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Density, Historical Status Linger with Underhill Farm Project
The size of a proposed mixed-use project on Underhill Ave. and the historical nature of the property continue to be debated during the review process.
During a Yorktown Planning Board-led joint meeting last week at Town Hall, representatives from various town committees expressed concerns about a variety of aspects surrounding Underhill Farm.
Underhill Farm is planned on the former Soundview Preparatory School 13.8-acre site. Unicorn Contracting is proposing 148 residential units (64 one, two and three-bedroom apartments, 52 three and four-bedroom townhouses and 32 one and two-bedroom condominiums), 11,000 square feet of commercial space and an adaptive reuse of the property’s historic mansion.
As part of the $60 million project, the historic Underhill House is slated to be transformed into a community resource and gathering spot. In addition, the pond will be completely restored with a $150,000 investment and complemented by walking trails, sitting areas and a new pedestrian gateway at the estate’s original entrance at the intersection of Rte. 118 and Underhill Ave. Approximately $1.5 million in traffic improvements are also being offered.
“We truly believe everyone in this room wants what is best for the town,” Planning Board Chairman Richard Fon said. “We’re basically doing our homework.”
Heritage Preservation Commission Chairperson Lynn Briggs remarked “the elephant in the room is density” and implored the Planning Board not to “destroy” the town’s storied history on the site, which she emphasized is eligible for state and national registry of historic places designation.
“Protecting the historical features of the Underhill Farm has been ignored and severely compromised,” Briggs asserted. “It’s a visual and esthetic treasure to residents and visitors alike.”
In late February, the Town Board passed a resolution authorizing a cultural review of the property at the expense of Unicorn. Town Planner John Tegeder said a historical report was also expected to be completed in about two weeks.
Briggs mentioned it was still unknown if the property had any connection to the Underground Railroad.
Ken Belfer, chairman of the Community Housing Board, said while the project is slated to provide a diversity of housing, he emphasized at least 10 percent of the units should be set aside as affordable housing.
“Yes, there’s a need for senior housing in town, but there’s also a need for housing for families, young people and people looking to downsize,” he said. “Less expensive housing is what the majority of people can afford.”
Recreation Commission Vice Chairman Patrick Cumiskey said if 148 housing units are constructed, the commission is looking forward to $592,000 in recreation fees that can be utilized to repair town parks and facilities.
However, Mark Blanchard, an attorney for Unicorn, said his client was intending to provide park access to town residents around the pond on the site in lieu of paying the recreation fees.
Blanchard also addressed Unicorn being “sensitive of being a gateway to the downtown,” saying, “We are not changing the character (of the property). We are fitting in with existing density.”
Minnie Dineen-Carey of the Conservation Board expressed concerns about the 520 trees that are planned to be removed, along with wetlands on the site, an issue Planning Board member Aaron Bock also expressed following a recent visit by the board.
“There is a lot of water there and it has to be handled right,” Bock said. “This is an issue our expert will have to come in on and help to resolve.”
Unicorn submitted a long Environmental Assessment Form in January, along with a traffic study and historical resources study.
Fon said he is confident in the plans to improve the nearby intersection.
“That intersection is God-awful,” he said. “We want to make sure whatever is done at that intersection works. If traffic doesn’t work, it’s (the project) dead in the water.”
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/