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‘Last developable piece’ in Bedford awaits plans


By ANTHONY R. MANCINI
ANTHONY R. MANCINI PHOTO

William P. Harrington, an attorney representing developer Phoenix Bedford LLC, presents the company's plan to construct a combined retail and apartment building next to the Bedford Playhouse to a crowd of around 50 residents at the Bedford Town House April 22.

 

Bedford residents gave a mixed reaction to an idea from a developer to construct a building in the lot next to the Bedford Playhouse that would include apartments and retail space at an April 22 public hearing. In the course of the meeting, audience members criticized the plan for its potential traffic and safety impacts.

William P. Harrington of law firm Bleakley Platt & Schmidt spoke on behalf of property owner Phoenix Bedford LLC, a company based out of Westchester, that purchased the over 3-acre lot where the Bedford Playhouse building lies in 2011.

Mr. Harrington said the idea for a new building is in its conceptual stages and nothing has been filed with the town yet. He said that the plan currently is to put up a building with a similar function to the Playhouse adjacent to it, with 25 or less one- or two-bedroom apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail space. He said around two to four apartments would be reserved as affordable housing units. He said the plan would include a public space between the two buildings and an expansion of parking on the lot.

Steve Rice, who lives down the street from the Playhouse on Guard Hill Road, said Bedford Village is facing a dangerous, escalating amount of traffic because it lies at intersections between state roads. He said the proposed building would contribute to the problem.

“We are at the tipping point in this community where the character of this community is now being so adversely affected by thousands of cars and trucks coming and going thorugh this town,” he said at the hearing. “The fact that more people haven’t been killed north of the village is astounding to me.”

The property, located within the Bedford Village historic district on the corner of Old Post Road and Court Road, includes the three-story Playhouse building that was built in 1947. The building includes apartments, retail space, a two-screen movie theater, a restaurant and a physical therapy studio. The property was two parking lots located on the north and east ends and a vacant lot on the east end. The land is zoned for mixed use. The Playhouse building is zoned as commercial property, while the vacant lot is zoned residential.

Mr. Harrington said the idea for a new building is in its conceptual stages and nothing has been filed with the town yet. He said that the plan currently is to put up a building with a similar function to the Playhouse adjacent to it, with 25 or less one- or two-bedroom apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail space. He said around two to four apartments would be reserved as affordable housing units. He said the plan would include a public space between the two buildings and an expansion of parking on the lot.

“What we contemplate doing, conceptually, is in replicating on this side of the parcel a retail/residential development that is consistent in design with the historic nature of the village,” said Mr. Harrington. “The idea here is to not dramatically change this village. It’s to enhance it. It’s to take it to it’s final step because this is the last developable piece of property in this historic district. Period. This is it.”

Many residents said they were concerned with the amount of traffic that the new building would bring into the area and how the project would fit in with the character of the historic community. Some were opposed to the unorthodox method of presenting the idea. Usually, a developer would file a project proposal with the town and the public would have the opportunity to formally comment on it afterwards. However, at this hearing, Mr. Harrington pitched the idea to attendees before filing a project with the town. He said through this method, neighbor's concerns could be more easily applied to the project.

“These kinds of meetings don’t happen,” said John R. Nolon, a Pace University law professor invited by the town to moderate the hearing. “Usually what happens is the development proposals are put together through the hard work of the development team. They are then considered within the town hall for a period of time. At some point, citizens get a five-day public notice of a public meeting and they wonder what’s going on. This is exactly the opposite of that.”

Peter Aquilino, chief of the Bedford Fire Department, said at the hearing that a new building next to the existing Playhouse would pose problems for firefighters in the event of a fire. He said a public space between the old and proposed buildings would block access to the existing building at its north side. He said fighting a fire at the Playhouse is difficult enough because of it's architecture and age.

“I have eight different fire departments coming if there’s ever a fire in that building, right off the bat,” he said. “Part of the reason is because the building was built in 1947, so it’s kind of exempt from a lot of the recent building codes.”

The chief said some of the apartments on the north side of the Playhouse building could be inaccessible, since neither his nor any surrounding departments are capable of performing high-angle rescues, which involve using ropes to transport a person and requires training. He said the Playhouse building would require 3,000 to 3,500 gallons of water per minute to successfully put out a fire. He said the hydrants in the area are only capable of providing 850 gallons of water per minute.

“If that building’s on fire, I have no way of putting it out,” he said.

Virginia Maybank, who lives on Cantitoe Street , said the property as it stands now is an eyesore and could stand to be improved. She said the size of the new building is a concern to her, though, and that the Bedford Village green would serves as a much better public space than would could be built at the Playhouse property.

“I’m actually particularly not in favor of the idea of putting in some new kind of open space between the buildings because I think we have a beautiful green and I think people should use that,” she said at the hearing. “Your buildings are going to be very tall and it’s going to be a little alleyway between them.”

Colette Mooney of The Farms Road in Bedford Village said she would like to see the architectural styles continued in any new development and said this building could be an opportunity to contain a community-friendly business such as a pizzeria or an ice cream parlor.

“We desperately need somewhere to go in our town,” she said at the hearing. “Retail space is great, but we really don’t need another high-end place that you don’t really want to hang out at.”

Leigh Isaacs, who lives off Haines Road in Bedford Corners, said he opposes having affordable housing in the village because he said it could lead to an increase in crime and that any new children living in the area could put pressure on the Bedford's schools.

“What you’re describing is a situation where you’re going to put people who get vouchers, rental vouchers, and that produces people who are far below the socioeconomic level of this community,” he said at the hearing. “This is, one could argue, an important moment in Bedford’s existence because if this proceeds, the milieu of this community will change.”

Bruce Yablon, a member of the town's Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp., which promotes and operates some affordable housing properties throughout Bedford, said the small number of affordable units in the proposed building would not substantially change the village.

“Affordable housing is not low-income housing,” he said at the hearing. “A lot of the people in our community today in the affordable housing units are seniors and working parents with young children.”

Mr. Yablon said that the village could benefit from new properly-targeted businesses.

“Part of the beauty of that downtown area is to want to enjoy it,” he said. “I think that changing it, done right, can enhance the character of downtown.”

Town historian John Stockbridge said at the hearing that the unusual approach to pitching the plan puts residents in an awkward position and that the project should be looked at from a preservation standpoint by official appointed by the town before anything else.

“A lot of people here feel that the character of this village is a reason why people live here, part of the reason why we all stay here,” he said. “It’s good that we’re having this event, but I think what it’s doing is painting the residents of the town into sort of a defensive position rather than the other way around.”

If the plan is formally submitted to the town, it would require a zoning change and scrutiny from the Bedford Village historic district review commission, which has tighter regulations towards what can be built in the neighborhood, so that a building's architectural features match the surrounding buildings. Planning director Jeff Osterman said at the hearing that the developer has the option to put up a single-family house on the property, that can be no larger than 5,200 square feet. Mr. Harrington said building a single-family house on the property would not be the best move for the developer.

“Quite frankly, it’s not a very attractive lot and it’s low grade and it’s on top of a parking lot,” he said.

Mr. Harrington said he was pleased with how the meeting went because of input from members of the community.

“We will take all of these comments into consideration,” he said after the hearing. “This is how planning should be done.”


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