Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino declined to say whether he supports or opposes using the site for Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing plan, deferring to New Castle town officials on whether the proposal should be approved.
Speaking at his "Ask Astorino" forum on Tuesday night at New Castle Town Hall in Chappaqua, Astorino described himself as being "agnostic" about the site for the proposal, which is about 0.38 acres and includes the right of way of the end of Hunts Place. Astorino gave his views on the proposal after resident Rob Greenstein, who is also a founding member of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce and is outspoken about local development, posed the question.
Critics have argued that the site, which is bounded by train tracks to the east and the Saw Mill River Parkway's exit ramp to the west, is unsuitable for residential use, that it would stigmatize people who live there and would create an unsafe situation.
The New Castle Town Board has an application from Conifer for a special permit for the property. The Rochester-based developer proposes the construction of a 36-unit rental apartment building with heights ranging from three to five stories. Conifer will also need variances approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals for the structure, which exceeds zoning data for aspects such as height and setbacks.
Conifer's plan would count toward's the county's 2009 federal settlement, which requires that 750 units of residences deemed "fair and affordable" are constructed over a 7-year period and are marketed to people of diverse backgrounds. The units, in order to count, must be built in communities that are predominantly white, although there is no specific quota on a municipal level.
The town board has kept a public hearing open for weighing in on the special permit request, and some board members showed signs of skepticism for the plan at a recent meeting, with concerns about parking and traffic safety near Route 120 cited. Board members also indicated that they might give a "positive declaration" when they make a determination on environmental impact. Such a declaration would trigger a thorough review from Conifer, requiring the submission of an environmental impact statement.
At the recent meeting, some board members even suggested that Conifer explore, as part of the review, a smaller alternative proposal.
Astorino also felt that demands from the federal level of suitability of sites have been conflicting in nature, including which sections of a community could be used.
Addressing the housing settlement in general, Astorino noted that he was against it but argued that the county is following it, citing the fact that it is ahead of schedule in development for units. However, he reiterated his opposition to two items wanted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): preventing refusals by landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers are sources of income, and having the county pressure municipalities to alter zoning that the federal government may deem as being exclusionary in nature. The dispute over the two items is now before a federal appeals court, he said.
Astorino argued that property owners should be able ot decide, optionally, on using vouchers.
“This would take away that right," he said.
During the meeting, Astorino stayed consistent, arguing that in general, local governments should decide on affordable housing applications, including with the Conifer plan.