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.