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Assemblages: Good Strategy….or Recipe for Over-Scaled Development?

August 26, 2021 – CUPON Clarkstown urges the Town to protect neighborhoods by limiting assemblages in residential zones

In an article dated August 19, 2021, the Rockland County Business Journal outlines the benefits to developers of assemblages—the practice of purchasing contiguous land parcels and combining them into one lot. By combining smaller parcels into a larger lot, the author argues, a developer gets to maximize building potential—and financial profits—with expansive projects that might not be economically feasible on a single lot.

But what is the flip side of that coin? What of the residential neighborhoods that are left, literally, in the shadows of these “expansive” projects, which can include multi-family housing, schools or commercial projects, depending on the zone in which the assemblage is located?

Let’s take a closer look at one example in Clarkstown: the proposal to demolish two existing single-family homes, combine the two land parcels, and construct a 37,495 square foot private school for 600 students, with 50 parking spaces, on West Clarkstown Road just south of New Hempstead Road.

This potential assemblage is located in an R-40 residential zone, which allows roughly one house per acre. Although schools are permitted by right in residential zones, this potential assemblage would allow for the construction of a much larger school than would be possible on a single lot. This makes economic sense for the developer, but what are the impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, which consists primarily of single-family homes ranging in average size from 1,000 – 3,000 square feet?

The proposed 37,495 square foot building will be over-scaled and out of character in relation to the surrounding neighborhood. Factor into this equation the exponential increases in density, traffic, noise, and light pollution that will accompany a project on this oversized parcel. What about the additional burdens on our water supply and sewer capacity? And don’t forget the need for an extensive stormwater management system to mitigate flooding as more trees are felled and green space diminished. How many lots can be combined into one—is it limited to two, three, four? Is it unlimited?

Local homeowners understandably feel like victims of a “bait and switch” scheme; we invested in our homes and our neighborhood thinking we were getting one thing, but we’re now being handed another.

Clarkstown is on the verge of adopting an updated Comprehensive Plan. One of the stated goals of the Plan is to protect residential neighborhoods from over-scaled development. If the Town is serious about this goal, they should re-consider the widespread use of assemblages, particularly in residentially-zoned neighborhoods where assemblages lead directly to over-scaled development in proportion to the surrounding community.

CUPON Clarkstown has made this recommendation to the Town throughout the comprehensive planning process, and will continue to advocate for this and other measures to protect our neighborhoods from over-scaled development.

As is the case with most zoning and land-use regulations, one size does not fit all. Assemblages might make sense in commercial zones, hamlet centers or mixed-use zones. With the adoption of an updated Comprehensive Plan, now is the time for Clarkstown to fine-tune our zoning codes to allow assemblages only in areas where residential neighborhoods will not be negatively impacted. The Town’s need for development must be balanced with the need for healthy and sustainable neighborhoods.

–CUPON Clarkstown of Bardonia, Congers, New City, Valley Cottage, & West Nyack Steering Committee: Laura Bidon, Jennifer McPhee, Dana Ramirez, David Ramirez

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