Mind the Downtown Gap
By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
If you’re wondering when the large gap between Woodrow Jewelers and Poppy’s might be filled, don’t hold your breath. Three years after the building at 23-25 Purchase Street was demolished, the vacant lot continues to be an eyesore in a town where others are making welcome improvements to the downtown landscape.
Prior to its demolition in December 2016, the building housed two retail spaces on the first floor (you might recall the ill-fated “Homemade Pizza”), and apartments on the second and third floors. However, the retail level was vacant for some time and the building fell into serious disrepair, to the point where the upper floors were uninhabitable. After the Fire Department was summoned to the property by an alarm, it became abundantly clear that the City of Rye needed to step in and take action.
The owner of the property, Grove Park Realty Corp., was granted a permit and started the demolition process on December 2, 2016, right before the holidays. Shopkeepers on that section of Purchase Street were less than thrilled as the sidewalk was closed off for weeks and downtown traffic and parking became even more cumbersome than usual.
Fast forward to October 2017, when Grove Park Realty submitted a Site Plan Application to the Planning Commission detailing their plans to re-develop the vacant lot. The proposed building would be 11,939 square feet with two retail spaces on the first floor and six residential units on the second and third floors. The proposed plan would require variances for both the floor area ratio and the rear yard setback (the property backs up to Locust Avenue Fire Headquarters).
During the November 14, 2017 Planning Commission meeting, Grove Park Realty presented its proposal. In addition to the requests for variances, the Commission raised several other concerns, including lack of a viable garbage disposal option, as the rear of the proposed building would be adjacent to the property line and garbage could not brought out through the back. One member of the Commission noted that “with a landlocked building with no access to the rear, [garbage disposal] will be difficult to maintain.” Regarding the FAR variance, Linda Whitehead, the owner’s attorney stated, “Reducing the size of the building would not be feasible or economical because of the space required for an elevator and handicap-accessible bathrooms.” Commission member Richard Mecca raised concerns about the impact of the proposed building on Fire Headquarters, which is a historic building. The Commission directed the owners to dive deeper into trash disposal options and provide written justification for the requested variances.
The proposal was revisited at the February 27, 2018 meeting, and Whitehead said the upper floors were scaled back slightly to provide additional distance between the building and firehouse for light and air. She also argued that because the firehouse has no windows facing the property, and there is no access to the rear of the property, the rear yard setback requirement (33 feet) should be waived. With respect to the requested FAR variance, Whitehead argued that in order to justify the high cost of construction, the applicant was unable to reduce the square footage of the building due to the need to make the building ADA-compliant. As for garbage, Whitehead said there would be a garbage collection space in the basement, and an on-site superintendent responsible for bringing trash to the curb on Purchase Street in coordination with a private garbage hauler.
The Commission still voiced numerous concerns, one being that the proposed building height seemed too high and each floor appeared to have 12-foot ceilings. Trash disposal was still a major concern – the Commission felt that the superintendent would have to make numerous trips to the curb, causing the garbage truck to block traffic on Purchase Street during this process. Finally, the Commission asked the owner to explore the possibility of an access easement through an adjacent property on Locust Avenue to find a better solution for garbage disposal. City Planner Christian Miller expressed his concern about the precedent this application could set for other buildings on this section of Purchase Street. The Commission asked the owner to consider their comments and return for further discussion.
Almost two years later, there have been no further submissions or attempts to get this proposal back on the Planning Commission’s agenda. Sometime last spring, the City contacted the owner and asked them to clean up the overgrown, run-down lot. It appears the owner obliged by mowing the lawn, but the property is once again unkempt and a real eyesore in our charming town.
In the meantime, might the owner consider a festive and light-filled display to spruce things up for the holidays? Several calls to the property owner were not returned as of press time.