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Bronxville Government and History

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Ever Wonder Exactly What the Bronxville Village Board of Trustees, Planning Board, and Zoning Board Do? Here's Your Answer PDF Print Email

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By Susan Miele

Nov. 13, 2019:  What's the secret to preserving Bronxville's character and charm? Credit our village code and the boards that uphold them. While homeowners and landlords might wish they could alter their property without the hassle of approvals, the safeguards ensured by the Village Board of Trustees, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) help prevent Pondfield Road from becoming home to a mega mall and your neighbor's deck from abutting your driveway. Despite the important role they serve, these boards remain unclear to many people in terms of their role and function. What do they do exactly? 

In a nutshell, the Board of Trustees establishes local laws and codes; the Planning Board ensures adherence with respect to development efforts, and the ZBA considers appeals from constituents to deviate from the code. This is the highly simplified explanation for a complex system whose execution must abide by both local and state laws.

Members of the Village Board of Trustees are chosen via general election. In contrast, members of the Planning Board and of the Zoning Board of Appeals are appointed by the mayor with approval from the Board of Trustees. Members must be Bronxville residents, and all are unpaid volunteers.  The meetings of all three boards are open to the public and may be either attended in person at Village Hall or viewed on TV via Bronxville's public-access channel.

Village Board of Trustees

According to New York State law, the Village Board of Trustees—headed by Mayor Mary Marvin--is empowered to "regulate and restrict the height, number of stories and size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of lot that may be occupied, the size of yards, courts and other open spaces, the density of population, and the location and use of buildings, structures and land for trade, industry, residence or other purposes." Village government is entrusted with this power in the interest of promoting the community's overall health, safety, morals, and general welfare. The State requires that no laws shall be codified until after a public hearing on the subject is held, and these must be announced via published notifications at least ten days prior. 

Planning Board & Design Review Committee

Once local laws and codes are established, it's up to the Planning Board to maintain them. The Planning Board evaluates assorted proposals—from the selection of street lights to a store's choice of an awning to the demolition of a house to the installation of an apartment-building ramp. Part of their task is to consider the pros and cons voiced by both residents and commercial interests.

Whereas straightforward applications like a store awning might take only a short time to deliberate, projects with a greater potential for impacting the Village could require the engagement of architects, traffic studies, revised plans, re-revised plans, and even re-re-revised plans. 

Another layer of review may be performed by the Design Review Committee, which advises the Planning Board from the viewpoint of architectural integrity. The Planning Board also draws on the expertise of outside consultants with technical knowledge of matters such as traffic patterns, road construction, and the like.

According to Gary Reetz, the current President of the Bronxville Planning Board, when NewYork Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital applied for permission to build a wing for its proposed cancer center, the Planning Board spent a year and a half reviewing drawings, working with architects and designers, and collaborating with the hospital to arrive at a plan that would be compatible with village code while accommodating the hospital's desire to expand. Another large-scale project was the Kensington Road project—now the site of Villa BXV--whose design underwent three iterations, involving three different developers over about 15 years. 

Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA)

When an application calls for construction that is not in compliance with the Village's Zoning Code, a property owner can petition the ZBA for a "variance." Both commercial and residential variances are considered. According to Bill Fredericks, current President of the ZBA, the most frequent variance requests that the ZBA receives concern the Village's "setback" requirements, which mandate that the footprint of a home be a minimum distance from the property line. 

Factors that affect these Boards' decisions, says Reetz, include the impact on parking, traffic, population density, neighbor objections, and demand on public resources, like waste disposal and school enrollment. Reetz notes that population density is an important factor when considering proposals to erect housing projects like apartment buildings. A critical factor is the potential impact on the public school, whose reputation for excellence serves as a magnet for home buyers. Housing propositions, he notes, must avoid school overcrowding. 

"I look at things in terms of what its impact will be 50 years from now—because I remember what it was like in Bronxville 50 years ago," Reetz, a longtime Bronxville resident, said. "Our job is to maintain the village character and quality of life." To that end, the Planning Board also contributes to village comprehensive plans, which establish goals and policies for both short- and long-term public planning. 

According to Fredericks, the ZBA exists to provide some flexibility, recognizing that even well-conceived rules may not need to be upheld precisely as stated in every situation. However, "the burden is always on the applicant to establish that there is a genuine need for the variance and that an alternative with a lesser impact is not an option," Fredericks noted. "We want to allow reasonable modernizations of existing properties, but we don't want to lose the existing sense of scale and proportion that we are all familiar with." 

