County Legislators Reject Conifer Proposal's Financing

Conifer Realty was dealt a setback Monday night when the Westchester County Board of Legislators narrowly rejected a series of measures, including financing, for its Chappaqua Station affordable housing plan.

Legislators rejected four related measures by an 8-9 vote. Two of the measures were bond acts, including $1,275,000 for county acquisition of the project's site and $1,550,000 for what are called construction improvements.

The other defeated measures were for the county to acquire and convey the property, which is at 54 Hunts Place and about 0.34 acres, and for the county to enter into an agreement with the Town of New Castle to fund "public improvements" related to the plan.

Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, whose district includes New Castle, voted against the measures, citing a desire to have more time due to a review by a state group that deals with safety. His remarks were a reference to the state's Board of Review, which according to a recent New Castle NOW story, will make a decision in January or February on several variances for the proposal.

Kaplowitz also cited the change in New Castle Town Board members that will come in January. Then, Rob Greenstein will become the new supervisor, while Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky will hold two council seats.

Other legislators who voted against the measures cited safety as their concerns and wanted more time, along with concern a per-unit cost of more than $500,000, although it was noted that the amount is the total price rather than the amount for the county.

One of those was Legislator Gordon Burrows, who was not ruling out a voting in favor at a later time, also expressed concern about safety and about the price

Legislator Catherine Borgia, who was among those who voted in favor, was sympathetic about concern raised but felt that it was not the responsibility of the board. Instead, she deferred to New Castle and the state.

The legislators who voted in favor were Chairman Kenneth Jenkins; Vice Chairman Lyndon Williams; Majority Leader Peter Harckham; Borgia; Judith Myers; Mary Jane Shimsky; Alfreda Williams and William Ryan. Those who voted against the measures were Michael Smith; John Testa; Kaplowitz; Gordon Burrows; David Gelfarb; Virginia Perez; Sheila Marcotte; Bernice Spreckman and Minority Leader James Maisano. Each of those who voted in favor are Democrats, while those who voted against included seven Republicans and two Democrats.

Conifer's proposal involves a 28-unit, 4-story apartment building. The developer received special permit approval from the New Castle Town Board in September. The proposal has had some opposition from residents who have been concerned due to the site, which is near Metro-North train tracks and the Saw Mill River Parkway.

The price of the land will rise on Jan. 1 due to expiration of the developer's option needed for purchasing it, according to remarks recorded in a video of a legislative committee meeting on Dec. 4. 

Lyndon Williams was sympathetic with concern expressed about the proposal - he called it "legitimate" - but he felt the matter was for the local level, including for the building department. Williams, in justifying his vote in favor, noted the overall goal of affordable housing.

Harckham, who has about 13 years of experience dealing with affordable housing, felt that the concern about safety for affordable housing was not new. He suggested a double standard in place, however, noting a dearth of concern about proposals from Trump or Cappelli. The majority leader also expressed confidence in the fire safety measures that would be included in Conifer's proposal.

Jenkins, who alluded to the fact that the legislation was sent to the body by County Executive Rob Astorino's administration, felt it would be a "travesty" for affordable housing if there was consideration of not supporting.

Greenstein, speaking after the vote, felt there was concern from the legislators about safety.

Bill Spade, who is part of the opposition group Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing, was satisfied with the outcome but he hopes that another rejection is made if funding is voted on again. He also remains concerned about safety.

Greenstein, who assumes office on Jan. 1, wants the new town board to do a feasibility study for a site that has been mentioned previously as a suggested alternative. That site, which is located by New Castle Town Hall and borders Washington Avenue, was proposed by local architect Wallace Toscano.

Andrew Bodewes, a principal with Conifer, did not want to comment.

(This story was originally posted on Dec. 17, 2013 and updated on Dec. 18, 2013)


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