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Opponents Not Pleased with Shorter Conifer Plan

Residents calls for the proposal to be completely scrapped.

The for downtown Chappaqua has not won over opponents of building on the site.

“I think we’re ignoring the elephant in the room and that’s the suitability of the site," said Peter Davidson, who is among a group of residents speaking out against the plan.

Those residents made their continuing opposition known at Tuesday's New Castle Town Board meeting, where officials on behalf of the developer presented the latest iteration of the Chappaqua Station building. Although it has been downsized from five stories to four, it retains 36 units because the building size is now 45 feet longer, explained Gary Warshauer, Conifer's architect.

The new proposal, submitted to the town last week, comes in response to advisory feedback that Conifer received from local boards and from the public.

“Consistent with our commitment to provide a very high-quality product, we heard the comments from the various boards here in the Town of New Castle," said Conifer official Andrew Bodewes. "We appreciate those comments and we’ve worked very hard and diligently to try to those as best we can.”

Bodewes also acknowledged the frequency with which the building's height was .

“We’ve heard that comment consistently," he said.

The new structure, according to Warshauer, will have new architectural elements, such as a stone base at the first floor that's meant to mimic the adjacent Route 120 bridge to the south, bay windows and a peak roof design. The building now has a mass that is broken up, he said. Warshauer also explained an intent to bring “single-family residential scale elements into the architecture of the building.”

Whether or not the building is shorter or has new aesthetics is irrelevant to the opponents, who feel the site is not appropriate at all.

“This is a just a terrible site," Davidson said. He also felt that Conifer had not acknowledged a recent legal opinion by New Castle Town Attorney Clinton Smith, who stated that the project would need variances. The building will also require a special permit approved by the town board, which is reviewing the application.

In an interview, Smith explained that Conifer never said to him that they don't need variances. The zoning chart submitted does not say that Conifer doesn't need to comply, he stated, and that it states they comply with the workforce zone place on the site.

Will Wedge, a second-generation New Castle resident, called the area, which is 0.38 acres, a “wholly inappropriate site and a wholly inappropriate building for the site.”

Wedge also blasted Conifer for its process.

“I think that their process is demeaning to the town, it’s taking up residents’ time and the board’s time for a wholly incomplete submission," he said. "There is nothing in here that is substantially changed since the last time you were in our town with material. You have taken no changes to the volume of the building. It is substantially the same, 36 units.”

At some points, the finances for the project, as well as why Conifer wants 36 units, were discussed.

Councilman John Buckley asked why Conifer continues to propose 36 housing units despite removing a floor, and whether they could change the number.

Responding, Al DelBello, Conifer's attorney, explained that they would lose state funding that has been awarded for the project - it was awarded for 36 - and that the developer would have to go through another funding round.

Theodore Anderson asked about Conifer's financial situation relating to the project, including financial projections, return on investment and income.

“There’s obviously a financial dimension to this, which I don’t think has been disclosed," he said.

Replying, Supervisor Susan Carpenter explained that as a private corporation, Conifer does not have to disclose as much as a government entity. DelBello described such details as being propriety information. However, Westchester County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, who was on hand to give an overall status update about county government, explained that while Conifer's profit is proprietary, the county will have access to some financial information that includes a financial package and a look at the financial viability of the company.

Some residents brought up a recent letter written to Conifer by a federal housing settlement monitor, James Johnson, that raised concerns about the proposal in terms of whether or not it would comply with . They include integration of the housing with other communities, proximity to environmental issues and not to stigmatize residents. Conifer plans to respond to the letter and Johnson gave a deadline of May 13 to do so.

The Chappaqua Station proposal is intended to comply with Westchester County's 2009 settlement with the Anti-Discrimination Center, which requires that 750 affordable housing units be built in mostly white communities. While New Castle is not specifically required to build units, it qualifies as such a municipality.

The new proposal also leaves people remaining skeptical about the safety aspect.

Joan Corwin, head of nearby , feels that a trafic study for the project still does not take into consideration traffic coming off of the nearby Saw Mill River Parkway. She is also concerned that children living in the building would not have enough space to play.

“The children are still going to have to play on the roof," she remarked.

“Clearly, there is obviously concern for children residing in such a dangerous location," said Ed Frank.

Frank also feels that the longer building will pose a greater danger for drivers coming off of the Saw Mill's northbound exit ramp, with a diminished view of vehicles exiting the building's property.

“It goes right to the end," he said of the sightline.

Erik Nicolaysen felt that the longer structure will make it harder for firefighters to respond to fires.

Wally Toscano, an architect and opponent of the project, saw progress with the design changes.

“I think there’s some good things. I think that we’re moving ahead," he said.

Toscano took another opportunity to tout along Washington Avenue and behind town hall, which he presented recently at a town board meeting. He argued that a building with the same length as the new version could be accomodated, and that Conifer could even lower the height to three stories and have surface parking. The proposal now stands at four stories, with the first being used for below-grade parking spaces.

“A deal can be made and we should be talking about making a deal here," he said, noting that the other sites are owned by the town.

“We heard from the public," DelBello said in an interview after the meeting. The comments heard were not new, he explained.

“Same people, same comments, nothing new," he said.

Conifer still has a lot of work to do, based on comments from Supervisor Susan Carpenter. She explained that the application is not considered to be "complete." The board still needs documentation that includes a new application form, a new environmental assessment form and a management plan. Once the application is complete, she explained, there will be “a lot of information that the town will need.”

Carpenter suggested that once the materials are submitted, the developer have a meeting with town staff and consultants to discuss the proposal and look at issues that will need to be addressed. She also mentioned that Town Attorney Clinton Smith recently wrote a letter to Conifer, which recapitulated concerns given to the developer by the Planning Board, Architectural Review Board and Chappaqua Fire Department. Conifer is in the process of responding, explained DelBello.

The fire department and the planning board could review the proposal again, according to Carpenter.

Bassett May 09, 2012 at 07:42 PM
The Conifer people do seem smug. DelBello's comment was certainly smug. It seems as if they feel that this is a done deal. I wonder why they would feel that way.
Will Wedge May 10, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I'd like to clarify what I said during public comments at the May 8 Town Board meeting. I am a 2nd generation New Castle resident, and meant to say that my daughter is 3rd generation. But since I was flabbergasted by the incompetence of Conifer's consultants, I misread my notes.
Reese Jones May 10, 2012 at 02:43 PM
DelBello's confidence comes from his experience as a high-ranking state official and as a prominent attorney. We are told that government funding for the project has been allocated. He knows how municipal governance works. He knows that affordable housing is supported by the town board. He knows that the supervisor adequately understands site plan review and the law since she served on the planning board previously and is an attorney. Until she and the town board share their concerns and opinions with the public, it makes sense for the developer to be confident that housing will be built in that location in spite of the extremely poor site. It makes sense for the developer to characterize the objections of residents, however merited, as the type of same-old Nimby-ism that these developments often provoke. Let's remember that while most of the residents who have spoken at board meetings on this development are very knowledgeable and thoughtful and have given useful suggestions, they will not be deciding whether to allow the development.
Tom Auchterlonie May 10, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Thank you, WIll for letting me know. I updated your description in the story.
Bassett May 11, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Thank you. What you say makes sense.

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