Fredericks reports that the ZBA generally rules on applications at the hearing when they are first presented but cautions that applicants who may require a variance should do their homework to ensure an efficient procedure with respect to both time and expense. "Do not assume that the ZBA will rubber-stamp your plans – to the contrary, think of your neighbors, the impact of your plans on the character of the local neighborhood as a whole; above all, make a serious effort to explore all reasonably available options to make sure that you really do need a variance to meet your project objectives." 

All these boards work collaboratively to consider policy refinement, such as in response to the spate of storefront vacancies that occurred several years ago. Because the longstanding zoning law discouraged service and food providers from obtaining variances (businesses are "zoned" to house retail, service, entertainment, or dining establishments; thus, a variance is required to allow an alternative use), the zoning law was modified to be more accommodating, based on the changing nature of commerce and the reality of its effect on local trade. 


Photo by N. Bower

 

 

 
Local Author Meaghan Winter Speaks on Progressive Fight for the States PDF Print Email

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By Bill Gaston

Nov. 6, 2019:  The late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr., Speaker of the US House of Representatives, was often heard to say “all politics is local.”  If O’Neill were alive today, he would probably add to that:  all government is local too.

On that theme, Meaghan Winter, a native of Bronxville and the author of All Politics is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States, spoke eloquently at the Bronxville Field Club in October about the contentious battles being fought out today in local governments across the country.  At state capitals, town halls, and village commission meetings, she said that the institutions of self-government increasingly find themselves under attack on many fronts from a variety of well-funded corporate interests – the same forces that President Teddy Roosevelt, during the Gilded Age, once referred to as the “malefactors of great wealth.”

In her book, Ms. Winter, a freelance writer with a MFA from Columbia University, spotlights these battles as they have played out in three battleground states:  Missouri, Florida and Colorado.  In each of these states, progressives have found themselves on the defensive, in some cases (as in Colorado) successfully holding off reactionary and libertarian legislation; in others (Missouri) collapsing under the weight of the right wing onslaught.  Her on-the-ground reporting from these states is clear-eyed and sobering.

Fueled by the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, the GOP has leveraged tremendous success at winning elections at the local level and passing conservative legislation on issues ranging from abortion and gerrymandering to climate change and union rights.  Ms. Winter explained how these defeats have left state level Democratic parties flat-footed and dispirited.  By 2016, the GOP controlled legislative chambers in 32 states and governor’s offices in 33 (although those margins were somewhat trimmed back in the 2018 midterm elections).

Winter argued that Republican success at the state and local level is due to several factors.  Among them, liberal interest groups have been vastly outspent for years by a flood of corporate money that has disproportionately been funneled into GOP coffers.  Second, these same liberal groups have for decades concentrated their funding and organizational efforts at the federal level, mainly because civil rights were a federal concern.  However, on a tactical level, that emphasis had the unintended effect of ceding the battle in the states to the Republicans. 

Also key has been the success the GOP has enjoyed campaigning on cultural resentment and so-called “wedge” issues that have won over some traditionally conservative pockets of Democratic Party strength in “red” states.

For their part, Republicans have never relented in their multi-decade project of building dominance at the state and local level, pocketing those victories and creating a foundation for strength at the national level. 

Another factor, said Winter, is the collapse of local journalism, and the void in public attention paid to what is happening.  Much of the under-the-radar right wing legislative agenda in “red” states over the past decade has been barely covered, if at all, in most local media outlets for the simple reason many of them no longer exist or have gone bankrupt.  National media outlets, more cost-conscious than in the past, simply do not have the wherewithal or inclination to cover state or local politics with the in-depth focus it deserves. 

So are we at a dangerous tipping point between the power of organized wealth and the strength of our political institutions?  Or are we past it?

Ms. Winter was by turns hopeful and pessimistic (“at times, I’m filled with nihilism”).  She urged that citizens devote greater attention to local issues, and channel their donor dollars and efforts to local chapters of national affiliates where it may be more efficiently spent (and the outcomes are more visible). In any case, progressives will face an uphill climb to restore the health of our democracy without continued citizen engagement from the ground level up.

