YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A printing and laminating company is looking to repurpose the former Brooklyn Botanical Gardens property on Kitchawan Road into an office building. Neighbors of the property, however, have their concerns.
Steven Spiro, CEO of Tracer, said his company has outgrown its current office building in North White Plains. The Kitchawan Road office would primarily be a place for graphic designers to draw up new designs. There would also be “light” printing and laminating done at the office, Spiro said.
Spiro, a Chappaqua resident, said he has long admired the 14.7-acre property, which is currently zoned for residential use. There is a building on the property that was constructed by Brooklyn Botanical Gardens as a horticulture research center and later repurposed by the Warren Institute, which carried out animal testing and other lab uses. The property has been unoccupied for decades, said Supervisor Michael Grace.
“Unfortunately the building’s in disrepair,” Spiro said, “and we want to bring it back at least to its original glory and make some very light improvements, but nothing major, because the building is a beautiful building.”
Abutting the property is the 208-acre Kitchawan Preserve owned by Westchester County, which has right of first refusal over any potential buyer. The county has already given the green light to this project, said Taylor Palmer, attorney for Tracer.
The first step of the process is to rezone the property to make the office use a legal use. Currently being proposed is a transitional zone, which is a flexible zone that allows the town board to rezone a property to be compatible with the surrounding area.
Grace said the town chose the transitional zone “because there is no other zone available to the town that allows the existing structure to remain. We’d open up a big can of worms to apply any other zoning classification on this property other than to basically essentially legalize what’s there for the site plan.”
The planning board reviewed the plan at its July 10 meeting and gave a thumbs up to the zoning, Palmer said.
Lee Pollock, who lives on nearby Pines Bridge Road, was concerned about the zoning beginning a “slippery slope” toward further commercialization of a residential area. He also said the property doesn’t meet the requirements of the transitional zone.
“I frankly don’t understand why any change of zoning is necessary,” Pollock said.
He said the property could be developed as residential, though Grace said the only people who have ever shown interest in residentially developing the property have pushed for high-density housing.
“I don’t think anybody was very receptive to the type of housing development that people were looking at there, and I don’t think that would serve your community at all,” Grace said.
Pollock added that the property needs a full environmental review, especially because of the previous laboratory uses. He said that with a full office there would also be more of a strain on the decades-old septic system.
Pollock was also concerned about the printing and laminating that would done at the site, wondering if that would result in trucks making frequent deliveries to the office.
“It just seems to me that this is not an appropriate use of this property in our bucolic neighborhood,” Pollock said.
Kitchawan Road resident Caroline Cochran gave a history lesson of the property, saying the Van Brunt family, which owned it until the 1950s, was strictly against its commercialization.
“While we understand the position and needs of the applicant, we feel that the potential for commercialization at the heart of Kitchawan is an inappropriate use of this area and the property would be better used as it currently zoned in the town’s master plan,” Cochran said.
Grace said the transitional zone, though it may be a “bit of a stretch,” would actually prevent future commercialization of the site, as opposed to a straight rezone to office or commercial use. He said there could be conditions put in place limiting possible uses and hours of operation.
“This is a site that has already been disturbed,” Grace said. “It’s already got a building on it. The building has been in disrepair. It’s lying fallow. That doesn’t serve anybody’s purposes whatsoever.”
Palmer said he will respond to all concerns in writing. Grace said he also appreciated the concerns of residents and invited them to sit down with the town board and representatives of Tracer. Hopefully, he said, a solution can be reached that’s fair to the applicant and the neighborhood.