New Castle's Architectural Review Board got a chance Wednesday to learn about the Upper Westchester Muslim Society's
The meeting provided a chance for people on behalf of UWMS to give an overview of the building, which would be about 24,000 square feet and include two stories; only one floor would be visible at street level while the other would be built into a slope.
Meredith Black, an attorney for UWMS, told the board that their input is part of feedback being taken into consideration for the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the proposal. Although public comment officially ended on Aug. 24, UWMS allowed for an extension in the case of the ARB to give it a chance. Comments for the DEIS, she explained, will be taken into consideration for a final environmental impact statement (FEIS). The environmental review is a prelude to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) deciding on whether or not it should grant a special permit for the building, which would be at 130 Pinesbridge Road.
After getting an overview presentation of the project, board members weighed in on its design, the area in which they have advisory jurisdiction.
Board member Robert Schenkel said “It’s a pretty rendering. It’s skillfully done.” His areas of concern were regarding whether it fits into the surrounding neighborhood, which is primarily residential, and choice of materials further in the process.
Erik Kaeyer, the architect, told the board that a mix of stone and stucco would be used. He also argued that having the bottom floor integrated with the slope, and thus only having one story visible from the street, helps with scale.
Kaeyer also noted that they worked to break down the building's mass, which is split into distinct sections that include prayer and social spaces.
Lighting for the mosque was repeatedly discussed.
Board member Anne Hasegawa suggested adding more light to the base of the building. Responding, Kaeyer expressed a willingness to do so, although he suggested having something translucent, rather than transperent, for private space, such as bathrooms.
Schenkel asked about the impact on the neighborhood when the building is lit up. Responding, Kaeyer described ways in which that could be controlled, but for neighbors and to help congregants.
“We do want to bring light in, but we also want to be able to control the amount of light that’s going out," he said.
Schenkel asked what type of turnout there would be. The response is that on Friday prayer services it will be about 100-115 and as many as 500-600 people on two major holidays: Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. Black told the board that there are 127 parking spaces; UWMS has stated that tandem and valet will be used to accomodate more vehicles on the major dates.
Disappointment With Public Comment (or Lack Thereof)
Towards the end of the meeting, the issue of whether members from the public could ask questions was raised by Schenkel. Richard Polcari, an assistant building inspector, replied that the board would not be taking comments, and told attendees was just about the architecture for the building.
ARB meetings, in contrast to other boards, are generally smaller in scale. They meet in town hall's side conference room, instead of the assembly space, and turnout is often with just members and applicants.
The denial led to an uneasy back and forth dialogue with attendees. Turnout was more than a dozen, with many being West End residents, including opponents.
Greg Sanzari, a West End opponent of the project, used to serve of Rye Brook's architectural board when he lived there, and noted that they accepted public comment.
"It just seems backwards," said Lisa Mansourian, a West End resident.
The next step is for UWMS to work on its FEIS, which could mean a temporary lull in town activity regarding the project.