Pictured:  Meaghan Winter

Photo courtesy of Simon Ramsey.

 

Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff. 

 

 
November 5th Election Results PDF Print Email

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By Staff

Nov. 6, 2019: On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, Bronxville residents had the opportunity to vote for Westchester County Legislator as well as for candidates running in the Town of Eastchester and candidates running for judge positions in Westchester County.

Below is the Unofficial Tally of Election Results of selected races. Click here for more information.

Westchester County Legislator

The unofficial tally results show Ruth Walter 202 votes ahead of Gordon Burrows. The Walter campaign sent out an email this morning stating that the results are not official and it will take a week or more for the Board of Elections to "count absentee and provisional ballots." 

Ruth Walter: 5,395 (51%)

Gordon Burrows: 5,193 (49%)

Town of Eastchester

Supervisor (1 Elected)

Colavita: 4,491 (56%)

Denning: 3,561 (44%)

Councilman (2 Elected)

Bellito:  5,439 (50%)

Dooley: 5,361 (44%)

Town Clerk

Laird: 5,755 (100%)

Town Justice (2 Elected)

Calano: 5,525 (50%)

Salanitro: 5,425 (50%)

Receiver of Taxes

Rocco: 5,787 (100%)

Photo at top by A. Warner

 

 







 
From The Mayor: Nurturing Institutions, Health, Good Will, and Inclusiveness in Bronxville PDF Print Email

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By Mary Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville

Nov. 6, 2019:  The Village Trustees and I, as of late, have been focusing on our underground infrastructure as much of it is approaching its 100th birthday. Though not having the same element of urgency is the improvement of our streetscape and municipal services, so Bronxville continues to attract generations of new residents – the essence of our sustainability.

I have developed a particular interest in the sustainability, and with it, walkability goals of communities and attend seminars and listen to podcasts.

Truly, what we have here in the Village are now the goals to which other communities aspire – easy access to public transportation near major hubs of employment, proximity to hospitals, food sources, entertainment, good schools, senior services, and culture with all not requiring a car to access. The only other optimal attributes we are missing are a senior citizen living option, and a children care facility for working families.

For the Village's long term health, we as citizens, have a duty to protect and nurture our institutions so they stay vital and relevant.

Certainly nebulous, but perhaps even more important is the nurturing of the personal health, good will, and interaction of our fellow residents. Our Village layout and structure promotes human interaction and connection. Now we need to spend monetary and human capital to maximize it.

According to a JAMA study in 2018, nearly half of American adults surveyed say they sometimes or always feel the effects of loneliness and loneliness not only affects the soul but the body. It has been linked to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, diminished immunity, and early mortality.

Many doctors now call loneliness in America epidemic, and according to recent studies, it may actually be contagious, spreading like the common cold. Having a lonely friend increases our own chance of loneliness by 52%. However, loneliness can be cured the way we cure any other disease, with awareness and action.

Some of the cures to loneliness or just a lack of positive human interaction include a mixing of the generations in adhoc and organized activities and outlets to volunteer that have room for all ages. In essence, our eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds need to know each other. Connections to others is the hidden factor to health.

I would ask all our Village institutions, with Village Hall taking the lead, to examine their inclusiveness, volunteer structure, and opportunities for all to pitch in.

Most often, many of our organizations "need" us when we have the least amount of time, juggling jobs and children and when we finally have the time, the wisdom, skill set, and often the financial stability, our opportunities to contribute seem to diminish. We need to rethink the whole paradigm.

Speaking for the Village, one such area of improvement is to preserve and improve our green spaces and walking opportunities. Study after study demonstrates that living among greenery, and in concert, having open spaces to interact with our neighbors boosts immune functions, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels and, most importantly, raises one's mood.

Add to this, the ability to walk easily and safely to activities and health effects accelerate. In many communities similar to ours, they now have spaces with chairs, benches encouraging people to stop and sit and talk to each other - clearly an idea worth pursuing, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other thoughts on the horizon for community partners include:

-Connect tech-savvy teens with our seniors
-Offer discount classes and/or open class attendance and enrollment for the non-high school and college-age
-Create volunteer opportunities for all age groups

In concert to this new look at connections is the added factor of kindness.

Dr. Kelli Harding of Columbia University wrote a book to much acclaim titled, "The Rabbit Effect." It highlighted a 1978 study – a simple experiment studying two groups of rabbits to determine the connection between high cholesterol and heart attacks. Treated to the same high fat diet, one group performed remarkably better.

