(This story was originally published on Sept. 10, 2013 and since has been updated)
By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night, the New Castle Town Board approved the special permit for Conifer Realty's affordable housing proposal for downtown Chappaqua, bringing to an end a long review process that included multiple project changes.
Voting in favor were Supervisor Susan Carpenter, Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel and Councilman Robin Stout. Voting against were Councilman John Buckley and Councilman Jason Chapin.
Board members approving the special permit argued that there is a dearth of affordable housing in New Castle.
“Is it an ideal site? No, it's not, but ideal sites are rare in the real world," said Stout. "Is it a site which can accommodate a new and beautiful and useful addition to our community? I believe that it is.”
we act now, there will be no affordable housing built in New Castle,"
said Mottel, who recalled how residents had tried to years,
unsuccessfully, to bring affordable housing to town.
Mottel also said, “Sometimes if you measure the opposition by volume, these decisions aren't always popular. But I don't believe the loudest voices always represent the consensus opinion. Sometimes it's just the loudest voice.”
Conifer's proposed apartment building, called Chappaqua Station, is 28 units and has a varying height of three to four stories. The proposed location, at 54 Hunts Place, is about 0.38 acres and has a long history. It most recently served as a construction area during the overhaul of the Route 120 bridge, which was completed in 2011. Before that, according to an exhibit from the New Castle Historical Society, it was the site of the Chappaqua Drama Group, and before that it was used by fuel and feed sales.
The vote ends nearly three years of town involvement in the process. Conifer first presented its proposal to the town board on an informal basis in December 2010 and gave a formal application in early 2012. The town board started its official review process in February 2012.
The project has generated a lot of controversy among some in the community, who argue that the site's proximity to the Saw Mill River Parkway, which is to the west, and Metro-North train tracks, which is to the east, make it problematic. Opponents have claimed that residents would be stigmatized, that the plan presents safety problems and have criticized the building's design, which has been revised several times. Supporters, however, have contended that the project is necessary to advance affordable housing and diversity.
The proposal will count towards Westchester County's 2009 affordable housing settlement with the federal government, which requires construction of 750 units in predominately white communities by 2016.
At the meeting, opponents repeatedly reiterated their concerns, with some stating they would be ashamed to live in the area.
Chappaqua Transportation President Joan Corwin called it a “vertical slum and the danger to the people that will be living there.”
“We will no longer be known as the former home of Horace Greeley. We will not be known as the town where the Clintons reside," said Karen Michelson. "We will not be known for our fine schools. We will be known as the affluent community that thought it was okay to put the people with less than in a location that's not fit for anyone to live.”
A few who spoke in favor of the proposal argued that it will help advance affordable housing, noting a low number of it in town. Board members voting in favor agreed with these sentiments, arguing that the proposal is beneficial for diversity, that the plan has been improved after local feedback and that it's close to downtown amenities.
“You finally have a solution," said Ken Fuirst, a longtime resident who noted the lack of affordable housing in town and failed attempts to bring it. "You finally have a developer stepping up to do it.”
The first iteration of the project was 36 units and five stories tall, with the second version having the same unit count but with four stories and a longer footprint. Both versions had facade colors including red and yellow tones. A third version, announced about a year ago and including the same unit number, had a varying height of three to five stories, a stone base and green coloring for some upper sections. The current version, presented in April, was made after the town board passed a “sense of the board” resolution in February that pushed for a reduction in size. Conifer, which is receiving state funding for the plan, initially resisted shrinking the building's unit count but was able to do so after the state agreed that funds would not be impacted.
In their statements, Mottel and Stout noted that they, too had concerns about the project when it was in its first iteration. However, they are pleased with how it has been changed, and that Conifer's decision to do so was based on local feedback.
At several points, opponents brought up a document - it has been posted online - that was claimed to be a list of the project's government funding sources. The document gives a total project cost of $15,264,802, or $545,172 per unit.
Bill Spade, one of the opponents, said that "It's an egregious dollar amount and you're permitting it to happen,” adding that the board was permitting taxpayer dollars to go to it.
the document, Rob Fleisher argued that Conifer would be putting
little money down. He added that absent liabilities not listed, “this
is not just a small amount of skin in the game, this is no skin
in the game, absolutely none.”
Conifer does not own the site but is merely a contract vendee. With approval of the special permit, it will purchase the site, Conifer Principal Andrew Bodewes told Patch earlier this year.
Talking to reporters after the vote, Bodewes, who was pleased with the outcome and speaking for his team, was grateful to have spent time and effort working with the town.
Bodewes declined to address the purported financial document, arguing that it is not relevant to what the town board was reviewing. He also declined to confirm the figures cited from the document when a reporter asked.
Bodewes outlined the next steps for Conifer, which include working with the town on conditions the board set and to move on to construction drawings. He told reporters that the construction would take about 18 months.
the town board took its vote, it approved a series of other major
items in July. One was an environmental determination, which is
called a conditioned negative declaration. It states that Conifer
does not need to prepare and environmental impact statement but must
meet conditions that include giving information to the town about
cleaning up the site under the state's Brownfield program, along with
providing landscaping details and sound standards compliance.
The other major item approved was for zoning text changes to the town's workforce housing provisions, in which sites that qualify for special permits will be considered for review by applying dimensions of the Retail Business (B-R) zone, regardless of the underlying zoning. The Conifer site's underlying zone is General Industrial (I-G).
The text change, which was proposed by Conifer and altered by the town's retained law firm, came in response to a dispute between the two sides over whether Conifer would need variances to comply with I-G or if the special permit allowed for superseding the zone. The change also allows for the town board to waive dimensional requirements, although applicants can head to the zoning board of appeals if their requests are denied.
with the legislative approvals, the issue may not been settled, as an
opposition group could sue to overturn the decision, Spade confirmed.
The group, Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing, which
includes Spade and other residents, could file what is called an
Article 78 proceeding.
Some opponents, during public comment, also raised the issue of a lawsuit arising.
Asked about a possible lawsuit, Conifer attorney Alfred DelBello replied they will “deal with it if it happens.”