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Conifer Changes Plan, Gets Grilled Again

Updated version of Chappaqua Station includes new massing, facade.

In an effort to assuage New Castle town officials, officials representing Conifer Realty have updated the proposed affordable housing complex for downtown Chappaqua.

The updated plan, unveiled at Tuesday's joint meeting of the Planning Board and Architectural Review Board, changes the massing, exterior design and site plan. The Hunts Place structure, called Chappaqua Station, was previously a uniform four stories tall. It now has heights that fluctuate from a low of three stories on the north end, to a 5-story peak created by the creation of duplex units.

Outside, the building still has a stone base - it creeps up to the duplex section - but yellow hardiplank has given way to a green stucco material. The southern end of the building, which would be connected to the Route 120 bridge, now has a wraparound porch, instead of the full terrace in earlier iterations. A community room has been moved up a floor to place it closer to the entrance. At the same time, the bedroom count has been altered: the latest plan calls for nine 2-bedroom units and 27 1-bedroom units, a change from the older respective counts of 10 and 26.

The two boards are serving advisory roles for the town board, which must decide whether to approve a special permit for the proposal.

Conifer Attorney Alfred DelBello was hoping that the changes - members of both boards raised aesthetic concerns about previous designs - would be met with support.

“So we are before you tonight with a generation of this plan that we think you’ll find very interesting and very exciting,” he said

Intead, however, members of each board remained concerned. Although some liked the changes that Conifer has made - and there were still aesthetic critics - there was a feeling among board members that the site's nature is a signifcant problem at this point.

Several members of each board voiced concerns that the building is still too big for the property.

ARB member Robert Schenkel felt that having 36 units is too high a number for the parcel, with is 0.38 acres.

“To me, the program is just too much for the site," he said.

“I tend to agree with that," said Planning Board member Sheila Crespi about the size. She also reiterated safety concerns that she previously raised, such as firefighters may having to use Saw Mill River Parkways exit ramp to the west of the site in big emergencies. At another point in the meeting, DelBello explained that the plan is to have a meeting with emergency response to officials about the proposal.

Fellow ARB member Terrence Dunn, who to Conifer when his board and the company last met on Aug. 15, reiterated his opposition to developing on the site.

Planning Board Chairman Richard Brownell felt that there is progress with the update, but voiced continued concern about the location.

“My concern, though, is it’s still an isolated site.”

Tom Curley, a fellow planning board member, felt that the aesthetics are an improvement from the previous design, which he likened to a "Motel 6 on steroids." That iteration was initially proposed at five stories and then downgraded to four in the spring.

By contrast, Curley suggested that the new design is approaching the look of an old mill building. However, Curley's facade feedback appeared to be his only major point of common ground, as he critized the very viability of the site for housing.

“I don’t think it’s good for the town. I think it’s a very, very big building on the gateway to Chappaqua," he said. 

Curley continued, “I’m not saying that this building doesn’t belong in town. I am saying it’s in the wrong place for the tenants, and I think it’s in the wrong place for the town.” 

DelBello, frustrated, quickly responded.

“Let me just say that bothers me a little bit," he said.

DelBello noted a 2011 letter that then-Supervisor Barbara Gerrard wrote touting the idea of using the site for housing. The letter was written to help Conifer secure state funding for its proposal, which it first presented to the town and planning boards  

“That led Conifer into spending a fortune on this site, because the town supported Conifer on this site," he said.

Meanwhile, Conifer's update presentation was accompanied with a series of new renderings, both of the new plan and of new perspectives, including from near the King and South Greeley intersection, and along the Saw Mill River Parkway. Curley voiced concern about the Saw Mill perspectives, feeling that they do not show downtown Chappaqua where the building would be most visible. 

Housing Monitor Writes Laudatory Update Letter

DelBello presented what is good news for Conifer: A supportive letter from the federal monitor charged with overseeing Westchester County's 2009 affordable housing settlement, which requires that 750 units be built within seven years in communities that are predominently white, such as New Castle. All 36 of Conifer's units would count towards the settlement.

James E. Johnson, the monitor, wrote to Conifer on Sept. 7, responding to his review of the updated plan. 

