BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Wearing white shirts to show their solidarity, over 200 Clarkstown residents showed up at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Monday night to speak against the application of WC Montebello Corp. for three zoning variances that would result in a 2,784 square foot house being built on a .21 acre lot. At the end of the meeting the Board decided to hold off on making a decision and placed the matter on the agenda for September 9.
The property, 129 Lakewood Drive in Congers, currently contains a dilapidated, uninhabitable bungalow style house and several smaller out buildings. The surrounding residents support the demolition of the old building and the construction of a new home. They just do not want a behemoth out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.
The residents urged the Zoning Board to uphold the law and not sacrifice the well-being of the citizens just so that a builder could increase its profit margin.
“It is a life/safety issue,” emphasizes Pete Bradley, president of the Clarkstown Preservation Society which organized the rally. “A house this big on a property that small crowds the neighboring houses and presents, among other things, a fire hazard.”
Other neighbors expressed serious concerns as well. Robert Shields, whose house on Lakewood Drive directly abuts the property, noted that the back of the proposed house, which would tower over his, would rise just 15 feet away from his windows, presenting privacy and safety issues. Others noted the presence of Lakewood Elementary School at the end of the street, and worried that a huge house on the corner would present visibility and physical obstacles for turning buses and increase the possibility of accidents.
The attorney for the builders, Ira Emmanuel, contended that the proposed house was no more than an ordinary “plain vanilla” high ranch, similar in size and shape to most of the houses in the area and thus not out of character for the neighborhood. However, as several speakers, including next door neighbor Frank Riberio pointed out, the proposed structure differs in several important ways.
First, according to Riberio’s calculations, the house would occupy 30 percent of the total building lot as opposed to the neighborhood average of about 10 percent. Second, unlike most high ranches, the house would be built at grade level, resulting in two full above ground stories and thus a much taller structure than the surrounding houses. Third, the façade of the house was anything but “simple;” the plans call for multiple pitches and gables that add to its bulkiness.
Deputy Town Attorney Jessica Hauser did take issue with the builder’s 500 foot radius sample size of similar houses. She pointed out that when applying the normal 200 foot radius measurement only three houses of similar size were found. And, as neighbors went on to point out, those three houses are all situated on much larger lots.
WC Montebello had submitted a similar application for these variances in January 2013. At that time about 20 residents showed up to protest and, at the Zoning Board’s urging, the builder withdrew its application. According to Pete Bradley, however, there has been no communication since then from the builder to the residents in an attempt to resolve these issues, despite a board member suggesting that they do so. The builder’s current application presents almost the exact same plans, shaving off only about 100 square feet from the original design. It would still be a large house disproportionate to its relatively tiny lot.
In addition to last night’s rally, the Clarkstown Preservation Society members have also been collecting signatures towards gaining an independent line for this November’s elections. The Society’s goal is to combat what it perceives as “corrupt business as usual” in local government, and will only endorse candidates who, according to its standards, are truly committed to the public’s best interests. Legislator Ed Day, its choice for county executive, was present last night, but did not speak on the Lakewood house issue.