"Fields for Kids" Takes Its Case to Larchmont Board

Parking Fines Going Up; Commerce Bank Approved

by Judy Silberstein

(September 28, 2006) It was mostly a night for listening. Larchmont’s Village Board spent much of their Wednesday, September 27 meeting hearing first from the newly formed “Fields for Kids” committee and then from the heads of Larchmont's committees and commissions. The board’s one significant vote will be costly to illegal parkers.

Illegal Parkers Take Note

If you’re going to park illegally in the Village of Larchmont, prepare to be hit with a new, bigger fine. On Wednesday evening the Larchmont Village Board opted to increase fines for overtime street parking and miscellaneous “other” parking infractions from $20 to $25. They doubled the fine for parking in a no parking zone, from $25 to $50. Trustee Mike Wiener would have liked to see an increase for an expired inspection sticker or for late-night parking without a permit, but he was overruled by the rest of the board that considered those infractions to be less of an inconvenience to other residents.

The new parking fines reflect the community’s increasing frustration with finding a place to park in the commercial district. A parking survey is underway to document exactly how many spaces are available. The next step would be finding ways to make improvements.

Newly Formed “Fields for Kids”

Two representatives from a parents group newly organized as “Fields for Kids” appeared to thank the Larchmont Board for working with the other municipalities and the schools on the thorny issue of improving the community’s sports fields. (See: Group Forms to Support School Board on Athletic Fields.) “I’m thrilled that you guys are doing what you’re doing,” said Philippa Wharton, whose three daughters play soccer.

Behind the courtesy call, however, was a more urgent message that time is short to find a solution to the field problem that does not entail implementing the School Board’s controversial plan that would make changes to the Kemper Memorial Park.

Nancy Gardiner, newly elected as the group’s vice president for communication, said over 40 individuals turned out for the organizational meeting at her home on Monday, September 26. Also elected were Jim Hanley, president; Ted Sobel, treasurer; and Kevin Danehy, vice president for fundraising.

VIllage of Larchmont Board

Nancy Gardiner (far right) and Phillipa Wharton, of Fields for Kids, express support for the board's efforts to improve quantity and quality of sports' fields.

Reached later for comment, Mr.Hanley indicated the focus – at least at first - will be on encouraging the three municipalities and the school district to find field options that would not impact the Kemper Park. “We want them to work in a limited time frame – 3 or 4 months – to find an alternate site for a varsity-sized field that will be owned and operated by the school district,” he said.

But the group’s patience is limited.

“This has been going on for more than 5 years,” he said. “If they are not able to come up with that additional field, we will support the school district to move ahead with the plan that was approved by the courts.”

“The decision is in the hands of our leaders,” said Lori Brandon, another member of Fields for Kids who is helping with communications.

Municipal and school leaders are “getting the message” from all sides of the issue and have been working together in hopes of finding field solutions other than using the Kemper Park.

“We’ve been staying away from the politics of the Kemper situation – that’s a completely separate issue,” said Mayor Liz Feld, on Wednesday night. Though agreeing that “they’re all our kids,” Trustee Wiener stressed "we as a village should not be steamrolled." The schools should compensate Larchmont for using its fields the way it does Mamaroneck Town and Village, and he would like to see a grassy field at Chatsworth School, he said.

Trustee Millstein skirted closer to the Kemper controversy, noting the “courts had spoken” and that rather than letting a vocal minority lead the decision, it was time for parents “who are feeling the pinch” of scarce fields to make their views heard.

Commerce Bank Approved; New Rules Being Applied

An artist's rendering of the new Commerce Bank building approved for Chatsworth Avenue.

The most in-depth report came from Mike Edelstein, assistant chair of the Planning Commission, who said recent changes to the zoning code have resulted in no “McMansion” applications. “It’s definitely put a chill on very large projects,” though a slower economy may also be a factor, he said. Smaller scale projects that were once exempt from review now go before the commission under the new rules, but they tend to “run through in a few minutes,” he said.

In the past year, from September 2005 to September 2006, the commission has acted on applications for two commercial buildings, one multi-family residence, two swimming pools and 13 single-family homes. The Planning Commission’s most time-consuming application was for the Commerce Bank at 107 Chatsworth Avenue. That application was ultimately approved following multiple meetings over traffic patterns, drive-through lanes, windows, lighting, curb cuts and parking. (After numerous design changes, the Architectural Review Board has also given its approval.)

Another long-term application, which still has a ways to go, is for two apartment buildings on North Avenue “behind Jack’s Auto” on Palmer Avenue. The Planning Commission is “beginning to hear from the public” about how the project might affect noise from I-95 and the Metro North train tracks, said Mr. Edelstein. On the downside, the development would require removing large rocks that now deflect noise; on the upside, the apartments themselves would serve as two large noise deflectors. At their last meeting, the commission asked the developer for technical reports on noise, and also on traffic impacts.

A third long-running application, to add a second story at Discovering Me Nursery School was not approved due to lack of parking, said Mr. Edelstein. Applications for the two swimming pools, each for homes that back onto a flood-prone section of Pine Brook Drive, are awaiting engineering reports.

Otherwise, all 13 residential applications were approved, four of them under “option B” that allows for an expedited review for small projects under the new zoning rules.

According to Mr. Edelstein, commission meetings have been running an extra hour or more, perhaps because of the new rules, but also because of the two big projects that have been discussed at each session. “Maybe the architects are screaming, but the resident are going right through,” he told the board.

“I’m glad to hear it’s working,” said Trustee Marlene Kolbert. “It’s what the community was asking for.

More on Arts, Rights, Coasts, Trees & Traffic: The board also heard positive reports from Nili Asherie, chair ot Larchmont’s Arts Committee; April Farber, interim chair of the Human Rights Commission; and Elizabeth Cooney, the new head of the Coastal Zone Commission. Trustee Kolbert delivered reports from two other committees whose leaders were unable to report in person: the Parks and Trees Committee will spend the next year focusing on pruning street trees rather than more planting; and the Traffic Commission has learned that Larchmont will be receiving two awards for its safety records.