Residents fear “Main Street-style” buildings
By Jeff Simms
With round one in the books, the public hearing on whether to rezone a handful of parcels within Beacon’s Main Street-to-river linkage zone will continue next month.
The process began on Monday (April 4) when the City Council heard arguments from a number of residents who believe their properties should not be part of a section of Beacon designated for dense residential growth.
At issue are seven parcels — two on South Avenue and five on Wolcott Avenue — that sit inside the city’s “linkage zone,” an area designated in 2013 for expanded growth to support nearby Main Street businesses. The seven properties are also part of the Historic District and Landmark Overlay, and some of the property owners believe the linkage zoning is at odds with the intent of the historic district.
Several of the property owners filed a petition with the city in February asking that the seven parcels be returned to their pre-linkage, medium-density zoning.
The linkage zone was developed to increase the “vitality, attractiveness and marketability” of the section of Beacon that extends from the west end of Main to the Metro-North train station at the riverfront.
Its boundaries encompass Beekman Street, West Main and a portion of Wolcott Avenue as it runs in front of City Hall to just beyond the Reformed Church of Beacon on Wolcott/Route 9D. The intent of the zoning change was to encourage residential development to support Main Street businesses and create a “vibrant” connection between Main Street and the river.
The planning board will review the issue at its meeting on Tuesday, April 12 and presumably make a recommendation to the city council, which will continue the public hearing at its May 2 meeting.
On Monday, petitioners’ concerns were directed at two potential developments on properties named in the petition: an approximately 70-unit proposal called the River Highlands that would occupy the vacant lots on Wolcott just south of the Reform Church, and two houses adjacent to St. Andrews Church on South Avenue. Nearby residents argue that, if sold, the houses could be demolished and then rebuilt as “Main Street-style buildings,” disrupting the character of the neighborhood.
Neither Unicorn Contracting Corporation, the company behind the River Highlands proposal, nor St. Andrews signed the property owners’ petition. However, city statutes allow for the review of properties within a zoning district if 50 percent of the property owners in a given block in the district sign a petition requesting the review.
“It is clear that this concern is warranted,” said Garianne Carapola, who lives in the Hammond Plaza condominium complex across from the train station and downhill from the proposed River Highlands site. “With so much development occurring throughout the city of Beacon it is easy to lose sight of what the City Council in 2007 (when the comprehensive plan was adopted) had envisioned for our city.”
Unicorn made a preliminary presentation to the planning board on the River Highlands project last November. Reached Thursday, a spokesperson for the company declined to comment when asked for a status update on the project.
St. Andrews, on the other hand, says it has no immediate development plans for the lots on its property, and church representatives stated Monday night that any future development there would fit in with the existing neighborhood.
“None of that exists,” Rev. John Williams said Monday night, referring to rumored plans to develop “Main Street-style” buildings on the church’s lots. But, he continued, “the church doesn’t need two houses that are falling down.”
St. Andrews will probably sell the lots eventually, Williams said, adding that whatever development does occur there will be done cautiously. It will likely be for residential use, “probably multi-family, because that’s what Beacon needs,” he said.
However, church neighbors say they fear the worst. “We’ve put every penny that we have into [our] house,” said Claire Agre, a South Avenue resident, “and we’re heartbroken that across the street could be a wall of monolithic development.”
Barry Donaldson, an advisor to the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which owns the property, echoed Williams’ sentiments, suggesting that the church hold a public design charrette to ensure that the lots are developed in a way that’s “consistent with the feel and scale of the community.”
Regarding the rumors of building a “Berlin Wall-like structure” on the church property, Donaldson said, “We don’t think that’s the right thing to do either.”
But South Avenue resident Maggie Yarnis, who lives directly across from the church, was not convinced. Citing an active listing on the real estate website Zillow.com, Yarnis said she fears a developer will “build right up to the sidewalk.” Demolition of the St. Andrews homes, which she said were influenced by Andrew Jackson Downing, a 19th century landscape architect from Newburgh, would be tantamount to “civic vandalism in its worst form.”
Yarnis took the opportunity to also voice her concern about the rate of development in Beacon, naming the River Highlands, St. Andrews and The View, a 50-unit complex proposed for Beekman Street, behind City Hall.
“While I am happy to see so much interest in Beacon, I worry that the impact of these three developments hatching at the same time have not been fully reviewed,” she said. “I fear the quality of life for existing residents will be greatly diminished.”