At their Tuesday meeting, New Castle Town Board members expressed open skepticism about parts of Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing plan, a break from a pattern of limited public critique.
Officials made their comments known at a public hearing for Conifer's request to have the board grant a special permit for the 36-unit, 3-to-5-story apartment building proposed at the end of Chappaqua's Hunts Place, which has been kept open since August.
At the meeting, board members expressed concern about traffic safety stemming from a proposed pedestrian walkway from the building to the Route 120 bridge, with vehicle drop offs and jaywalking mentioned in particular.
“I think that's extremely dangerous," Supervisor Susan Carpenter said about such scenarios.
Speaking for Conifer, Richard Pearson of John Meyer Consulting, said that signage could be posted warning people not to make drop offs but the supervisor was skeptical that it would be effective. Carpenter also felt that Conifer should consider a scenario without the pederstrian connection to the bridge. Alfred DelBello, Conifer's attorney, replied that the state's Department of Transportation would be contacted for putting up something to address Carpenter's concerns.
Other concerns stated, raised by at least one board member, included whether it is practical to let municipal parking spots by Allen Place be used as overflow parking for the site, whether a smaller alternative building should be presented for the review process, and whether the project fits in with its surroundings.
“From my point of view, I think there are several potential areas where there would be significant impacts," said Councilman Robin Stout.
Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel said she agreed with Stout's concerns, and said that she is “very concerned about the parking, the aesthetics and certain size" of the building.
Councilmen Jason Chapin and John Buckley gave general concurrences with some or all, respectively, of their colleagues' statements.
On parking, Stout said, “First of all, I don't think it's a practical matter, considering overflow parking on the other side of the bridge,” citing elderly people and those will strollers as examples of folks who may not benefit from it. Stout also felt that there needs to be enough overflow parking on it.
The property, accoring to the town code, has a 52-parking spot minimum requirement, but Conifer is seeking a waiver to only have 40 spaces on site.
DelBello argued that the town has the authority to do so, but some board members felt that parking must be addressed in order for a special permit to be given.
Carpenter said that Conifer should consider submitting an alternative plan that has adequate parking and a smaller building, a scenario that the developer has been wary of. Last May, for example, DelBello said that Conifer would lose state funding that it was granted because the funding only applies to having a 36-unit proposal.
Reached for comment after the meeting on the board's concerns, DelBello said, “I don't think any of that is new. I think they've been saying that right along.”
Pearson, in his rebuttal for the developer, also said that a parking study was done and it was determined that there would be enough municipal spaces for off-site use, with evenings in particular cited.
Board members were met with residents, most of whom have spoken in the past, blasting the proposal again.
Will Wedge argued that Conifer refuse to consider looking at a scenario in which the dead-end strip of Hunts Place, which it wants to add to the parcel for a total of about 0.38 acres, not be factored in. The result, he maintained, would have meant a smaller building.
“So there are multiple instances of refusal on the applicant's part.”
Steve Levine said that if the the town board were to approve the project, “it's totally insane.” He also called the proposed building "way out of proprtion" to its plot.
Ed Frank, addressing the fact that Conifer's plan would count towards Westchester County's 2009 federal settlement to build 750 affordable units over a 7-year period, noted that the man who originally brought the lawsuit that led to the agreement has been quoted as being concerned of the plan's site. Frank cited a Dec. 1 Newsday article quoting Craig Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Center.
"The whole idea is not to have housing that isolates people . . . It's a classic example of how Westchester, throughout this process, has sought to undermine the requirements of the consent decree," Gurian was quoted by Newsday as saying.
Ellen Schlossberg concurred with regards to concern about the use of town parking spots.
“I have never, ever heard of the town giving parking," she said in describing the concept.
Conifer May Face a Lengthy Environmental Review; Board Denies its Request for Hearing Closure
The next major step that appears to be on the horizon is for the town board to make a determination of significance for its environmental review of the plan. The board could issue a positive declaration, which would state that the project could have significant environmental impacts, a negative declaration in which there are none, or a conditional negative declaration, in which such issues could be remedied without a more detailed review.
Board members indicated that they are open to making a positive declaration, which would lead to a longer review. Such a decision would require the applicant to put together an environmental impact statement, have it reviewed in multiple iterations by the town and be subject to public comment. After that, the town board would create a statement of findings, which would contain its view on environmental impacts. Only once the process is complete would the board then vote on the special permit request.
In addition, some board members touched upon the fact that, in order for a special permit to be granted, five criteria must be satisfied under the town's code. Members felt that some issues are still outstanding. Stout, for example, felt the criteria to be addressed include parking and whether the size, intensity and nature of the plan are "in harmony" with what is called by the town code as "the appropriate and orderly development of the district in which located."
The board also denied a request by DelBello to close the hearing for the special permit because Conifer has been asked to respond to items in a Jan. 18 memo prepared by Town Planner Sabrina Charney Hull. The memo includes similar concerns, such as whether using municipal parking spots is viable.
If the board issues a positive declaration - no date for a vote has been scheduled - then it does not appear likely that the hearing would be closed. Generally, Town Attorney Clinton Smith acknowledged, the board has kept public hearings relating to an application open after such a declaration is made and as the environmental review is done.