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County Committees Approve Conifer Items

Westchester County legislators meet to discuss items pertaining to Conifer Realty.
Westchester County legislators meet to discuss items pertaining to Conifer Realty.
A pair of Westchester County legislative committees gave their approvals Monday morning for various items connected to Conifer Realty's affordable housing proposal for downtown Chappaqua, which include funding.

The approvals from the committees - they are Government Operations and Budget & Appropriations - mean that the items will go to the full county board of legislators for voting. Legislator Judy Myers, after the votes were taken, indicated that this would be done tonight. The full board is scheduled to meet 7 p.m. at the county office building in White Plains, according to its website. However, no agenda has been posted as of initial publication of this story.

Four items regarding the proposal, which is located at 54 Hunts Place, were referred to the full board. Two of them deal with a bond act for $1,550,000 to be used for construction and another, at $1,275,000, for the county to acquire the property and make improvements, which in turn would be given to Conifer. One legislative item is for the acquisition itself while another is for an agreement between the county and the Town of New Castle for paying for "public improvements" that are related.

The county legislature's role in the proposal follows New Castle Town Board approval of a special permit for the proposal, which passed in September. Conifer's proposal is called Chappaqua Station and would have 28 apartment units in a 4-story building at 54 Hunts Place.

The committees' approvals came after more than an hour of testimonies that were heard from Chappaqua First Assistant Fire Chief Russell Maitland, New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter and James Burton, who spoke on behalf of Conifer regarding fire safety.

Speaking of firefighting in general, Maitland described how it includes anticipating a worst-case situation, which he called a “doomsday scenario.” He explained that fire safety items, such as building code and a sprinkler system, do not necessarily work, citing human error or bad intention.

Maitland also discussed fire safety challenges that include safety of people, apparatus positioning around a building, clearance for apparatus and water source redundancy.

The assistant chief explained how there is risk involved in any response and that a risk-benefit analysis is worked on. At times he discussed details about response to the Conifer site. The property, which is about a third of an acre, is bounded by train tracks to its east, a Saw Mill River Parkway ramp to its west and a downward slope to its south from the Route 120 bridge. One specific challenge raised was ladder usage for the site on some of its sides.

Burton talked about reliability that is found in a modern sprinkler system, including a measure to thwart tampering. If a sprinkler system does not work, Burton explained that solutions would include putting a building on fire watch with experienced people on patrol, or evacuation until restoration.

Carpenter, in her remarks, expressed deference to the review process, including for a review board that deals with safety. That board, which is called a Board of Review, is a state entity that met last Tuesday to discuss several variances for the proposal, according to New Castle NOW story about its meeting. Norma Drummond, a county planning official, gave a quick recap of that meeting and explained that a decision from the board would be made in January or February.

Before the committees' votes were held, Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, whose district includes New Castle, read items from the New Castle NOW story about the Board of Review's meeting, including feedback from Bill Maskiell, the town's building inspector. He felt that committee voting should not happen until after the board of review's action.

Myers disagreed, feeling that what was heard is local and not something before the board.

Maskiell is urging that the state board denies the variances, according to New Castle Now. Drummond, during the Monday meeting, explained that Conifer would alter the proposal if there is a denial.

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