For the second time in two years, a proposal to build townhouses on the 500 block of Elgin Avenue died at the village council’s doorstep.
With a 3-2 vote Monday night, commissioners said they would not grant a handful of requested exceptions to the zoning code that would have allowed Cherryfield Properties to build twin structures at 504 and 508 Elgin Ave. At length, public officials heard from residents who panned the project for its density, arguing it would have a detrimental impact on a street that is dominated by single-family homes.
Barney O’Reilly, owner of Cherryfield Properties, was hoping to build two five-unit structures where a pair of single-family homes had stood.
“Nothing’s been approved. This property will remain vacant until something else comes along, I guess,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said after the vote.
Calderone voted in the minority with Commissioner Rory Hoskins to approve the development. Commissioners Marty Tellalian, Mark Hosty and Mike Curry voted not to grant the zoning variances.
The plan that council members voted on, however, was an amended version of what was presented. Hoskin’s request to restrict the proposal to only four units per building while enforcing the required 24-foot setback from the road was granted in a 3-2 decision. Those changes presumably would have killed the project. During several public discussions before the April 14 council meeting, O’Reilly emphatically stated that he could not afford to develop the lots if there were any fewer than 10 units.
At Monday’s meeting, a dozen people spoke to the merits of the plan, the majority in opposition. That outcry was a patent contrast to the tone of a March zoning board of appeals meeting at which handfuls of proponents showed up to support the plan while only a few spoke in opposition.
“It’s perfectly feasible to build an attractive building within the code,” Kathy Kucia, of 529 Elgin Ave., said.
The zoning board, the planning commission and village staff members all encouraged the council to support the plan.
“They obviously don’t listen to the village staff, they don’t listen to the ZBA and they don’t listen to the plan commission,” O’Reilly said of the council’s decision.
In September 2006, O’Reilly’s proposal for a similar project was also defeated by the council in a 4-1 vote. That project required no exceptions to the zoning code and proposed a total of eight units. Following Monday’s vote, O’Reilly said he was extremely disappointed both in the residents and the elected officials. Several of the residents who urged the council to vote no did not offer any input into the design when O’Reilly was meeting with neighbors after the 2006 vote, he said.
“I heard a lot of angry residents flip-flop and change their position again,” O’Reilly said of the hearing. “The council decided on mob rule.”
O’Reilly said he has no plans to challenge the village’s decision in court, but offered sarcastically that he may start working on plans for a commercial property to front on Harlem Avenue – a four-lane road that comprises the eastern boundary to the property – because he’s been unable to construct residential properties fronting to the west on Elgin Avenue.
“That’s the $750,000 question,” O’Reilly said of the parcel’s future. “I don’t know. It’s a piece of property that we wasn’t approved to build anything on. I don’t know.”
Just before the discussion on O’Reilly’s plan, the mayor took several minutes to dispel doubt about his interests in the property, which was purchased by Cherryfield in 2005 from the mayor’s family after the death of Calderone’s mother. The mayor was raised in the home that stood at 504 Elgin Ave.
Calderone denounced any involvement in the handling of the estate. Most specifically, the mayor criticized Steve Backman for posting false statements to an online message board alleging Calderone had a direct hand in the sale of the property and should therefore recuse himself from any vote.
“It’s misleading. It’s false. It’s a lie,” Calderone said. “I had zero interest in the sale of the property to Cherryfield.”