Village Weighs Impact as Developers Build in Pelham


Johnny Liesman, Senior, Co-Editor In Chief

Big changes are coming to small town suburban Pelham. In a few years, many of the empty lots scattered around Pelham will be no more, and in their place, developers are planning to build luxurious apartment buildings and townhouses.

Since July, two four-story apartment buildings and five townhouses have been given site plan approval by the Village Board of Trustees. One of the apartment buildings, located at 215 Fifth Ave., is already under construction.

Additionally, the construction of another larger apartment complex, a five-story, 58- unit building to be located in the infamous empty lot near Rockwell’s Restaurant, is currently in discussion. The Village is also expected to receive at least two more official proposals at locations such as 163 Wolfs Lane, directly neighboring the Pelham Picture House, and 48 First Street, near the village post office.

The recent influx in building proposals is in response to a change in the Business District Floating Zone, which now allows buildings to reach up to six stories in downtown Pelham, a 50% increase from the older version of the law.

With this zoning change, The Board of Trustees is hoping that new developments will bring positive change to the town by helping commercial businesses, increasing tax revenue, and creating new housing alternatives that do not already exist.

“I think this is an exciting time for Pelham,” Village Administrator John Gallagher said. “This is a community that has sort of been static for a while and I think this represents change.”

But while the Board and the Mayor are hopeful for positive change, they also have to consider the potential negative impact on the community, including increased congestion in downtown Pelham and a possible increase in student enrollment at the town’s already packed schools.

These new buildings also come at a time when the Board of Education is considering ways to combat school capacity issues, including a $42 million project to rebuild Hutchinson Elementary School.

Developers say that their buildings will have little to no effect on student enrollment in the schools, and will only have a positive impact on the district by bringing increases in tax revenue that would outweigh the cost of educating the children.

Developer Gary Hirsch of Elk Homes LLC, developing the 16-unit apartment building located at 8 Boulevard West, said that these buildings will attract an older demographic, especially empty nesters who are looking for cheaper real estate. A study conducted for the developer projects only one school-aged child from this building.

Another study, conducted for the developer of the largest planned building, at 101 Wolfs Lane, projects that only two to four school aged children would be generated from the 58 units.

Representing this developer at a Board meeting on January 9, Frank Fish of BFJ Planning, said that the district would only be negatively impacted if the building generated as many as six to seven children. In that case, projected tax revenue would not outweigh the cost per student. This could also mean a potential impact on student capacity at the schools.

Walter Wright, who ran in opposition to Mayor Volpe in the 2017 mayoral race, believes there is a possibility that the buildings will generate more kids than the studies project.

“The logic simply defies the fact that children aren’t going to live in these buildings,” Wright said. “Of course they are going to live in these buildings.”

Wright said he does not oppose development and growth in Pelham, but that he is very concerned about the potential negative impact of new and larger apartment buildings.

In addition, student enrollment is currently higher than the data used in the developers’ studies. They both contain 2015-16 district enrollment numbers as their most recent data, stating that peak enrollment was in 2011-12. But district enrollment is currently at an all-time high of 2,911, about 90 more students than the studies’ most recent data.

This discrepancy could potentially change the magnitude of the effect of additional school-aged children being generated from these new building projects.

Nevertheless, Mayor Volpe remains confident that the new buildings will not negatively impact the school district and that any future impact can be dealt with in a number of ways.

“Fortunately, in Pelham we have a four-school elementary school system, so we have the opportunity to redistrict, move children around or even add to the schools,” Mayor Volpe said. “We could certainly address any needs that may arise from new developments.”

Mayor Volpe also stated that school impact is only one of the many factors being weighed in this decision.

“The supplemental legislation under which these developments have come forward, in my opinion, will have a good effect on the community overall,” Volpe said.

He believes that the new buildings will support commercial business and provide for alternative housing options that Pelham currently doesn’t have. He also said that the new buildings could potentially decrease the taxes paid by homeowners in Pelham. This would be because of an increase in non-homestead tax revenue that would take up a larger share of the tax burden.

With all factors being taken into consideration, the Village Board of Trustees is expected to vote on 101 Wolfs Lane and to continue to hear formal proposals for other developments in the coming months.