Quite perplexed, one of the researchers finally admitted to talking and petting the rabbits in her control group. It was then scientifically proven to be that kindness and TLC had actually altered gene expression through microscopic epigenetic changes.

After millions of dollars in research money, the solutions turn out to be quite simple, both to kindness and loneliness – invest in relationships, volunteer, practice kindness, say hi to everyone you encounter, turn another cheek when unkindness comes your way remembering hurt people hurt, improve yourself as a goal and spend time improving your community.

We need to do this as a community, so I welcome innovative ideas. Kindness, like loneliness, has also proven to be contagious.

 

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Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.


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The Bronxville Historical Conservancy''s "Ghosts of Bronxville" Spook the Hilltop October 25: See Photos! PDF Print Email

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By Suzanne Pratt Davis, Board Member, The Bronxville Historical Conservancy

Nov. 6, 2019: On a crisp October evening, five of Bronxville's once-famous residents and several teenage spirits haunted hilltop homes and entertained village children. It was the fourth run of "Ghosts of Bronxville" (GOB), which was created and produced by the Bronxville Historical Conservancy (BHC). More than 200 kids and their chaperones attended this year's event, which sold out in just one hour. 

"It's spooky and fabulous. It's an evening you enjoy for sure. It draws you back 120 years," said Paula Asturias, who accompanied her 7-year old son Lucas Gonzalez. His favorite "ghost" of the evening was William Van Duzer Lawrence (founding father of Lawrence Park, Lawrence Hospital, and Sarah Lawrence College).

"He's a super cool guy," said Lucas.

Sarah Lawrence College students played the 19th century "speaking ghosts" with Jad Batlouni cast as Edmund Clarence Stedman ("the poet of Wall Street," stockbroker and Edgar Allan Poe's editor), Edward Checketts as Lawrence, Max Howard as William Augustus Bates (architect of many Bronxville homes), Emma Lipschutz as Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low (artist) and Chanel Smith as Harriet Hubbard Ayer (cosmetics tycoon). The actors were directed by Kyrie Eliason of Sarah Lawrence.

"I was really impressed by the quality of the acting. The kids seemed truly engaged," said Stephen Blumenreich, who accompanied 10-year old son, Carter Blumenreich.

Local high school students wandered the hilltop streets as 19th century apparitions in period costumes. Hugh Duffy was the spooky cello player, Sofia Fenner was the asylum patient, Sophie Halaby and Elizabeth Hawkey were ghastly girls, Charlotte Martin was the macabre mother, Ashton Minich was the menacing milkman, and Caroline Pasthilla played the spectral servant.

GOB was first offered to Bronxville in 2013, the brainchild of BHC board members Erin SalutiStafford Meyer, and Michelle McBride, who served as co-chairs of the event. The 2019 GOB production was organized by new co-chairs: Tina AdamsBetsy Putnam, and Lyndall Vermette. Adams and Vermette are also BHC board members.

"This year's chairs did a fantastic job of staying true to the original vision and spirit of Ghosts, but incorporating some new ideas as well. We were thrilled to see so many first-time families attend, and in many cases, for Ghosts to be their introduction to the work of the Conservancy and the fascinating history of Bronxville," said Saluti, who served on the 2019 GOB committee.

Other 2019 GOB Committee members included: Hilary Blumenreich, Laura Busker, Hilary Clarke, Suzanne Davis, Susie Frigon, Cece Heraty, Michelle McBride, Jenn Russo, Linda Rafoss Samios and Laura Van Tienhoven.

Dozens of volunteers worked safety patrol, games, check-in, costumes, makeup, and hot chocolate stands.

"The Ghosts Of Bronxville event is the true definition of 'it takes a village.' With over 70 volunteers, multiple homes, safety monitors, and police and EVAC security measures, we all together create a safe, magical, and historically accurate retelling of Bronxville's fascinating past," said Vermette.

The Bronxville Historical Conservancy was founded in 1998 to record and preserve Bronxville's history and to celebrate the culture and life in the village today. For more information about the Conservancy or to become a member, please visit http://bronxvillehistoricalconservancy.org/.

See pictures from GOB below:

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Photos courtesy Bronxville Historical Conservancy



Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.

 
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