Larchmont Teardown of the Week

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rockingstone teardown

On the chopping block: 169 Rockingstone, Larchmont

Back in the day, they were tearing down so many smaller, charming houses in the area and replacing them with McMansions so often, we had a column called “Teardown of the Week.

It never really stopped, but it did slow down. And now, this one’s really got us.

This info came to theLoop from local journalist Hilary Macht. A lovely old stone and shingle house (maybe 1500 square feet?) at 169 Rockingstone Ave. has reportedly been bought by a developer and she hears they are destroying it, and are putting in a 4500 square footer.

“Little by little neighborhood character and charm are being decimated– historic homes and big old trees, gone, turning the neighborhood into ultra-suburban clear-cut,” Hilary writes.

What do you think?

rockingstone teardown

 

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22 thoughts on “Larchmont Teardown of the Week

  1. “The Larchmont I love” that “peaches” refers to is not a place that we want to see disappear. It is desirable real estate because of what it is, and what it is not.
    Do our zoning boards know this, and are they continuing to represent these interests, or have they veered away from former practices?

    Over 30 years ago, I recall our realtor telling us that one of the assets of Larchmont was that it had a rich variety of housing, and housing on all levels–small, medium, large–which she said is so important to the health of a community.
    First, it attracts a diversity of interesting people, an important part of why we love Larchmont. Second, to a young family buying their first home, as we were, it signals a future–starter house, growth, and then perhaps ‘aging in place.’ The diversity of age groups we have now is also a strength of the town and village. These are elements that have always added to the richness of our community life.

    I see the highest level of house maintenance in Larchmont now than I have ever seen. The town and village are thriving. Let’s keep Larchmont the desirable place to live that it is.

    • “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

      – Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. As a community, we should be working with the town/village government to change the zoning. Owners and developers working within the law should not be blamed for exercising their private property rights. There needs to be a balance between preservation and redevelopment – I may not like my neighbor’s large house with no trees or my other neighbor’s run down, uncared for house with an overgrown lawn full of weeds that blow their seeds into my yard but there is a limit to what we should be imposing on how people quietly enjoy their private property.

  3. Well said, Bonnie. Increduluous, I don’t know where in Larchmont you live, but have you taken a look around lately and seen what’s happened in the last 12 months alone? Brand 6,000+ sq footer on Glenn; same or larger on Forest corner Rockngstone; another really tall one across the street on Forest; another on N. Chatsworth, now 169 Rockingstone, and I may be forgetting some. There’s also the loss of big, old trees that are so important for so many reasons ranging from character, aesthetics and privacy to wildlife habitat and yes, even some hurricane prevention (counterintuitive perhaps, but true)! And the trees are being lost not just because of the McMansions but also in renovations like the one on N. Chatsworth near Rochelle. All of this is contributing to a real change, in my opinion not for the good. It’s not Greenwich or Rye (yet), I just find it really sad to see the Larchmont I love disappearing before my eyes. Already the walk down Rockingstone to town just isn’t the same.

  4. Bonnie, there has clearly always been tension between economic development and historical preservation, but I don’t necessarily agree that one is “good” and the other is “evil” as you seem to imply in your characterization of the two sides. There is no easy answer and a multitude of factors need to be considered. My primary point (and I should have used a less inflammatory word to describe it than “eyesore”) was that some level of revenue growth is necessary in any community to offset rising costs, and that redevelopment is often an alternative to simply hiking taxes, which in the short term may seem easier but in the long run is less sustainable. I have said over and over again, that preserving old houses is a worthy goal (we recently did this ourselves) – I just don’t think that from a practical or economic standpoint you will be able to preserve them all. Reasonable minds can disagree, but if you accept the fact that not everything is preservable and some redevelopment must occur over time, then it is about assessing the trade offs one is willing to make.

    In my opinion, this particular instance seemed like a much better trade off than a lot of others I have seen. At .21 acres, it is a reasonably large lot for Larchmont, that was occupied by a not particularly noteworthy, older and smaller home. Personally, I’d rather see a 4,500 sf home built on an 11k sf lot vs. a 6k sf lot (we’ve all seen these), and I’d rather watch this house go than a small Victorian in town someplace that was one of the original cottages built when Larchmont was still a NYC beach community. And nobody is defending, proposing, or building, anything close to what exists in Greenwich in Larchmont (pool houses are 4,500 sf for some of those homes). Larchmont has many smaller homes, but it also has plenty of homes that are 3,500-5,000 sf as well, so building a 4,500 sf 5BR home is not entirely inconsistent with the neighborhood (maybe it is for this particular “street” but not for the community as a whole, at which point you need to ask yourself what is out of place, the street or this home if “neighborhood” is defined more broadly).

