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ZBA Gives Electric-Car Service Station a Boost

Tesla Motors wins use-permit but must put environmental concerns to rest before opening city facility.

Six months after Tesla Motors started marketing luxury electric cars at The Westchester mall, the pioneering automaker won limited approval earlier this month for a White Plains shop to service them.

Said to be the first such facility anywhere in the county, the 8,000-square-foot service center will fit into a neighborhood of cinderblock buildings and chain-link fences, snugly wedged between I-287 and Delfino Park. But when it will open and what services it can provide for these environmentally friendly autos remain uncertain, still subject to a thicket of federal environmental safeguards.

Tesla’s Bradley Hoffman made three appearances earlier this month before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals in pursuit of a special-use permit for the center, in a building at 18 Belway Place. To his surprise as much as anyone, he succeeded on his third try.

Hoffman had already left the chamber, his application adjourned to next month. Told that beyond the use permit a licensed engineer would still be needed to assure compliance with federal flood-plain regulations, he had packed up his papers and exited, presumably until the March meeting.

Later in the evening, however, Hoffman returned, not to reopen his permit quest but to ask a question: What, if anything, could he do in the meantime with the 18 Belway premises on which he was already paying rent? “I just want to know what I’m allowed to do.”

The response: “Not much, really.”

But ZBA member Brian Keating argued that it “doesn’t make much sense to make him wait again.” He pointed out that the federal environmental concerns, while still unresolved, did not impact Tesla’s use-permit application, which the zoning board alone issues. “Let him at least wipe that off his list,” Keating suggested.   

In the end, others agreed and approved the permit in a 4-0 vote. Michael Raneri, a ZBA member but also Tesla’s lawyer, had recused himself from deliberations and voting on the permit.

In two earlier appearances that evening—Hoffman stepped aside to review documents at one point Wednesday, allowing other applicants to be heard—the project manager had outlined a limited service menu for the White Plains center, largely resricted to brakes, tires and diagnostics. Bigger jobs—the cars’ lithium-ion batteries, for example, a major concern over potential leakage—would be shipped elsewhere, Hoffman told board members.

But he’ll have to huddle with the board’s professional staff before learning what, if anything, he can do with the premises, zoned for light industrial applications, while the rest of the regulatory process plays out.

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