failure to comply with local zoning laws.
Should an applicant be denied, they can go directly to a state administrative board and/or judicial review of the denial with the burden of proof on the municipality by “clear and convincing evidence”; a much more rigorous standard than currently governs the review of municipal land use actions.
The second prong of the housing compact is called a TOD or Transit Oriented Development initiative, which requires local planning and zoning law changes within a three-year window to facilitate the production of multi-family housing in areas near a rail station. The program requires a forced amendment to Village law adding a new section, “Density of residential dwellings near transit stations.”
According to the Governor’s proposal, the area subject to the mandatory zoning and planning changes shall encompass all developed land within a half mile radius from a train station or in our case over 2/3 of the entire Village of Bronxville.
There are four tiers to the program, which are distinguished by the proximity of a transit station to New York City. We are in Tier 1 with other communities that are no more than 15 miles from the New York City border including Tuckahoe, Scarsdale and Hartsdale.
Tier 1 requires us to change our zoning laws to meet or exceed the density requirement of 50 units per acre. This means that the Village would be required to adjust current zoning regulations in the TOD zone in such a way that would allow for an increase of more than 10,000 new housing units in the Village that currently has 2600 housing units and a population of 6656 residents.
The mandated legislation would also be exempt from any state environmental review and the Village is prohibited to impose unreasonable provisions relating to lot coverage, open space, height, setbacks, floor area ratios, or parking requirements.
In the event of a failure to timely comply, the Village will nevertheless be required to permit the 50 units per acre density requirement as mandated by State law and must review any qualifying projects that could come our way pursuant to a process outlined in state law, with enforcement by the State Attorney General.
An aggrieved party is allowed to seek a court order to compel the Village to amend its law. Again, the burden of proof on the Village is the more rigorous standard of “clear and convincing evidence” than is currently applicable for all land use decision making.
On the positive side, the chairs of the Local Government Committees in both the State Senate, Monica Martinez of Nassau County and Fred Thiele of Suffolk in the Assembly are opposed to the legislation.
Closer to home our Assemblywoman, Amy Paulin is very outspoken in her opposition to this plan. As she stated, “Bronxville wouldn’t be able to accommodate so many housing units or even a fraction of the amount required. It would change the character and integrity of the community. You would no longer be a suburb of an urban area. You would be a congested urban center without the infrastructure to support it. I will fight to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Senator Mayer shared her thoughts on the issue as well, “I have grave concerns with the approach taken by Governor Hochul in her proposed budget that seek to improve housing access in the NYC suburbs. Specifically, I believe the 3% requirement in the New Homes Target and Fast Track Approval proposal will not work in Bronxville. I also believe the Transit Oriented Development is equally flawed in the village. Both approaches apply a sledgehammer to an issue that requires a needle and thread, reflecting different communities, different needs and far greater nuance.”
At Monday night’s February Board of Trustees meeting, the Trustees and I unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the “Housing Compact” as its passage would change Bronxville forever.
Please join in reviewing this law and its ramifications and speak to anyone in state government that has a vote. It is absolutely critical that Bronxville’s voice is heard and heard expeditiously.
Bronxville is a quaint village (one square mile) located just 16 miles north of midtown Manhattan (roughly 30 minutes on the train) and has a population of approximately 6,500. It is known as a premier community with an excellent public school (K-12) and easy access to Manhattan. Bronxville offers many amenities including an attractive business district, a hospital (Lawrence Hospital), public paddle and tennis courts, fine dining at local restaurants, two private country clubs and a community library.
While the earliest settlers of Bronxville date back to the first half of the 18th century, the history of the modern suburb of Bronxville began in 1890 when William Van Duzer Lawrence purchased a farm and commissioned the architect, William A. Bates, to design a planned community of houses for well-known artists and professionals that became a thriving art colony. This community, now called Lawrence Park, is listed on the National register of Historic Places and many of the homes still have artists’ studios. A neighborhood association within Lawrence Park called “The Hilltop Association” keeps this heritage alive with art shows and other events for neighbors.
Bronxville offers many charming neighborhoods as well as a variety of living options for residents including single family homes, town houses, cooperatives and condominiums. One of the chief benefits of living in “the village” is that your children can attend the Bronxville School.
The Bronxville postal zone (10708, known as “Bronxville PO”) includes the village of Bronxville as well as the Chester Heights section of Eastchester, parts of Tuckahoe and the Lawrence Park West, Cedar Knolls, Armour Villa and Longvale sections of Yonkers. Many of these areas have their own distinct character. For instance, the Armour Villa section has many historic homes and even has its own newsletter called “The Villa Voice” which reports on neighborhood news.
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