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JULY 18, 2014

‘Pops, Patriots and Fireworks’

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Playhouse property owner to propose mixed-use structure

By ANTHONY R. MANCINI
ANTHONY R. MANCINI PHOTO

Ken Horn, in front of the Bedford Playhouse, will unveil plans for the Playhouse property’s vacant area at a July 22 public meeting.

 

The new owner of the Bedford Playhouse property is scheduled to unveil its latest plans on July 22 to build a mixed-use structure containing retail space, apartments and underground parking in the vacant lot next to the three-story Playhouse building.

The plans would be discussed that Tuesday at a public meeting held in the Bedford town house. Ken Horn, the president of Manhattan-based real estate developer Alchemy Properties, which now owns the Playhouse property, said that holding a public meeting about the site would allow the community to give its opinions on the plan. Alchemy has no plans formally submitted to the town of Bedford as of yet. The vacant lot next to the Playhouse is considered one of the last developable pieces of property in historic Bedford Village, a community well known for its preservation efforts.

“We will move ahead with the application process as long as we have the community behind us. It’s not our style and it’s not our nature to be in contentious positions with community,” Mr. Horn said on July 11. “We know that not everyone’s going to say ‘Bravo, you’ve done a great job.’ We get it, but the key to us is that we at least have the consensus that this is something that the town wants.”

Mr. Horn said that his company has approached many prominent community members already for input on the project. They include Bedford supervisor Chris Burdick, town planning director Jeff Osterman, Bedford Fire Department Chief Peter Aquilino, Bedford Historical Society executive director Lynn Ryan and Bedford Presbyterian Church pastor, the Rev. Dr. Paul Alcorn. Mr. Horn said most of what he has heard so far has been positive.

“Even folks who have been here for generations, who we’ve spoken to, they’ve been encouraging to us,” he said. “We just hope that the community understands that this is a good opportunity for everybody.”

Alchemy’s approach of consulting the public first, considering community input and then potentially submitting a plan to the town is very similar to an approach taken by the Playhouse property’s former owner, Phoenix Bedford LLC. Phoenix Bedford, through its attorney William Harrington, of White Plains law firm Bleakley Platt & Schmidt, pitched a development plan for the Playhouse site’s vacant lot that would have included retail and residential space as well at a public meeting in April of last year.

Public reaction at the April 2013 meeting was mixed. Some Bedford residents welcomed the plan, citing a need for more diverse businesses in Bedford Village and a need for more affordable housing. Others were concerned about the amount of traffic such a site would generate and how another mixed-use building would fit into the character of the historic neighborhood. A few residents were irked by the way the plan was first pitched to the public rather than to the town government.

Phoenix Bedford sold the Playhouse property to Alchemy less than two months after last year’s informational meeting. Alchemy is currently suing Phoenix Bedford, saying in court documents that the property’s previous owner misrepresented rent collected from the site’s tenants. The case is being heard in the Westchester County Supreme Court in White Plains and has an appearance date scheduled for Monday, July 28.

Mr. Horn said the main difference between Alchemy’s approach and Phoenix Bedford’s approach is that Alchemy is planning on discussing specific architectural details about the project such as dimensions at the meeting rather than just broad concepts.

Mr. Horn said that more details would be ready by July 22. So far, he said, Alchemy is not planning to add additional surface parking, only underground parking. The developer said adding some form of parking is necessary because of its scarcity in Bedford Village. He said the vacant lot, which slopes downward from Old Post Road, is well suited for underground parking. He said the parking lot northeast of the vacant lot used by Playhouse building residents would not be altered.

The developer said that apartments would be situated at the rear of the proposed structure and that some of them would be established as affordable housing units to help the town satisfy requirements mandated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development

Mr. Horn said he does not want any proposed structure on the lot to appear monolithic. He said it would not be a “glass box” or incorporate modernist designs. He said a challenge in designing any building on the site is what architectural style it should incorporate, such as being brick to match the Playhouse and other surrounding buildings, a white clapboard structure to match the neighborhood’s historic properties, or something else entirely. The developer said public opinion would weigh heavily on that decision.

Alchemy’s plan would need to undergo an intense amount of public scrutiny before any sort of approvals would be issued for the project. At the very least the project would need to go before Bedford’s planning and zoning boards as well as the town’s Bedford Village historic district commission. The Playhouse property would need to receive an undetermined number of variances before this proposed structure were constructed because the site’s vacant lot is zoned for a single-family residence, not a multiuse building. A variance is a legal exemption from a part of the town code. They are difficult to obtain because they are granted to the land in perpetuity and must be justified. This is usually done by proving that certain restrictions in the town code are unfair or do not fit in with a particular piece of property.

One of Alchemy’s latest projects involved renovating the upper floors of the Woolworth Building into apartments. The Gothic-revival skyscraper, which is identifiable by its green, patina-tinged copper spire, is located at 233 Broadway in Manhattan. The building, which dates back to 1913, used to be the tallest in the world until the completion of 40 Wall Street in 1930. The Woolworth building is a National Historic Landmark.

Mr. Horn said that in working with properties such as the Woolworth, Alchemy is a competent developer to spearhead a project at the Bedford Playhouse. He said that New York City officials approved the renovations to the Woolworth building in around six months.

The developer said the Playhouse building would remain the same, save for renovations and window replacements that are being conducted on the building’s apartments after tenants move out. The Playhouse building houses 25 apartments, retail space and a two-screen movie theater. Overall, the parcel, located at 633-647 Old Post Road, measures 3.14 acres in area and is valued by the town of Bedford at $3,166,500.

Ultimately, said Mr. Horn, if there was significant opposition to the project, Alchemy would change its plans.

“We will proceed ahead if we know that we have community approval. We don’t want to be in a position where we take the boulder and kind of push it up the hill knowing that it’s never going to make it up the hill. That’s not what we want to do,” he said. “If we don’t get community backing, we’ll think of another use for this site.”

The informational public meeting on the Bedford Playhouse property is scheduled to be held Tuesday, July 22, at 8 p.m., at the Bedford town house, 321 Bedford Road, Bedford Hills.


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