Members of New Castle's Planning Board continued to have concerns about Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing complex.
The board got an update from the developer at a Tuesday work session, meeting for the first time since Conifer's 36-unit apartment proposal
The board received a referral from the town board after it voted earlier this month, for a second time, to declare itself the lead agency for the plan's environmental review. Its role is to listen to the devleoper, critque and give an advisory opinion to the town board, which will decide whether to approve a special permit necessary for the proposal.
Among the outstanding concerns is safety and its logistics. The board previously raised the issue in March, citing firematics, ambulance movement and possible use of the Saw Mill River Parkway's exist ramp to the west.
Conifer architect Gary Warshauer, recapping his dialogue with the Chappaqua Fire Department from earlier this year, explained that the plan for the ramp would be to close it off while firefighters would use it.
“In the event of an emergency situation," he added.
Skeptical, board member Gerard Curran replied, “And that doesn’t happen very quickly.”
Curran, who is also a Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps member, also wanted more specifics for responsbility of the area. The Saw Mill is administered by Westchester County police, while the fire department only has a firematic role, he explained.
Board Chair Richard Brownell asked for there to be an agreement in place for closing off the Saw Mill section, worrying about the length of time to do it.
“So I think that’s a flaw, if that’s where you’re going."
Board member Sheila Crespi noted that vehicles can come down the ramp at high speeds, such as 40-50 miles per hour. Diego Villareale, a consultant for Conifer, said that they will recomend to the town that they request installation for a speed limit sign for the ramp. The state's Department of Transportation (DOT) has the authority to add it.
Conifer attorney Al DelBello stated that there will be another meeting with the fire department and that they will get their input.
Brownell was also concerned about the lack of outdoor play space, after learning that such an area will be inside.
“Yeah, there are spaces but they’re not outdoors and it’ll be like a prison.”
DelBello replied that the site, which is located at the end of Hunts Place, is close to a town playground and other amenities.
“It’s a very attractive location for those reasons.”
“It is, but children will be children,” replied Brownell, adding that there will be a point when they want to play on their own.
Brownell also brought up safety for a proposed bus stop for the area, noting that people often run a nearby stop sign, with some a high speeds. Conifer officials repleid that they can evaluate that.
Perhaps the most openly skeptical of the proposal is board member Tom Curley, who joined after his colleagues held their advisory meetings for the 5-story version. Referencing that James Johnson, federal monitor overseeing Westchester County's affordable housing settlement wrote about the plan, Curley stated that he hasn't “heard anything that discounts his concerns of corrects any of his concerns.”
Curley repeated criteria raised in the past by the monitor for suitable housing, including that it not be isolated from the community and not be in places with certain industrial uses. He noted its proximity to operations such as the town's recycling center and Chappaqua Transportion, and the site is close to truck movements from nearby uses.
“Even though this building may be in a residential zone, maybe, doesn’t mean it’s a residential site.”
DelBello, in his rebuttal, argued that the town has supported the idea of using the site for housing, including a letter of support he got from the town board. In an interview, he clarified that then-Supervisor Barbara Gerrard, in January 2011, wrote a letter in Conifer's favor as it sought state funding, which it obtained.
“It’s not our site, it’s a town site," he replied to Curley. He also noted that the proposal is called a transit oriented development, which take advantage of the adjacent railroad, and cited examples of upscale projects of its nature in southern Westchester County.
“So, to say that this is an industrial zone, although it’s zoned I-G, I don’t think it’s really in an industrial zone," he replied.
Curley suggested that maybe it's the wrong site.
“I just don’t think it’s a residential site," he said.
Evalauting whether the site, in general, is suitable for residential use is a point raised by local opposition to the property, along with safety for prospective residents and aesthetic concerns about its large size
Brownell felt that the 4-story version, which includes bay windows, stone base and is intended to have a residential scale, is an improvement.
“The building looks better," he said.
The new building has an average roof height of about 49 feet, versus 59 for the 5-story version, accordng to Warshauer.
“It struck me almost like a prison the way before,” Brownell said. He added that he would like to see the building lose more of its bulk.
In an interview, DelBello did not rule out the possibility of slimming down the building further, but explained that the 36-unit count is important to Conifer for reasons of economics and because it would have to restart its funding round again. On the aesthetic front, the developer now has a second architect, Steve Schoch, to work with Warshauer.
The property is proposed to be 0.38 acres in size. The building would require easements from the DOT and a lease from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for maintenance, as the structure is in the area of the site's edge.
Going forward, Conifer will have a meeting with the monitor, while the Planning Board and the Architectural Review Board will have a joint meeting on Sept. 10 to discuss the proposal again.
Meanwhile, the town board has scheduled an Aug. 7 public hearing for the proposal. Susan Carpenter explained that the board won't have any important materials in by that time. However, the hearing is required in order to comply with state law requiring that it start within a certain period of time.