    Finally, part of why these “McMansions” appear to be eyesores initially is because of fresh (and often unimaginative and milquetoast) paint jobs and immature landscaping that will change and mature over time. I honestly believe that if you want the Larchmont of 50 years from now to look similar to the Larchmont of today, you actually need some level of continual redevelopment, not just for economic reasons, but also for aesthetic reasons. Otherwise you just get decay, and decay plus rising taxes is not a formula for sustainability.

  5. There are clearly two sides to this discussion – those who have no
    compunction against razing older houses and replacing them with huge new
    ones capable of increasing the city’s revenues, and those who value and want to keep the older, smaller houses for a whole other set of reasons.

    Here’s the point that seems to have been missed. There are plenty of
    places where new houses, even gigantic ones, are acceptable and don’t
    present themselves as a painful thumb in the eye of the beholder –
    places like Greenwich, CT come to mind, places where neighbors aren’t
    already breathing down each others’ throats. But in an established
    neighborhood of older homes and smaller lots, when the cottage or
    bungalow that Incredulous is so quick to call an eyesore is replaced
    with a 4500 square foot McMansion, it only creates a different kind of
    eyesore.

    And just for the record, empty-nesters – of which there are more and more as we baby-boomers age – are not worthless to the community. We have greater value than just our monetary input, which is not as small and insignificant as has been implied. The fact that we no longer have children in the school system does not mean we don’t still pay school taxes. But regardless, sometimes the collective decisions a community makes should be about more than just the money.

  6. I see no reason why the developer should get any criticism as long as they are operating legally within the zoning laws. Unless there’s a law that says you need to use a realtor or list your house for sale on MLS, my understanding is that a developer can talk to any house owner and do a private direct transaction. All of us residents should be interacting with the town/village government to have proper zoning to ensure that sizes of new homes/loss of trees/retention of historically significant houses are done according to our collective wishes as the taxpayers.

  7. Peaches, please point out one substantive inaccuracy in my description of how taxes work… Actually, forget it, I give up. You’ve all successfully shouted me down for my outrageous ideas and successfully avoided acknowledging that there could be anything of merit in what I have written. Congratulations! Well done! You should rest well tonight knowing that your parents, teachers, and coaches would be proud of the open minded, critical thinking, role models you have blossomed into… So keep slapping each other on the backs and congratulate yourselves for proving that at least one corner of Larchmont is a bastion for group think and an oasis from new ideas :-)

    And enough with the insults. We’ve been right at home in Larchmont for years and plan to be for many more. Who knows, we might even be friends, you just don’t know it.

  8. That house was never on the market–it went directly to a developer, so again you don’t have the facts right. As for your lecture on property taxes, don’t even try. You’re missing the forest for the trees and there are too many inaccuracies to detail.

  9. Incredulous- A local realtor says this house never went on the market but was a direct sale to a Developer. Here is a google maps shot of what it looked like. The house is in proportion to those around it and the trees are neither in danger of falling down nor close enough to be potentially damaging. In our opinion, there is simply no justification for a McMansion here. Look what happened to the old Cherry Lawn Driving Range on Weaver St when they built that gated McMansion Development. Most of them have never sold. What is *that* doing to the tax rolls?

  10. Yes, really! It’s only an eyesore now because demolition has already begun! Your claim that “nobody would want it” is presumptuous and ignorant–people around here love and appreciate that home, and others of similar vintage and size have been purchased, some renovated, and their property taxes have risen as a result, so that argument also doesn’t hold up. What do you think, that the goal and purpose of homeowners is to generate as much in tax revenues as we can? And have you forgotten or didn’t you know that the town just did across-the-board reassessments, generating huge increases in revenues by raising property taxes? So please get your facts right before making such pronouncements.

