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Proposal To Build Multi-Family Apartment Complex on Piermont Avenue In Piermont Moves Forward Despite Obstacles And Opposition

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14-Unit Multi-Family At 447-477 Piermont Avenue Needs Site Plan, Subdivision Approval & Special Permit From Village Board

By Tina Traster

For years, a privately-owned grassy lot across from Piermont’s Village Hall has served as a parking lot that absorbs overflow traffic from Main Street and the surrounding business district. Although it’s an eyesore, some residents would rather it remained than be developed into a 14-unit multi-family three-story building because they believe it will not align with Piermont’s quaint streetscape and it could set a precedent for more multi-family development.

The effort to develop the parcels at 447-477 Piermont Avenue has lingered for years. At first, landowner Phil Grifin, who also owns Flywheel Park, and his partners, proposed an even larger multi-family building but the crux of the challenge centered on getting the Village to enact a zone change along the village’s main street.

According to the Village and its codes, a newly created zone known as CBM has been enacted but there is some discrepancy between the village and the county, which says the issue has not been resolved. The CBM zone would allow multi-family projects and accommodate the requirements Griffin and his team need to construct their project.

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In the meantime, there is a rising chorus of objection to the project, with residents saying the building seems overbearing and out of character for Main Street. They plan to make their objections known at the Village’s upcoming April 8 Planning Board meeting.

Janice Young said she bought a house and relocated three years ago from Yonkers to Latik Street in Piermont to be in “the country.”

“I was thrilled to be here,” said Young. “I grew up in Riverdale. I know what it is to not know your neighbors, to drive around looking for parking, missing hubcaps,” she said. “The project looks like row houses that are built in ghettoes.”

Young along with a group of neighbors are circulating a petition and have started up a Facebook page called Preserve Piermont to bring attention to the project.

Laura Healy Grznar, who posted the petition, said more than 255 signatures have been collected.

“My husband was born in Piermont,” said Healy Grznar. “His grew up in his parents’ house. I’m concerned with congestion, traffic, the size of the buildings. They seem enormous.”

The Piermont Civic Association shared the petition, according to the petition organizers.

Piermont, a beautiful historic Hudson River Village, grapples with two severe challenges: sufficient parking for its successful restaurant-oriented village and significant flooding in the kinds of rain storms that have become typical. The county has flagged the applicant’s project due to its proximity to the Long Path Hiking Trail, Tallman Mountain State Park, the Sparkill Creek, and the historically significant Ash Street Station Park. Over the last half century, Piermont has changed from a blue-collar enclave to an upscale river village supported by restaurants, shops and galleries and pier-lined high-end condos. Piermont played a major role during World War II when more than a million troops marched from Camp Shanks to board vessels destined for Europe, earning the nickname “Last Stop USA”.

Times always change, however, and in recent years officials in every village and town in Rockland County have been conceding there is a crisis-level housing shortage, especially for millennials and empty nesters. The business community constantly evokes the need for workers and for affordable workforce housing. The proposed apartment complex in Piermont will likely be market-rate rentals.

Dan Goswick says the lot where the project is proposed has been vacant for more than half a century.

“There was a gas station there in the 1930s and later a candy and ice cream store,” said Goswick, who added that he believed it burned down in the mid-20th century.

“They’ve been using that area for parking — where does all that parking go?” said Goswick, adding he believes soil testing on the site will be needed.

What’s envisioned on the site is a  35-foot, three-story, 18,000 square-feet building on less than half an acre comprising studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments with parking on site for 27 vehicles. The developer has proposed frontage right at street-level and minimal front yard setback.

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The developers have encountered problems since 2021 because the zoning did not align with their plans. When originally proposed, the parcels were in the “B” and “RD” zones, which did not permit multifamily residential development. The developers sought to have the property re-zoned to the R-M (multifamily) zone, but even with that re-zoning, amendments to the zone’s bulk requirement were needed to facilitate the project.

Because changing the bulk requirements would have affected other properties in the R-M zone, the developer proposed the creation of a new zone – the CBM zone – that would allow multifamily projects and also permit the bulk requirements the developer needed to construct the project. The new CBM allowed for zero setbacks on the front and sides, buildings up to 35 feet in height, and a FAR of 1.0 – meaning the building size can be 100 percent of the size of the lot, spread over the three floors. The .41 acre lot in the CBM zone allows for a building of 17,860 square feet.

Last March, the Village Board voted to create the new CBM District, which included 447-477 Piermont Avenue. The new zone allows for multiple dwellings by Special Permit from the Village Board. The amendment was encompassed in Local Law 4-2023, sent to the New York Secretary of State, and is in the Village of Piermont eCode.

However, to move the project forward, the developer needs approval on a subdivision and site plan by the Village Planning Board, and ultimately the Special Permit by the Village Board of Trustees. There have been numerous public hearings set before the Village Board since March requesting the Special Permit. Each time the matter was raised, it was deferred to a later date, including a recent referral to the Planning Board for consideration of the site plan and subdivision application.

When villages amend their zoning codes, or when they propose projects that affect other municipalities or certain county or state properties, the Rockland County Department of Planning weighs in on the merits of the project in accordance with the General  Municipal Law (GML). In November 2023, and in accordance with the GML, the Village of Piermont referred the site plan and subdivision application to the Rockland County Department of Planning for review. It also referred the application for a Special Permit to the County for review.

The County “disapproved” the project.

In letters dated December 11, 2023, December 12, 2023 and again on January 8, 2024, the County Planning Department concluded the Local Law that created the CBM district was “invalid as a matter of law”. Because at least one of the re-zoned lots is within 500 feet of the Long Path Hiking Trail, Tallman Mountain State Park, the Sparkill Creek, and the Ash Street Station Park, the Village had to refer the zoning amendment to the Rockland County Planning Department for review. The County wrote, “Failure to refer the local law to the County Planning Department and/or Board is a jurisdictional defect which renders its enactment invalid.”

Because it did not recognize the new CBM district, the County reviewed the proposal under the pre-existing zoning that does not allow for multifamily dwellings, and said the “application must be disapproved.”

There is a disagreement between the Village and the County as to what was submitted for review and when. According to the Village, a referral on the text amendment establishing the CBM District was sent to the Rockland County Planning Department on January 10, 2023, two months before the local law was passed in the Village establishing the new zoning district.

“I explained to the county that the GML was sent on January 10, 2023, and that we received responses from neighboring municipalities confirming same,” said Lino J. Sciarretta, Piermont’s Village Attorney. “This was all explained to the county and we will be following up with them again.”

A spokesperson for the County, said on Friday, “a site plan and subdivision application is currently before the Department.  The Department has been in communication with the Village to obtain additional information regarding the rezoning of the Village’s CBM District.”