Explaining My Request for Recusal on Chappaqua’s Form-Based Code

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At the Aug. 30 New Castle Town Board meeting, I asked Councilwoman Lauren Levin to please recuse herself from further discussion and decision-making on the Chappaqua Form-Based Code. Several neighbors have since asked me why she should recuse herself, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain.

Councilwoman Levin owns an investment property in the 149 King St. townhomes. Under the first draft of the Form-Based Code, before she joined the Town Board, her investment townhome was slated to be blighted by a 50-plus-foot-tall building wall on the northerly property line, located about five feet from its rear deck and 15 feet from its dining room and master bedroom windows. This would have boxed it in, blocking its access to sunlight, diminishing its value considerably.

Decisions on the Form-Based Code by the Town Board majority (Jeremy Saland, Lori Morton and Levin) have now become very site-specific and very detailed, with these decisions now impacting different properties within and near the proposed Form-Based Code district intimately and in highly differentiated ways. There’s now the suggestion of perhaps limiting zoning changes to the so-called North Greeley Avenue corridor, which would directly blight some townhomes within the 149 King St. complex but not others. Crucially, this change means that Councilwoman Levin’s investment property is no longer one of the townhomes that will be blighted.

The relevant authorities make clear that the actions of legislators must be above reproach, in both facts and in appearance. My neighbors are wondering why the Town Board majority thinks that it’s OK for their townhomes to be blighted by this action, but not for the similarly situated townhome owned by Councilwoman Levin. She stated, in the weeks before removing the possibility of her investment property being blighted, “the new development is directly behind those homes and I can see how that would certainly decrease the quality of life.”

Our town planner, Sabrina Charney Hull, has previously explained: “If you put up a building, it’s going to impact your neighbors.” All my neighbors wish they could control the decisions affecting whether or not their townhome will be blighted, but only Councilwoman Levin has that control.

This interest is substantial and direct, and the facts are quite different than they were before the decisions were made that spare her investment property.

It is critical that the public have full confidence that decisions about the future of our community are being made solely in the public interest, and an appearance of favored treatment, even if a legislator tells the public that their intent is solid gold, calls into question the integrity of the entire decision-making process. 

Therefore, I have requested that Councilwoman Levin please recuse herself from further discussion and decision-making on the Form-Based Code. This is not in any way personal, it’s about good public policy.  In our town, there is direct precedent for board members recusing themselves over interests that are much less direct. I am hoping that good sense will prevail.

Scott Le Vine

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