    • Peaches, in terms of facts, it’s you who are mistaken. The reassessment was more or less revenue neutral. It was a reallocation of the existing tax base, not a broad based tax hike. And that reallocation largely raised taxes on people living in the newer, larger homes in town and lowered taxes for people living in homes such as the one pictured above. When an older smaller home like this is replaced by a larger newer home, it adds to the overall value of real estate in the town, which helps spread those taxes over a larger base (see example below). This is generally a good thing for everyone (particularly since 70% of those taxes pay for our schools which are the sole reason why a house just over the New Rochelle border is worth 50% of what the identical house in Larchmont is worth). So yes, if we want to preserve those schools (and the values of our homes), it IS in fact the goal and purpose of homeowners to figure out how to generate more tax revenue.

      Taxes on homes are calculated by taking the total amount of taxes to be collected, let’s say $100, and dividing by the total value of the property being taxed, let’s say $10. That gives you a rate that says for every $1 of property value, a homeowner pays $10 in taxes, so if your house is worth $2, you pay $20. If taxes increase to $110, then the tax rate increases to $11 (so the person with the $2 home pays $22), unless your share of the underlying value has decreased, which is what happens when a home that used to be worth a $1 is now worth $3 (increasing the denominator in the equation from $10 to $12). In that example, if taxes increased to $110, everyone (other than the person who bought the home worth $3) would see their taxes decline ($110/$12 = $9.17, so the person with the $2 home pays $18.34). In fact, taxes could increase all the way to $120, and no existing homeowner would pay an additional dime of taxes. That’s 20% more money for our schools with no hike in property taxes on existing homeowners. Better schools equal higher property values, and guess what, a town where property values are rising ($10 to $12) and property taxes are flat (other than for the person who bought the $3 house) is pretty much where you want to own a home (imagine the opposite).

      Further, my statement that “nobody would want it” isn’t presumption – developers typically don’t buy houses that are marketable. The math just doesn’t work. For the past 2 years, anything reasonable in Larchmont that gets listed has gone to contract in weeks. If this thing sat around for long enough that a developer could buy it at an attractive price, “nobody wanted it.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting people don’t want to own older homes. There are plenty of gorgeous old homes in Larchmont that it would be a travesty to see go (we own one), and not all of them are large. But when somebody owns an older home and let’s it fall into such disrepair that the market determines that the highest and best use of the land is to tear it down and rebuild, it’s hardly fair to blame the developer. And I hope that there will always be a supply of inexpensive homes in our community, since I love the socio-economic diversity that comes with that. But there is a reality that needs to be balanced in that equation. When NYC real estate is trading at $2,000-$3,000/sf, what kind of state does something need to be in 25 minutes away to trade for $690k (which is where the existing house was valued in the reassessment)? I don’t want to be in a community full of those houses, do you? The rule of thumb has been that a starter home in Larchmont should trade roughly where a 2BR apartment in NYC trades. Jack and Jill live in NYC in their 2BR apartment and have kid #2 on the way. Do they a) put #2 in with #1; b) sell and pay 50% more for a 3BR in NYC if they’re lucky enough to be able to afford it; or c) sell and buy a nice 3 or 4BR house in a lovely community a short train ride away? Like it or not, this is the Larchmont “customer,” and $690k will barely get you a decent 1BR these days.

      And in response to the “big old trees” that are being cut down, in case you haven’t noticed, those trees are doing a pretty good job of coming down by themselves these days. Trees have a lifespan, just like every other living thing. Most of these trees were planted when our homes were built 80-100 years ago. If we want nice big trees to be there 50-100 years from now (which I do), they aren’t going to be the big ones that are there today (a Red Maple for example has a lifespan of 80-100 years). It means people need to plant new trees that will grow to be big trees over time. Unless, of course, you simply care about enjoying big trees yourself for the next 10-20 years and not about whether your children and grandchildren will be able to do the same in the future (which I’m hoping is not the case).

      • Incredulous- A local realtor says this house never went on the market but was a direct sale to a Developer.
        Here is a google maps shot of what it looked like.

        https://www.google.com/maps/preview?client=safari&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF-8&q=169+rockingstone+larchmont&layer=c&z=17&iwloc=A&sll=40.938121,-73.766723&cbp=13,237.3,0,0,0&cbll=40.938256,-73.766445&ei=iZY1VLuBBMf5yQSHvIDIDA&ved=0CCAQxB0wAA

        he house is in proportion to those around it and the trees are neither in danger of falling down nor close enough to be potentially damaging. In our opinion, there is simply no justification for a McMansion here. Look what happened to the old Cherry Lawn Driving Range on Weaver St when they built that gated McMansion Development. Most of them have never sold. What is *that* doing to the tax rolls?

