To the Editor:
I am happy to see my letter of February 26 prompted some healthy discussion, and I thank those who wrote comments. I totally realize some of my notions were not 100% ‘gelled’ and it is a good thing to point out bits that might/ might not work well, or were not well thought out. But I would like to return to the discussion here and add a few more thoughts.
1) I agree that if the Village opens the way to force landlords to accommodate certain non-profit/ arts or education groups to get short-term free use of space, of course these groups should pay for electricity they use, and heat if needed. A lot of my entire premise with my proposal is that the goal should be a benefit to the community, and not necessarily a financial cost to a landlord at all. A landlord who is getting zero for his/her commercial space should be indifferent if there is no financial cost to hosting a group of some kind …. or even earning some money from a short-term for-profit “pop-up” store etc . Zero is still zero. Anything above zero should be a win for the landlord. This is also important because it can avert a “taking” argument should anyone wish to litigate. Where is the economic harm if a landlord is not generating revenue anyway? The landlord can continue to show the space and offer it to prospective long-term tenants even if it is being used by a short-term occupant.
2) Someone mentioned it takes time to fit out a retail space for new use, and landlords should not be penalized if this is the case. Yes, of course. Nothing should be forced into an empty retail space if the landlord has a committed tenant and work is going on to fit out the premises. And sometimes delays are the results of a municipal government’s license/ permitting processes. Provisions can be made for this kind of scenario. But a municipality zoning an area for retail commercial space is in some ways a granting of an exploitable economic ‘resource,’ and it should be in the scope of a municipality’s legal framework to be able to intervene and assume control if the ‘resource’ is not being properly exploited by the grantee. It’s obviously imperfect to compare leasing space for retail stores to the mining or oil industry, but there are many legal frameworks around the world where a party given a license to exploit an oil field or mineral deposit loses that right after a time if they have made no moves of any kind to exploit the resource. That could be a precedent to apply here.
3) Every municipality retains broad theoretical powers of eminent domain to change use or even ownership of private property for purposes that benefit the public. Taking land or structures to develop highways, hospitals, community centers , public housing projects etc. are traditional typical uses of these powers. In more controversial instances, municipalities have gotten involved in “re-development” projects that involve seizing and tearing down buildings and replacing them with new types of private property with supposedly “better” uses. I personally oppose government use of eminent domain that displaces people from homes and viable businesses just to bring in some other type of larger residential or business project. But we’re not talking about tearing down buildings or homes here. Rather the opposite: The idea is to use the existing buildings as they should be used.
We can debate why it is exactly that the commercial area on/around Palmer Ave in Larchmont has had so many empty storefronts so often the last 10-15 years, and for such long stretches of time. Of course the entire US retail space has changed, and many things that used to work in retail don’t work anymore. But it’s also obvious that there is a unique affliction at work in Larchmont. The ostensibly similar communities of Scarsdale, Bronxville, and Rye have not had the blight of so many empty storefronts for prolonged periods the way Larchmont has. “Blight” is often a legal trigger-word that can draw eminent domain into play. Of course it is often misused or abused. But Larchmont could lead the way with a new twist on eminent domain. Let the owners keep their buildings. Do things in a way where they suffer no economic loss compared to the current situation. Let them keep lease income when there is lease income. Let them continue to control the shop spaces that are occupied, and residential units on higher floors. We want landlords to make money. But if for whatever reason they are not properly exploiting the right the Village has granted them to rent out storefronts to small retail businesses and restaurants etc, then they are contributing to “suburban blight.” The Village could apply a “lease condemnation” and insert a public-private partnership entity as temporary manager of unexploited storefronts until such time as landlords find longer-term tenants that satisfy their private objectives.