(Editor's Note: Below is a speech that Ed Frank, among those against Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing proposal, .)
If I were asked to rate the advisability of approving Conifer’s request for a special permit to construct the Hunts Place affordable housing project on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 being an excellent location and with 0 being the worst imaginable location, I would have to rate the advisability of the project as I would rate the advisability of the project as zero point zero, zero, zero.
I have assigned that rating based upon three primary issues:
The first issue is the unsafe location of the ill advised project not only for the intended residents of the project, but also for New Castle residents and visitors to the Chappaqua hamlet. Clearly there is obvious concern for children residing in such a dangerous location; children seeking a place to play where no space exists have been involved in numerous unfortunate accidents.
The intersection of Hunts Place and Hunts Lane is an already dangerous intersection and the danger will be greatly intensified by vehicles entering or exiting the proposed Conifer site. Vehicles exiting the 55 m.p.h. northbound Chappaqua short exit ramp will have an obstructed view of vehicles exiting the proposed building into the Hunts Place-Hunts Lane intersection, in fact, this obstructed view has been made substantially more dangerous by the revised four story building which has been extended in length and would now fully obstruct the view of the east side of the Hunts Place-Hunts Lane intersection for vehicles exiting the parkway. Vehicles exiting the proposed building into the Hunts Place-Hunts Lane intersection will also have a more obstructed view. The New Castle Police Department should be asked to provide a report on the safety of the intersection with the proposed building on the site.
There is also a safety concern regarding the very close proximity of the east side of the building to the Metro North railroad tracks. The Town should require Conifer Realty to write a letter to a person of responsibility at Metro North stating that a four story building is being proposed, showing plan and elevation view drawings, with distances from the building to southbound trains. The letter should ask whether Metro North has any safety concerns with the close proximity of the proposed building to the railroad tracks, especially safety concerns associated with objects being thrown out of the proposed building windows. The New Castle Town attorney should be asked to advise whether the Town could be held liable for granting a special permit should an accident occur.
In further reference to safety issues it would be naive to believe that vehicles will not stop on the Quaker Road bridge to pickup and discharge passengers from the proposed building; it is naive to believe that the New Castle Police Department can enforce a no stop zone on the bridge 24/7. No doubt a situation will ultimately occur when a vehicle stops on the bridge to pickup a tardy building resident which may result in an unfortunate accident or altercation.
The second issue is that the location of the project does not meet the intent or expectations of the best practices guidelines set forth by the HUD Monitor. In that regard, I refer you to the well documented letters previously delivered to the Town regarding the deficiencies of the Hunts Place site. Adding one additional quality of life concern is the fact that the Planning Board requested that the height of the underside of the building be raised to a height of ten feet above the parking level to accommodate emergency vehicles and since two sides of the building are proposed to be constructed on ten foot high columns, residents in the proposed building may be subjected to objectionable induced vibrations from passing trains.
The third issue is the negative visual impact of the proposed Conifer building. Per the Westchester County Planning Board the review of the proposed Hunts Place project should include consideration of the visual relationship of the project to the bucolic quality of the parkway. Clearly, the proposed four story residential building will erode the bucolic quality of the parkway.
May I also refer you to Westchester County’s 2025 policies dated January 5, 2010 which states that municipalities should support initiatives that enhance their character through setting, aesthetic design and scale of development. It is simply not feasible to construct a four story building of the proposed scale that would respect the desired character and historical landscape of the Chappaqua hamlet. The Chappaqua hamlet may not have landmark status but it certainly does have significant historical status. Chappaqua’s identity is Horace Greeley and it is home to Horace Greeley High School, the Greeley house on King Street, the Greeley Spring on Senter Street, North Greeley Avenue, South Greeley Avenue, and the Horace Greeley Statue. Failure to reject a building of this scope and scale in the proposed Hunts Place site that has been described by the New Castle Architectural Review Board as “a budget hotel on a busy interstate“ would be a disrespectful abuse of Horace Greeley’s legacy. If Horace Greeley was alive today I do not think he would tell Conifer Realty to go west, I think he would tell them to go in another direction.
I visited www.coniferllc.com and found that Conifer Realty actually boasts about preserving historical landmarks in a number of their projects. In their description of the Trinity Senior Apartments in Yonkers, NY they note that this lovely community located in the historic section of Trinity Plaza has been renovated to preserve its historic character; in their description of the St. Patrick’s Apartments in Elmira, NY they state that “You will be delighted with the charming atmosphere of our historically sensitive rehabilitated convent.”
Apparently, Conifer Realty is aware of the significance of historical sites but may only respect historical sites when it fits their business plans. The conclusion I draw is that either Conifer Realty is unaware of the historical significance of the Chappaqua hamlet or they could care less about Chappaqua’s historical significance because it does not mesh with their business plans.
Furthermore, may I also suggest that the Town of New Castle needs to consult with Westchester County Executive Astorino for two reasons. One to determine if there are County owned properties within New Castle available for the affordable housing (and may I remind you that the affordable housing project approved at 445 North State Road in Briarcliff is nowhere near a train station and is only served by the same bus route that runs through the hamlet of Millwood. May I remind you that the Hunts Place site has a residential unit per acre density that is four times as dense as the North State Road site. Second, if County funding is needed to acquire a privately owned viable site, similar to the County aided acquisition of 445 North State Road, County Executive Astorino should be asked to be of assistance.
May I also suggest that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Town of New Castle resident, be contacted to determine if there are any New York State owned sites located within New Castle that would be viable for affordable housing. One such possible location is located on Route 100 directly north of the Taconic State Parkway; this site is located within walking distance to the Millwood A&P shopping center and is served by the same bus route that serves the 445 North State Road site in Briarcliff that has been approved for affordable housing.
In order to construct the proposed Conifer building, the Town would have to deed Town owned property to Conifer Realty; I take strong exception to this inadvisable action. On the other hand I support the Town deeding property to any builder to construct affordable housing in any viable location other than the location for the ill advised Hunts Place site.
As is well known, in 2007 the Hunts Place site was deemed not suitable by the New Castle Planning Board for a proposed multifamily market-rate project. No reasonable person can conclude that the Hunts Place site is now miraculously suitable for residential use unless of course they also believe that persons who would live in the proposed Conifer building are sub human when compared to persons who would have resided in the previously rejected market-rate project.
I have one final observation. Construction of the proposed Hunts Place project would be a slap in the face to close to sixty years of progress made in the civil rights movement. This isolated project not only does nothing to eliminate de facto residential segregation but actually enhances it. This project is hardly what Dr. King had in mind when he gave his iconic I have a dream speech. Should this project not be rejected, it is my opinion that initial shame associated with this project will be born by Conifer Realty and their consultants; however, shame and embarrassment will shortly be transferred to the Town of New Castle for not rejecting this unfit ill advised isolated project.
I respectfully request that the Town Board reject Conifer Realty’s request for a special permit to construct the Hunts Place project. I further respectfully request that this rejection be made unanimously. Thank you.