BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- Bronxville Mayor Mary C. Marvin writes a weekly column for villagers. It is being reprinted by the Daily Voice.
Our downtown business consultant, Phillips Preiss Grygiel, recently sent the village a progress report of our downtown planning study.
The consultants recommend loosening the restrictions on outdoor tables/eating to allow a broader range of downtown uses to take advantage of seating through both a zoning change and the institution of an annual licensing program.
As an example, a code change would allow a business like Chantilly Patisserie to have bistro chairs out front where a customer could have a coffee/breakfast and read the paper.
They also recommended that outdoor dining licenses, when granted, be valid for one year and renewable annually. Currently, when our land use boards grant these licenses, they last as long as the business is in operation.
The consultants' logic is that the merchant can be made more accountable for cleanliness, garbage removal, and sidewalk obstruction if renewal of the benefit was predicated yearly on adhering to village standards.
The consultants also received very positive feedback from the groups interviewed concerning the display of outdoor merchandise. However, they do believe that the village is remiss in not having regulations delineating standards for both the type and location of the merchandise.
They recommend that stores be permitted to feature large items such as garden equipment, household furnishings, antiques, and plants, as they provide attractive and visually interesting displays within the public right of way that enhance a pedestrian experience in an outdoor/walking business district such as ours. Sidewalk display items should only be of the kind that would normally grace a store window. Small merchandise items such as clothing and shoes and canned and bottled items should be prohibited in order to avoid a cluttered and unattractive appearance.
Since retail displays may impede pedestrian traffic, distance standards must be set forth to ensure that safety is paramount over merchandising.
Again, the consultants recommend a yearly renewal process to ensure that the merchants remain compliant with all provisions of the permit.
Per the trustees' directive, the consultants were also tasked to review our zoning code and procedures with an eye toward identifying and then implementing changes that help to create a more "business-friendly" environment and providing greater clarity and certainty to merchants seeking to enter Bronxville.
Some of the issues that came to the fore include redefining various commercial uses such as personal services, retail uses, and "service establishments" to eliminate confusion. Given the prevalence of online purchasing, the consultants also suggested we revisit the current restrictions on personal service establishments along Pondfield Road. As example, would it be a detriment to have a bright, airy ballet studio among the shops?
Our consultants also re-examined the current square footage cap of store occupancy of 5,000 square feet, given the needs of some very successful stores looking to come to our area.
Most important, they encouraged us to create a user-friendly land use application checklist so prospective merchants/tenants would know up front exactly the needs and time frame to open a business in Bronxville.
Our colleagues in Scarsdale recently employed the same consultants and acted on many of their suggestions, resulting in very positive changes and increased occupancy in their village, and we expect to do the same.
On a very positive note, village landlords have at least six new businesses that have received all their approvals and will be up and operating this spring, greatly adding to the vitality of our business district.
The trustees are acutely aware that many of our zoning and planning code regulations were written for a time and an economic environment that no longer exists and will never return.
Emulating our neighbors in Scarsdale, we plan to work with our zoning, planning, and design review boards as well as our merchants via the chamber of commerce to craft changes to our regulations that reflect the current economic reality while at the same time not sacrificing the ambiance and standards that make Bronxville a unique village and shopping destination.
We also are investigating ways we can work with our art students/garden clubs/high school in conjunction with our landlords to make what empty stores remain attractive to the passerby.
Our business district is a crown jewel in Westchester and we as a community must do everything we can to keep it vibrant and attractive.