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Legionaries Developer Alters Plan, Wants Rezoning

New plan calls for 80 housing units on site, mutifamily zoning change.

The developer seeking to overhaul the Legionaries of Christ site in eastern New Castle has altered his plan for the project, boosting the number of housing units coupled with a zoning change request.

According to Town Planner Sabrina Charney Hull, the new plan, which is from Stephen Oder of Soder Real Estate Equities, calls for 80 housing units. Specifically, the mix includes 37 "villa" units of a 3-story structural form, coupled with 43 condos that would be in the area of an existing mansion. It was not clear, based on the town board's discussion of the changes at a Tuesday work sesson, whether those units would be in the mansion itself or in outlying areas that would replace existing wings.

The new proposal for the site, which is more than 90 acres at 773 Armonk Road (Route 128), would not be open to the public, unlike the first proposal, which included a restaurant and spa. 

Additionally, Oder is looking for a zoning change to the site, which would permit a multifamily residential overlay zone.

The site is currently zoned for 2-acre, single-family residenital, although environmental limits such as wetlands mean that the land could only allow for about 10 lots under the current allowable use, Hull explained. A lot of the environmentally sensitive land rests on the southern portion of the site, which Oder plans to leave alone.

The first proposal, which Oder presented to the town board on Sept. 4, called for building 66 condos in detached buildings and having 30 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the mansion, along with the spa and eatery.

Oder has an agreement with the Legionaries of Christ to take over the property if town approval is granted and told the town board of plans to get a business partner involved. The religious order, which has owned the site since 1994, is seeking to sell the property and has been reeling from a sex scandal concerning its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. 

At the meeting, board members deliberated over what to do next, given the fact that the town is about to embark on a master plan update; the last one was done in 1989. Hull advised the board that they could declare a moratorium on considering such requests, tell the developer they will not consider the proposal for now because of the master plan update, simply proceed with review.

“I mean, there's no rule of thumb as to how you should or should not proceed if you're updating your master plan," she said.

Board members opted to continue consideration of the project, although they listed a series of concerns they have, which Hull agreed to place in a draft letter for the developer.

“My feeling is that this property has not been in use for quite some time and i'm open to considering a zoning change, as long as we are thinking about the master plan and we're not creating two separate towns," said Councilman Jason Chapin, on doing a review while balancing it with the master plan update.

One concern has to do with the visual impact of the structures from neighboring roads, including Roseholm and Tripp Street. 

Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel wanted details about the bedroom count for the units, which did not appear to be specified.

Supervisor Susan Carpenter voiced her concerns about septic impact under the previous plan, and suspects her questioning of that issue may have prompted the change to the plan. However, she remains concerned about the plan's suitability for the site.

The developer, meanwhile, is asking that all of the units be market rate; the town code requires that 10 percent be allocated to affordable housing. Hull said the applicant's feeling is that the restriction would not apply to an overlay zone, which can be grafted onto the existing zone without displacing it as a permitted use.

“That isn't optional," Carpenter said.

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