Residents and business leaders made known their opposition to an affordable housing plan for downtown Chappaqua at Tuesday's New Castle Town Board meeting.
As at last week's planning board meeting - that group for the 36-unit, five-story plan at Hunts Place - opponents cited safety, traffic and the design as their primary concerns. The project requires a special permit from the town board in order to be constructed on a 0.38-acre site, which is bound by Metro-North train tracks to the east, Saw Mill River Parkway entrance and exit ramps to the west, and the Route 120 bridge to the south.
The units, part of a plan called "Chappaqua Station," will also count towards Westchester County's housing lawsuit settlement with the Anti-Discrimination Center, in which the county promised to build more than 700 units by 2016 in municipalities that are predominently white, in relation to certain percantages for minority residents. It is being developed by Rochester-based Conifer Realty.
While the meeting was held at and intended for a focus on Millwood-area issues, opponents spoke during the open public comment period.
“The town board has tunnel vision," said head Joan Corwin, in an interview. "They see the dollar sign at the end of the tunnel. They don’t get the big picture and look at the traffic problems.”
Corwin, who voiced opposition to the town board, is concerned about safety of people crossing the area. Taking a short cut while walking was one example given at the planning board meeting, versus walking several flights of stairs from the Route 120 bridge, which would be connected to the building's third floor via a passage.
John Sabalja, owner of , stated in an interview that there are people who are in "total shock" about the proposal and haven't heard about it yet. He's among those concerned about traffic and safety, while still supportive of affordable housing in general.
According to a video recording of the meeting from NCCMC, Chappaqua architect William Spade asked Supervisor Susan Carpenter if she heard any updates about whether or not Conifer has gotten feedback from the fire department. Carpenter responded that she has not been given notice of any comments back.
At another point in the meeting, Carpenter was quoted in the recording as saying about safety feedback: “I think our fire department needs to make that decision. They are in the experts in this issue.”
Fire department feedback is something Conifer is seeking out amid concerns from residents and planning board that the site could be insufficient for first responders.
Some opponents came to suggest alternative sites for affordable housing. Wally Tascano, another Chappaqua architect, brought an aerial map of the hamlet's downtown and said he suggested several alternative sites. They include developing a strip of woodlands behind town hall and near the train station's back parking lot. He also suggested looking at train lot space next to Washington Avenue, which is near the border with Pleasantville.
“The building fits in here like a glove," Tascanco was quoted as saying in the video, describing the space behind town hall.
At another point in the meeting, Spade was recorded as describing the process as "confused," while he noted that the Architectural Review Board (ARB), which normally gives critiques for proposals when applicants are going for building permits, took up the plan last week. Responding, Carpenter acknowledged the ARB's unique role but explained that the proposal was referred to it by the town board early so it would have an opportunity to look at the project. In the recording, Carpenter added that it's the kind of project the ARB should have early input for. She also sympathized with the assertion that confusion may have arisen over how the process has been set out.
Moving forward, according to dialogue in the recording, it was explained that the town will do an enviromental review of the project after getting feedback from the planning and architectural review boards. It will declare itself to be "lead agency" for that review.
Rich Diefenbach, who ran for a town board seat last fall, was recorded asking the supervisor if there have been other options considered for affordable housing. Responding, Carpenter said that from her experience there was not another proposal before the town.
“We have not seen people be willing to make the effort to provide affordable housing," Carpenter was recorded as saying, noting that zoning initiatives to promote such housing - this includes creating units above downtown commercial space and having accessory apartments - haven't been taking advatange of.
Whether granting a special permit for the site should go through was also contested based on the property's zoning. The site is zoned under the IG (general industrial) classification, but affordable (work force) housing is also a permitted use.
Shaun Gotterbarn, a Pleasantville architect who has distributed viewshed renderings of the complex, was recorded by NCCMC as criticizing the proposal for how it diverges from what the site's zoning permits without the use of a special permit. He noted, for example, that the building size is larger than allowable building area without one, has more stories (five versus two) and more building coverage.
What the developer is asking for, Gotternbarn was recorded as saying, “is a little crazy.”
On Wednesday, a Facebook group was set up by opponents and filled with background material. It is called "Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing" and garnered 43 members within its first few hours.
Going forward, the planning board is set to continue its advisory review of the proposal, at its March 20 meeting at 7 p.m. It will be held at town hall in Chappaqua.