"The development, as described to me when we met on August 23 and in the plans I received today, now furthers the goals of the consent decree and, if presented to me in that or substantially similar form, would meet with my approval," the letter reads.

Johnson, in previous letters, raised concern that the project could go against ideals that he make known, in that affordable housing should not be isolated and serve to stigmatize resident, or that it should have environmental problems. In his letter, Johnson felt that the altered plan, which was peer reviewed by studio WXY, addresses his concerns.

At the joint meeting, Curley noted that the monitor, in a previous public notice, described site location and configuration, and that housing should not be isolated. He felt that Conifer has not sufficiently addressed those areas.

“Your new proposal is primarily architectural. None of those things have been addressed.”

Andrew Bodewes, a Conifer executive, respond to Curley that he did not discuss a portion of a Johnson letter, dated April 12, that states the need for sigifnicant mitigation measures. Relating to this, Bodewes argued that the monitor's concerns focused primarily on design.

Curley replied that the monitor is not the one who is utlimately responsible for the project, noting the town's approval role.

Parking & Age Come Up

Several board members voiced concern over whether there is enough parking for situations where guests may arrive, such as children's playdates. While there are 36 housing units, there are just 40 spaces proposed, which would be 8.5 feet by 11 feet.

Bodewes noted that other communities were looked at for comparison, such as Yonkers and the Long Island community of Hempstead, where it has existing units. Chappaqua Station would have 1.11 spaces per unit, Bodewes said, versus 1.15 for those communities, although the bedroom mix elsewhere is different. 

Brownell was skeptical of the comparisons, noting the population differences between Chappaqua, Yonkers and Hempstead.

“So that’s a big difference. Huge, huge difference.”

Crespi noted that in Chappaqua, driving is needed for a lot of things, such as grocery shopping; the hamlet has lacked a major supermarket

“So there’s going to be a lot of car use," she said.

Bodewes defended the comparisons with Yonkers and Hempstead, citing proximity to amenities as a factor.

Discussion also turned to age, as it was noted the project could, according to Conifer's current data, generate 2-3 new kids for the Chappaqua school district. Bodewes stated it could be more but not much so.

Planning Board member Gerard Curran noted the desirability of Chappaqua schools as being a factor that should be considered by Conifer, which in turn could mean more kids than if assumptions form elsewhere are used. He also raised the scenario of playdates leading to overflow parking problems. Responding, an official for Conifer was open to looking at the impact of paydates.

When unit capacity came up, it was noted by Conifer that in 2-bedroom units where two children of the opposite sex share a room and one turns 8, they can no longer share a room, which makes a move likely. ARB member Anne Hasegawa brought this up as something that could be disruptive to people who get attached to the community. Bodewes responded that Conifer would work them them, but that the rules are necessary.

Reactions and Going Forward

Members of the public who are critical of Conifer's plan haven't changed their minds, either.

“Not happy at all," said Joan Corwin, of Chappaqua Transportation, who is concerned about the project's safety aspects.

“It’s the wrong location," said Chappaqua architect William Spade. "As an isolated building the residents who will live there will be segregated from the community, and it’s exactly what shouldn’t be done as per the monitor’s criteria.”

Asked about the continuing opposition, DelBello said it “Hasn’t been yet, so why should it change?”

Both boards will submit a feedback memo to the town board as part of its review for Conifer's special permit application. The town board will resume a public hearing, which was opened last month, at a meeting next week.

