By Robin Jovanovich
The City Code is clear, crystal clear to borrow from “A Few Good Men”, on a number of critical aspects of proposed development. In a proposed subdivision, for example, trees eight inches or more in caliper are to be preserved. This regulation was intended to preserve Rye’s mature trees and ensure privacy. When the Board of Architectural Review considers a building application, it must take into account whether a proposed development will adversely affect the desirability of a neighborhood. Rye’s building regulations were intended to “prevent these and other harmful effects and thus to promote and protect the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community.”
The “community” in an around the subdivision of 95 and 97 Oakland Beach Avenue, a project that has resulted in close to two years of massive excavation of rock, deafening noise, and ongoing traffic disruption, has asked the city for relief for well over a year. They’ve recorded the impact of the construction, as city officials encouraged them to do, and they’ve written dozens of letters and emails, but to little avail.
While Mayor Cohn and other officials met with the neighbors, and the city eventually instituted a temporary moratorium, the first house is nearly finished and already sold. Construction of the house at the rear of the lot, a lot that long contained just one modest home and many trees, over 100 of which were clear cut soon after the builder bought the property and before he submitted an application to the Building Department, is well underway.
On January 17, a national holiday, neighbors on both sides of Oakland Beach Avenue, as well as on Thorne Place and Fullerton Place, awoke to the sound of construction, even though Rye does not permit residential construction on national holidays.
Longtime Fullerton Place resident Ken Knowles summed up the project from the perspective of the neighbors.
“The builder took a single lot and turned it into two lots, and he never looked
back, nor gave any thought to those living in the neighborhood. Covid has
turned this into a two-year nightmare.”
As to the specifics of the project, he continued:
“The flag lot was too small for the construction of two large-scale homes.
Construction on this site has inherent water runoff issues, and many neighboring properties flooded for the first time since the project commenced. Explosives were used, close to neighboring homes and school-age kids, to remove rock. The use of multiple subcontractors, who parked everywhere and left mounds of trash, overwhelmed the neighborhood. The builder ignored rules on permitted construction hours, regularly disrupting the quality of life.”
As Thorne Place neighbor Nadine Waxenberg wrote to City officials, “This project seems to bend/break all of the rules in the rule book every step of the way and is extremely frustrating for those of us that are living this every day.” And as she said in a conversation with The Rye Record, “The water runoff ramifications are significant.”
It was Kathy Hobbins, who lives on Oakland Beach Avenue, who called the Rye Police the afternoon of January 17 to report that construction had been going on since approximately 7:30 a.m. “I called RPD because City Hall was closed for the holiday.”
City Manager Greg Usry was quick to respond to an email from Hobbins about the construction: “I encourage you and your neighbors to call the PD at the time you believe there are issues on the site. The Council does not have the ability to enforce any building code issues, and I cannot do much after the fact. As I said in my earlier email, I am generally on call seven days a week and can always reach the necessary City staff to address an urgent matter.”
John and Kathy Hobbins still want an answer to the question: “Why can’t the City do anything to protect the citizens of Rye when building laws are broken and disregarded as they have been on this project?” They suggest a stop-work order.
City Councilwoman Carolina Johnson is working with a team, including City Planner Christian Miller and Planning Commission Chair Nick Everett, on changes to the City Code regarding zoning. Consequently, changes regarding use of flag lots and strengthening the Board of Architectural Review’s hand in sustaining Planning Commission denials may be in Rye’s future.
Ken Knowles emphasizes the immediate need of a long-term strategy on development and flooding to ensure that no other neighborhood will have to endure what Oakland Beach neighbors have and that the character of Rye will be preserved. He encouraged officials and citizens to go the Westchester County aerial archives for a perspective on the growth of Rye from 1925 to 2020 (https://giswww.westchestergov.com/HistoricalAerial/MapContent.htm).
Residential development is a fact of life, but as Oakland Beach Avenue neighbors have repeatedly stressed, development which negatively impacts quality of life and landscape shouldn’t be in a town like this one.