        • Your analogy to the Greens at Cherry Lawn is a total red herring. Are you implying that there isn’t a market for new construction in Larchmont? Show me one example in the last 2 years of new construction that hasn’t sold. The houses you reference never sold because a) they were built just before the crash and b) nobody wants a $2-3m house on a busy street in the New Rochelle school district. Guess why not? The public schools are sub-par. Guess why? The tax base isn’t broad enough to support them. I understand pining for the nostalgia of days gone by, but at some point you either evolve or die. Personally I’m hoping for the former not the latter, but reasonable minds can disagree I suppose.

          • News flash, the schools in New Rochelle are not sub-par. Other communities don’t appreciate Larchmont resident’s frequently disparaging other cities/towns that they know little about. And who says scale down people aren’t willing to pay the taxes. You are full of misinformation.

            • Ugh, sometimes I can’t believe I let myself get sucked into these inane debates, but I have a real issue letting fiction go represented as truth, and an even bigger issue when people suggest I am the one guilty of that, so for anyone who cares:

              In the 2013-14 NYS 3-8 ELA Assessment, 33% of New Rochelle student achieved a “sufficient” grade (classified as 3 or 4). Before we start debating demographics, this includes a 49% proficiency rate for students classified as “not economically disadvantaged.” In Math, the corresponding numbers are 39% and 53%.

              In contrast, MUFSD 3-8 ELA Assessment numbers were 62% overall (vs. 33% in NR) and 70% for students classified as “not economically disadvantaged” (vs. 49% in NR). In Math, the MUFSD numbers are 69% and 76%, respectively (vs. 39% and 53% in NR).

              You can verify all of this “misinformation” here: http://data.nysed.gov/lists.php?start=77&type=district

              We can argue over the definition of “par” forever, but my point remains the same, which is that better schools in Larchmont translate into higher property values. Roughly 70% of your property taxes fund those schools, and since higher property values = higher property taxes, redevelopment that results in an overall larger property value base to tax generally results in more resources available to those schools, which makes them better, thereby further increasing property values. Call it a virtuous circle vs. the death spiral alternative of imposing ever increasing taxes on a stagnant property value base.

              As to your comment that “scale down people” are willing to pay the continued tax increases necessary to support those schools, I have had children attend 3 out of the 4 elementary schools in MUFSD (Murray Ave. being the lone exception) and have had enough conversations with parents in all three of those schools to know that it is generally not parents with children in those schools that represent the majority of the 30-40% of voters that routinely vote against the annual school budget. I’m sure there are empty nesters who are supportive, but as a whole, I think it is a fairly safe assertion (unfortunately based only on anecdotal research, common sense and observation, since no hard data exists) that parents with children in the schools tend to vote yes more often than those without them.

              The following article will give you a sense for historical budget voting patterns in the district:

              http://www.larchmontgazette.com/news/mamaroneck-school-budget-passes-easily-66-vote-yes/

  11. Really? I’m all for historical preservation (we just spent a small fortune restoring a home in Larchmont where it definitely would have been cheaper to tear it down and rebuild), but in what world is removing an eyesore that nobody would want and replacing it with what buyers are looking for a negative? By the way, in the process you will probably generate 3x the tax revenue by replacing this house with a 4,500 sf home, and the person paying those taxes will have willingly opted into doing so when they purchase that home vs. having that ever increasing burden foisted upon them as the community struggles to meet its needs. And by the way, for our realtor friend, “those who wish to scale down” = people without kids who don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to support our schools, so from the parents of Larchmont, please send these buyers elsewhere…

  12. I agree with Hilary and Bonnie The character of our neighborhoods is being destroyed. We are eliminating homes for first time buyers and those who wish to scale down. I am a Realtor and know that there is a need for charming smaller homes!

  13. I’m sad to learn this goes on in Larchmont, too. I live in Rye and the problem is ubiquitous here. And no matter how much those of us who love the smaller, more charming, more unique houses shout and scream and throw fits, “they” (the town council, the zoning committee, the real estate agents and developers) all refuse to listen. All they seem capable of considering is how much money the city stands to make in taxes or how much they can put into their own pockets by constructing these huge, redundant, personality-less monsters. As with everything else, it’s all about the money. The history, charm and character of a neighborhood mean absolutely nothing.

    I don’t know if having a column that highlights the houses slated for demolition will have a positive effect on the problem, but it certainly can’t make it any worse.

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