Bassett September 12, 2012 at 01:03 PM
I would like to see the letter of support from Barbara Gerrard that was mentioned at this meeting printed in this paper for the public to see. In 2010 Barbara Gerrard along with the previous Town Board gave Conifer strong support to move ahead with this project. They did this without any discussion or input from the public or the other town boards. They have put us in a dangerous position. This project does not belong at this site for all the reasons mentioned at meeting after meeting. Conifer says that it does not make sense for them to build a smaller building. If they hold to their word then the Town Board as the lead agency should have the backbone to say no to them. It was very strange and quite suspicious to learn that the Monitor after finding much fault with the project at that site has now written a new letter in full support of it. Who and what is behind this letter. It is also very strange that at this meeting the lawyer representing the town came in late and shut down conversation from the members of the boards who were voicing their thoughts and concerns, advising them that they were not the board making the decision on this project. I do not think that either board needed this information from the lawyer. This lawyer then asked the chair of the Planning Board to step out of the room and when they returned moments later the chair said that it was time to wrap things up and they did.
Bassett September 12, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Reading the letter of support from the town board , not only did the town board fully support it but they were willing to waive the normal fees for its review and approval.
B September 12, 2012 at 02:08 PM
A high-level bureaucrat from the H.U.D. on the radio several weeks back vehemently denied that the 749 units of housing to be built in Westchester would be multi-unit housing out of character with the rest of the community. Mr. Johnson failed to get this message from his superior. The fact that the proposed parking must be compared to Yonkers & Hempstead should raise a giant red flag that the proposed development is substantially out of character with Chappaqua. The estimate of 2 to 3 new children for the school district is laughable. Build 36 units of housing in the Chappaqua School District & people will come from all over to take advantage of our fine school system. Nine units are two bedrooms - who does Conifer think will be sleeping in the second bedrooms? Common sense says at least 1 or 2 children per extra bedroom can be expected. With regard to Mr. DelBello and his continued reliance upon a 2010 letter from Babara Gerrard and the Town Board, sorry, but things change politically, even in a sleepy little Liberal town like New Castle. The investment in the property was a risk that was assumed by Conifer - there was no written guaranty from the then existing Town Board that the project would be approved. We in New Castle must develop the backbone to just say NO to projects that do not suit our community. Litigation from disgruntled applicants is unavoidable and we should not permanently ruin the character of our town just to avoid one lawsuit.
Ed Frank September 12, 2012 at 05:09 PM
The latest design from Conifer looks like a cross between their Erie Harbor project in Rochester and an old factory building in the deep south. This is hardly a fitting design for the entrance to the Chappaqua hamlet and will certainly segregate the project from the rest of the Town's residents. If this building were to be constructed, it will bring criticism and shame upon the Town. In fact, any residential project constructed on this industrial site would be disgraceful.
Bassett September 12, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Am sorry to say that this feels like and appears to be a done deal. Every politico has come out strongly in favor of it. Having been at this meeting the 'applicants' represented by DelBello who has unending connections seemed very confident to me. The lawyer's actions at the meeting seem to me to support DelBello's position. I really do not know how to stop this, but I surely hope that someone can and will find a way to do so.
Karen Yee September 13, 2012 at 01:55 AM
By Conifer's traffic study - they concluded that this building would not affect traffic patterns on the bridge. With a MAIN entrance onto the bridge, foot traffic will not affect car traffic, but what about pick up and drop offs on the that side of the bridge that is one lane? How about kids coming in and out of the building? Do they really think that residents of the building will be using any other entrance for loading and unloading guests visiting "playdates"? This building is a danger to the residents of this town and potential occupants.
Julie Balber September 13, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I was beyond outraged to see this yesterday. I can not believe that our town board is still even entertaining the idea of allowing this project. It looks like we are now damned if we do, damned if we don't. It is unconscionable to build a housing development that absolutely will attract families on a TINY strip of land between a highway and the train tracks. Once various groups get ahold of what we are doing we will rightfully so have our town smeared in what ever media attention they can attract. If we don't build this monstrosity which now looks like a fish cannery on a wharf we will be criticized for not allowing minorities to move into our community along with possibly being sued by yet another developer who was given the green light by a previous board member in writing no less. Don't they have a lawyer reviewing what they do before they do it??????? aesthetically it is a disaster but more importantly it is a disgrace that this is the solution we will have shoved down our throats to incorporate a more multi cultural element into our community. This is not integration it will be segregation. I prefer option number two of being sued and "looking" like we don't wish to have minorities move into our town rather than proving it by building this on this site!
Tom Auchterlonie (Editor) September 14, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I have two items to note: 1. As a reminder, Conifer does not want to reduce its apartment unit count as a matter of economics. It would, DelBello has explained, mean that Conifer would need to go through its state funding round all over again: http://patch.com/A-w1xx 2. The town announced a Town Board public hearing on Conifer's special permit request, for Sept. 19, 9 p.m. at town hall.

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