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FAQs About Mayor Volpe's Proposed Zoning Changes
Q: What exactly does "floating zone" mean?
A: The "floating zone" concept allows a particular use for a property (in this case apartment buildings) to "float" above an entire zoning area.  When an application is made by a developer, the local municipality votes on whether to approve the application and, if approved, the zoning map is amended to apply the floating zone to a specific parcel of property. 

Q:  In the case of the proposal being considered in Pelham, who would decide whether to grant the floating zone applications?
A:  The Village Board of Trustees with a majority vote (at least 4 of the 7 board members) could approve a floating zone application.

Q: What role do the Planning Board, the Architectural Review Board and the Zoning Board play in a floating zone application?

A: This is unclear.  Under Mayor Volpe's proposed changes, there would no longer be a "site plan review process" that would have full involvement of the Planning Board and the Architectural Review Board ("ARB") as currently required before being voted upon by the Board of Trustees.  Instead, developers would have a pre-submission meeting with the Village Board, ARB and Planning Board, where the Village Board would decide whether or not to proceed with the proposal.  While the ARB and Planning Board would then review the project, there are statutory time limits before the project would revert back to the Board of Trustees, essentially allowing developers to "run out the clock" to get back in front of the Village Board and depriving the ARB and Planning Board of the full level of review currently given to projects in Pelham.  Currently, these boards have an iterative process where comments are given, changes are made by the developer and the boards review to see if, how and what changes are made.  The Zoning Board would normally be involved to consider issuing a "variance" if a development proposal did not meet the requirements of the zoning code.  The floating zone creates rights to deviate from the zoning code without a variance and subject only to vote by the Board of Trustees.

Q: Doesn't a floating zone give a lot of discretion to the Board of Trustees and doesn't this open the door to legal challenges if someone is denied a floating zone application?

A: Yes, the Board of Trustees has significant discretion and under Mayor Volpe's proposed changes, there are no standards established to govern the board in whether or not to grant an application.  Use of floating zones has been criticized by some legal treatises because "there is great opportunity for arbitrariness and 'back-room' deals."

Q: Will the floating zone be permanent?

A: Once a developer has successfully made application for a floating zone designation, if approved, it is permanently attached to that land.  Some drafts of the floating zone proposal had "sunset" provisions, which would make it expire in 2023 unless re-adopted.  (The current status of this element is unclear.)  Even if included, the terms of mayors and trustees are two-year staggered terms, which means that the floating zone would span three mayoral terms.

Q: Are there any limits on the number of floating zone applications that can be made or approved?

A: No.  Any number of applications can be made and approved and there is no statutory limit on the number of apartments that could be built.

Q: How does the size and scale of the new apartment buildings compare to others in town?

 

A:  There are no buildings anywhere on Wolfs Lane that are more than three stories tall (as defined by the zoning code).  The proposal would allow buildings twice as high as anything on that street.  The only six-story buildings on Fifth Avenue are 17 and 21 Fifth Avenue and these are not as high as the 72 feet allowed by Mayor Volpe’s proposal.  Marbury Corners (built in 2005) complies with the existing 48-foot height limitations of the zoning code for the Business-2 District.  Mr. Volpe states in his most recent campaign statement that "the apartments on Wolf's Lane (above the deli) and 5th Avenue (across from the Gazebo) are 6 and 7 stories already!!"  This is simply untrue - the referenced building on Wolfs Lane is three stories as shown in the photo below.  The apartments at 17 and 21 Fifth Avenue are six stories and very much an exception to the prevailing height in downtown.  There are no 7 story buildings anywhere on Wolfs Lane or Fifth Avenue.  

DeliWolfsLaneCOMP.jpg

Q: What would the impact be on the schools if this legislation were adopted compared to Marbury Corners?

A: The proposed legislation would allow for high-rise apartment buildings with rental units that would offer an easy way into the school district with no more financial commitment than a lease.  This is completely unlike Marbury Corners, which is a condominium building where owners are purchasing their units, making a financial investment and a commitment to living in Pelham for more than a year or two.  The number of school-age children at Marbury Corners, therefore, does not provide a good gauge of how many school age children might be added to the school district from rental apartments.

Q: What would the impact be on the schools if this legislation were adopted compared to Marbury Corners?

A: The proposed legislation would allow for high-rise apartment buildings with rental units that would offer an easy way into the school district with no more financial commitment than a lease.  This is completely unlike Marbury Corners, which is a condominium building where owners are purchasing their units, making a financial investment and a commitment to living in Pelham for more than a year or two.  The number of school-age children at Marbury Corners, therefore, does not provide a good gauge of how many school age children might be added to the school district from rental apartments. 

Q: Mayor Volpe has stated that the village would never allow buildings of the size shown by the Pelham Preservation Society.  Is this really likely?

A: The legislation, as noted, could span multiple mayors and boards of trustees, even if a sunset provision is included so that it is impossible to say whether such buildings would be allowed or not in the future.  It also begs the question that if the village would never vote to approve such buildings, why has the law been drafted to allow buildings that would loom so large and out of scale with our community? 

Q: Are there any actual proposals before the village board that would qualify under this floating zone law?

A: Contrary to what the mayor has stated publicly, several development projects are in the making, even before the legislation has been adopted.  Developers have been attending the village board meetings whenever this item is on the agenda, including:  a developer is considering purchasing the Citgo station (currently for sale) on Wolfs Lane to build 28 apartments;  the owner of the vacant lot on Boulevard West (behind Marquand Place), which is currently zoned only for single-family homes, but under some versions of the proposed legislation could be combined with adjoining commercial buildings to build a 5-6 story apartment building;  and a builder (a friend of the mayor) who has purchased the old "Pelham Glass" building and adjoining lot on Fifth Avenue, has an application before the village board to be exempted from any parking requirement to build apartments there and has been lobbying the fire department to sell the village firehouse to create an even larger project.