After more than two years of town scrutiny and battles with unhappy neighbors, a major expansion of Mercedes-Benz of Goldens Bridge has not advanced since its unanimous approval last month.
The Lewisboro Planning Board, in a 5-0 decision, signed off on the dealership’s controversial site plan in a teleconference-only vote on March 17. Originally submitted in October 2017, the dealership’s proposal had been sufficiently redrawn since then, board members said, to address the concerns of nearby residents. The ambitious plan, on some 5 acres along Route 22, calls for a greatly enlarged showroom, a small addition to the service center, a new parking garage and mechanical stackers that allow cars to be stored one atop another.
In wrapping up their protracted project review, the Planning Board members voted from home, not at their customary venue in the former Lewisboro Elementary School. On computer screens all around town, the board’s chair, Janet Andersen, opened the history-making meeting by noting the “uncertain and stressful” time in which the vote would be taken.
Coronavirus fears have forced most town bodies to cancel meetings. But after postponing a vote on the dealership’s expansion in February, the Planning Board pledged to resolve the Mercedes question at its March meeting. The board turned to Zoom teleconferencing software to make good on its promise.
Proceeding in cyberspace, however, incensed a vocal critic of the expansion.
“They pushed this meeting through even though everything else was canceled,” said Melanie (Mickey) DeNicola, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the expansion.
With no public participation in the Planning Board teleconference, the meeting consisted largely of town planner Jan Johannessen reading into the record final changes to the resolution approving the enlarged Mercedes-Benz enterprise.
The 41,200-square-foot expansion will take today’s showroom building from 12,400 square feet to 50,900 square feet and the current service building from 18,200 square feet to 20,900 square feet. The board also approved a three-level open parking garage and hydraulic car lifts.
From the start, the proposal has ignited controversy. The Goldens Bridge Hamlet Organization, formed in 2015, mounted a petition campaign to oppose the move, declaring, “An increase from 12,000 to 51,000 square feet in the size of the building and the addition of overloaded parking areas for car storage including unnecessary car stackers will sully the character of the community and further disrupt the quality of life of the families who live here.” The GBHO presented its petition in January.
But Richard Sklarin, a member of the Planning Board and a Goldens Bridge resident, said the regulatory body had taken “the requisite hard look at the potential impacts of this proposed expansion.” The panel’s years-long review, he said, had included a number of revisions based on input from all nearby residents.
“We went to each home and took a look at each property,” he said, and later incorporated changes in capacity, sound and other issues.
Another Goldens Bridge resident, Gregory LaSorsa, also voted yes, but said, “I want to hear about concerns people have during the course of this construction.”
Jerome Kern, who was the board’s chairman for nine years before relinquishing the gavel last April, said Mercedes-Benz had “done quite a bit to ameliorate the conditions that we felt were unfavorable.” In voting yes, he predicted the expansion will be “an overall benefit to the neighborhood.”
Maureen Maguire agreed. Comparing the current application with an expansion proposal submitted when she was a board member almost a decade ago, Maguire called this one both bigger and better.
“This is a good project for the town,” she said.
Mickey DeNicola, whose home abuts the north end of the dealership, was unmoved by the board members’ remarks.
“I don’t care what your reason for voting yes is,” she said in an interview this week. “It’s either yes or no.”
When it came to residents’ complaints, DeNicola insisted, “They didn’t listen. They listened and then they just...threw them in the garbage.”
Last month, immediately after the board’s vote, she vented her feelings in an email exchange with Supervisor Peter Parsons. DeNicola shared the emails’ text with The Katonah-Lewisboro Times.
“I am offended,” she wrote, “by the fact that this was the only meeting not canceled and can only assume what the reason for this was, as no one has given an explanation for this decision.”
Responding the same day, Parsons said the Planning Board session, which had no public hearings scheduled, was seen as the “obvious one” to test the Zoom app’s capability for meetings of other bodies, such as the Town Board.
“[The] Planning [Board meeting] was the obvious one for us to gain that experience because there were no public hearings,” he said in his email to DeNicola. “It worked, so I will go forward with our Town Board meeting scheduled for April.”
The Town Board conducted its first remote-access meeting via Zoom on Monday, March 30.
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