Here’s Why Soundview/Underhill Development is a Poor Idea

Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

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By Jennie Sunshine

It could be a disaster. That’s the only conclusion I can make after attending the Mar. 8 Planning Board work session called to specifically address the Soundview/Underhill project at Yorktown Town Hall with the Town Board, Conservation Board, Recreation Commission, Heritage Preservation Commission and The Community Housing Board.  Here are three reasons why this development is a poor idea:

  1. Big Eyes Little Tummy: Thirteen acres is too small. It just doesn’t work environmentally and aesthetically to shoehorn 148 apartments, townhomes and commercial space onto this property AND maintain a lovely, “spectacular” gateway into Yorktown at the corner of Route 118 and Underhill Road. In the central portion of the land, where the developer would need to cement over, it presently contains wetlands and in certain seasons, vernal pools. The developers’ engineers implied that these wetlands weren’t always there and might have been created by soil having been previously moved. Well, it doesn’t matter how the water got there. Lots of water and nature have been back there in some form for hundreds of years and no matter what, you’d have to do a great deal of draining, filling, cementing and channeling water out of those low-lying spaces just to be able to build the density that’s been proposed. In addition, when you cut down 500-plus trees and build the many buildings that will surround and dwarf the beautiful Italianate mansion, how beautiful is that mansion going to look when it’s no longer surrounded by mature trees and grass, but by crowded walls, windows and walkways and people, parking lots and garbage bins and cars, trucks and the glare of street lights at night? And where’s all that water going to go?
  2. Magical Thinking: What is the target market for this development? It’s still not clear. Unicorn Contracting doesn’t seem to be interested in affordable housing, young 20-somethings or small families. This will be “market-rate” apartments for rent. (Although it’s not clear if there will be some units available for sale.) And they say it is going to be “senior friendly.” What does that mean? Install grab bars and an elevator and that’s it? Seniors with means want amenities like a gym, a pool, a spa, spacious living quarters, a bus to take them places, services, safety and to live in a walkable, quiet, lovely area. Where’s the space for such luxury? I don’t see it. Instead, I see them staring at impossible Underhill Avenue traffic as they feel landlocked, packed like sardines as they can’t help but hear “Jeopardy” playing on their neighbor’s TV or thumps from an exercising resident above. Will they feel invaded by the public on the overlapping commercial space built in “their” yard or could they be seriously hurt trying to cross busy Route 118 as they attempt to walk to dinner in town? There’s just no way. Case in point: One professional, older couple I know moved from their empty-nest home in northern Westchester into a gorgeous condo in downtown White Plains where they have everything they need and can also walk to the train station if they wish. This is what this demographic wants (or to live on the beach in Florida). My fear is that this behemoth will be built, and the high-paying tenants won’t exist.
  3. The Opportunity Cost: Restoring the mansion is great, but the entire Soundview/Underhill property is the last piece of Yorktown’s founder, Edward B. Underhill’s estate, containing amazing history as it stands today. Sitting fairly untouched for hundreds of years, it holds Native American footprints, possible American Revolution encampments and Underground Railroad connections. To pave it, to change it or to develop lots on it is wrong. If you did, you are removing this history and erasing any chance of doing something with the property that fully supports and celebrates its legacy, the Underhill family and our history. You’d miss the chance for it to continue to be a shining jewel for Yorktown and draw people here to see it, learn about it and enjoy it for what it is – the heart, soul and story of Yorktown.

The developer could build many less apartments and offer no commercial space on this site, or he can choose to cease this project. He can always sell it to another buyer that would be willing to keep everything intact and keen on finding creative and congruent ways of monetizing the mansion and grounds.  Or he can donate the land to Yorktown, the county or the state and take a tax write-off. Afterall, benevolence and philanthropy are two very good words that are often embraced by the best of humans.

Jennie Sunshine is a Yorktown resident.


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