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Conifer Does Charm Offensive; Opponents Still Vocal

Developer tries to re-introduce itself at public hearing for housing proposal.

Seeking to bolster Conifer Realty's standing, officials supporting its housing plan for downtown Chappaqua argued at a Wednesday public hearing that the company is a good corporate citizen.

“We’re talking about the opportunity to provide housing for people who are working hard and need an opportunity to create some stability and have a good place to put their head at night," said Conifer representative Andrew Bodewes, arguing that working-class people will benefit from the proposed Chappaqua Station affordable housing building.

Bodewes also discussed positive testimonials for his Rochester-based company, accompanied with a slideshow showing feedback from across New York State. He also emphasized that Conifer wants to improve upon the proposal more, and argued that the company, which manages the buildings it develops, will keep a local presence.

“So we’re involved in all aspects of it because it’s important to us that we get it right," he said.

Joan Arnold, executive director of A-HOME Community Enterprises - the group is a non-profit parnter with Conifer - offered a vigorous defense for the company. 

“We have been impressed by their ability to work with others, hear other voices and be flexible in their approach," she said.

Arnold warned that the alternative for the site, which is at the end of Hunts Place and bound by train tracks and the Saw Mill River Parkway, could have less desireable alternatives due to its industrial zoning.

“I fear the consequences: An abandoned site that some consider the gateway of Chappaqua," she said. "A potential new proposal for that site, using the underlying industrial zone, could include a warehouse, a storage facility or another industrial use. A very ugly blight on the landscape instead of a well-considered building that is a home to real folks who want to be part of your community.”

The hearing was held by the New Castle Town Board to get public input on Conifer's application for a special permit, which is required in order to build the 36-unit structure on the site. Gary Warshauer, co-architect for the plan, was given a chance to another presentation of Conifer's latest iteration, which has variable heights of 3-5 stories, a more extensive stone base - including a facade that goes up to the 5-story peak - and a green stucco part of the facade. Warshauer told the audience, however, that the stucco portion may be changed. The changes also include a wraparound porch and a mansard roof.

Another change involves movement of a proposed bus stop, from the intersection of Hunts Place and Hunts Lane, to the intersection of South Greeley Avenue and the Quaker Street (Route 120) bridge. 

The new design was first presented at a joint meeting of the Planning and Architectural Review boards last week and details can be found in our story about it.

Opponents Not Swayed By Changes

Most of the folks who spoke at the public hearing were adamently against the plan, citing safety of the site, building scale and density of units on the small parcel as their reasons.

‘The building is too big," said Matt Egan. "The developer has stated that they are interested in the long term. If that’s the case, then I encourage them to reapply for [state] financing for a smaller number of units," he added, referencing the fact that Conifer, were it to downsize its unit count, would have to start over again for requesting money.

Bill Spade, a local architect, voiced quality of life and safety concerns. He noted the building's proximity to Metro-North train tracks, and felt that Conifer has not addressed how fires on the part of the building near them can be fought.

“It’s an inappropriate location for anybody to live in and we’re making the decision about that.”

Ellen Schlossberg presented the board with a copy of Metro-North's scheduling, and noted that trains on weekdays will pass through except for a period between 3:02 a.m. and 5:01 a.m.

“You have one hour and 59 minutes that you can sleep without hearing a train," she said.

Some residents also hammered Conifer for needing surrounding land to make the project work. The building, which will not have setbacks on its eastern and western property lines, would require contracts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and state Department of Transportation (DOT) to let the developer use narrow strips of land by the tracks and parkway. Additionally, Conifer is requesting that the dead end of Hunts Place be given to it from the town.

Will Wedge, an opponent, hammered the desire for land contracts, calling it "Olympic caliber real estate gymanastics.” He also asked Town Attorney Clinton Smith to detail what the town would have to do to give the right of way for the Hunts Place stub to Conifer.

Some speakers, however, came out in support of the project, arguing that it serves a societal good.

Andi Gray, a Chappaqua resident who own a small business called Strategy Leaders, argued that the building could provide affordable housing for younger people who struggle with the areas high living costs.

“I think that we have to seriously consider the need to participate in a solution," she said.

Another resident, Steve Goldenberg, felt that the site can be made acceptable.

“Wherever you’re going to build this project, people are going to find legitimate complaints," he said. "The question is, can you compromise and make it acceptable. What I saw today, it seemed to be very acceptable.”

What's Next?

The town board voted to adjourn the public hearing until Oct. 23, with written comment still being accepted in the meantime. 

Supervisor Susan Carpenter noted that several items are still needed from Conifer, including a noise study, details on previous soil contamination on the site, and information on construction impact. 

“We have not received this information to date and we think that we need it to make an informed environment determination.”

Once the board feels that it has enough information, it will take a vote on the project's environmental significance. If it issues a positive declaration - this means that the plan has a major environmental impact, under state law an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be done, which can be lengthy. If the board issues a negative declaration, which means the opposite, then an EIS is avoided. The board, Carpenter explained, can also give a conditional negative declaration, which does not need an EIS but requires the applicant to take corrective measures.

Once the environmental review is done, then the town boad would vote on the special permit.

In addition, Carpenter told the public that Conifer will need zoning variances. While the Zoning Board of Appeals can accept an application, Carpenter said that it cannot act until the Town Board's environmental review is done.

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