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Why We're Moving Our Family Out of Yorktown

A cautionary tale for young families considering buying a home in Yorktown.

I moved to Yorktown on July 1, 2010. I came with my pregnant wife and two daughters; now we have 3 and are pregnant again

I have a bachelor of architecture degree from The Cooper Union. The last 11 years, I have worked in Manhattan as a building code and zoning consultant.  It pays the bills and has allowed us to buy our first home for our growing family. 

Shortly after arriving to town, we received a piece of certified mail telling us our neighbor wanted to "legalize" some "existing structures" with an application that was before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Being the zoning nerd I am, I attended, not thinking much of it. Legalizing existing structures isn't a big deal--or so I thought. 

Turns out the "existing structures," two single family homes and a house of worship allowing up to 100 people, 3 days a year, for 3 hours a day--at least according to the Yorktown Building Department and the Tax Assessor--were all to be demolished.  It was explained they had plans to build a church for 344 people on the 2nd floor with 6 classrooms convertible into another auditorium capable of holding another 300+ people. [note: after they approved the variances, I pointed out that the application was not worded correctly.  The ZBA then revoked their approval and made them use the correct words, "new building," on a second application]

They currently park up to 92 cars, according to their engineer, Site Design Consultants. This supports an illegal occupant load of up to 242 people, according to the same engineer. They are proposing 86 parking spaces to serve the new church capable of having two assembly spaces over 300 people. Even their attorney, Al Capellini, agreed with me on record that the applicant needed to get a "special use permit" from the town before converting the homes in this R1-10 zoning district. That's when the alarm bells went off; it's rare that the opposition's attorney agrees with you.

Long story short, I sued the town pro se. I spoke to lots of attorney friends, at length, and prepared my best professional case against the zoning variances.  Ultimately, the court did not read my petition or render a decision based on the merits of my argument. All because I didn't serve my neighbor, they said it was a fatal flaw.  What hurt so much was that I wasn't challenging a decision my neighbor made, it was the determinations (not even all of them), that the ZBA made.  The law is clear that the action I was taking was to "challenge the final determination of governmental agency of body."  Not being an attorney, I wasn't aware of some obscure case law and lost on a technicality. 

So instead of enforcing existing laws and kindly pointing out it's not legal to convert single family homes without Yorktown approval or permit, the town rewarded the developer who acted illegally by granting inappropriate zoning variances that will ultimately depress home values in the area. 

Then there is the "Costco" issue. I've written several posts for the Patch on the subject outlining my objections to the proposal as an individual.  The Yorktown Building, Engineering, Environmental and Planning departments sent a memo to the planning board stating:

The public policy sections outline the recommendations from the Yorktown Comprehensive Plan, the Sustainable Development Study, and Westchester County’s Patterns. Many of these recommendations are contrary to the objectives of the Costco project, yet there is little discussion in the potential impacts section on how the project does comply with goals from these reports or how the project will enhance the Bear Mountain Triangle/Crompond Hamlet Center area despite these differences. The Comprehensive Plan describes the C-3 zone as a small scale roadside commercial hamlet center...

and the Comprehensive Plan goes further and states:

This stretch of Route 202 should be a green corridor, with preservation of open space on the north side, and heavily landscaped buffers on both sides that hide the building and parking lots to the rear. 

I don't think the "open space" the town envisioned when it adopted the Plan into law in 2010 was a parking lot. Furthermore, the applicant seeks a zoning variance to have approximately 25' high light poles throughout the site whereas zoning only allows for 16'; granting an increase over 55% of what's allowed in height to those lights surely won't help hide anything behind the nominal buffer proposed.

It's hard to see how this proposal got off the ground in the first place. According to the developer, he apparently had lots of other offers. I think he should have chosen one that conforms to the Comprehensive Plan.

These aren't sour grapes, it's just a reality it's taken me a few years to accept.  The future of Yorktown is not a 34 year old with a growing family. The future is Al Capellini and Costco. The future is rezoning 100 acres from large parcel single family homes to C-3 so State Land Corp. can maximize their ROI (return on investment). It's about letting development progress unfettered while preserving and maximizing developers' ROIs. Apparently that's what's meant by the Yorktown motto: Progress with Preservation.

The building department and tax assessor records, to this day, still show that I live next to 2 houses, homes occupied as such from 1929 to 2006, and a very small house of worship with a maximum legal capacity of 100 people on 3 days a year where they exceed the normal 35 people. The 23 parking spaces permitted is now used by 92. The reality is that the homes were illegally converted and now it's nearly 200 people a week with 90+ cars at least 52 days a year.

The Comprehensive Plan was adopted as law and is still on the books. Regardless of what the Comprehensive Plan says, it would appear that the development team will get Costco built in Yorktown with the full-throated support of the Town Board and Chamber of Commerce.

My advice to young families considering Yorktown--or any other municipality--would be don't rely on town records and valid laws to determine a town's character. Dig deeper. Just because that house next to your house is legally a house--per town records--and looks like a house, the town may turn a blind eye--perhaps even encourage--it's illegal occupancy and use, even after dozens of correspondence bringing it to their attention that it's in violation of existing, valid law. 

There were red flags I could have picked up before I bought with a little googling.  The "Trump" development for the elderly, for example. Yorktown helpfully (to the developer) rezoned it from an office park to an assisted-living facility with an age restriction of 62. "Within 30 days of receiving the approval, Cappelli went back to the town asking to drop the 'assisted living' designation.Once that was achieved, in 2005, the developers sought and received permission to drop the age to 55 and above. In 2010, they approached the town asking to lift the restriction entirely. The town balked because the developers by then were on the hook for $700,000 in overdue taxes." Talk to neighbors in the area you are considering. Use google to research the town. Don't rely on town officials and their records. 

Thankfully there are many towns and villages adjacent to Yorktown in Westchester that appear to have their town planning ducks in a row. Because of the odd school district lines, we can even move to another town and stay in the same elementary school.

I was happy to meet all my neighbors and get elected vice president of my home owners association. It was fun to get involved at town meetings. Sadly, it only ended in heartache and pain.  On the upside, I've learned a valuable life lesson.  Everyone knows you can't fight city hall, but you can research a prospective city hall prior to purchasing your home and make sure you share the same values as they do. A home inspector can't do that for you, but the Internet and talking to people sure can.

Farewell and goodluck, Yorktown.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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