Over the past six months, more and more residents have expressed their consternation regarding the impact of teardowns and major renovations on the character of Rye’s neighborhoods, specifically the “Fairs” — the Fairway Avenue and Fairlawn Street neighborhoods.
By Bill Lawyer
Over the past six months, more and more residents have expressed their consternation regarding the impact of teardowns and major renovations on the character of Rye’s neighborhoods, specifically the “Fairs” — the Fairway Avenue and Fairlawn Street neighborhoods. Residents of Hix Park, Rye Gate, Rye Gardens, Ryan Park, and many other neighborhoods have expressed concerns as well.
The concerns are two-fold: first, that the new houses are built out to the maximum possible allowable on the lot; and second, that the new houses are much higher in elevation than any of the existing houses.
The bottom line is these people feel the changes are not for the better – the houses being built now loom over the other houses on the block — and they seem out of place and urbanized.
Dozens of residents have gone beyond griping. They’ve written letters to City officials and attended Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meetings late into the night. Unfortunately, they soon discovered that BAR’s powers are limited as far as house size. BAR reviews applications on the basis of aesthetics and their impact on the neighborhood, but they’re held to a criminal standard. BAR has asked the City to consider changing their review to a civil standard, as is the norm in most communities, and the Corporation Counsel is working on a draft of that proposal.
Meanwhile, City Planner Christian Miller was asked to present information to the Planning Commission relating to the matter.
On August 15, Miller submitted a four-page memo to the City Council “addressing concerns heard by Council members that some new residential construction is considered potentially out of scale in its size, height, and/or bulk.”
Miller recommended that the Council consider one simple change that would have a direct impact on the height and floor area in building new or renovating existing homes: “minimum ceiling height.”
While Rye’s law allows non-habitable attics up to seven feet, six inches, New York State law currently allows only up to seven feet.
Rye’s current law allows a much greater floor area, in which people could easily live, and yet it doesn’t count toward the property’s gross floor area.
By increasing the gross floor area of a proposed building, developers would have to build a smaller structure to comply with Rye’s zoning ordinances regarding allowable floor-area ratio (FAR). (Diagram shows how the FAR formula works.)
As Miller puts it, the proposed change “focuses on the exterior impact of attic space, which often has little to do with the interior use.”
He notes, in his memorandum, that the Planning Commission unanimously supports the proposed change.
At the September 11 City Council meeting, the Council voted to set a public hearing on the proposal for their October 9 meeting.
Before the vote, Miller provided some background information to the Council. This included his characterization of current “on-spec” building projects as akin to “driving 54 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.” And he described the current construction of high-peaked roofs as “making 2½-story houses look like 3-story houses.
Architect and Rye resident Paul Benowitz, who has done many renovations as well as new homes, expressed his concern that it wouldn’t be fair to hold existing homes to a new standard when an applicant wanted to expand his home.
Builder and Rye resident David Turiano objected to holding the hearing, as he felt the proposed change wasn’t thought through carefully enough.
In supporting the scheduling of the hearing, Councilman Peter Jovanovich recounted that he discussed the proposed changes with the City Planner Miller and assured listeners that Miller had “thoroughly thought it through.”
Councilman Joe Sack said that while he was skeptical of the proposed changes, he would vote for holding the hearing so that all views could be expressed.
The motion to hold the hearing passed unanimously.