Housing Monitor: Remove No. Castle From Potential Zoning Suit List
The monitor overseeing the affordable housing settlement between Westchester County and the federal government last week recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice drop plans to sue the Town of North Castle for exclusionary zoning.
In a letter last Thursday to U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote, Monitor James Johnson pointed to progress that the town has made in reforming its zoning code.
Johnson highlighted the town’s passage of the model ordinance and expanding areas that permit as-of-right multifamily and mixed-used development. Currently, the town has 25 units of affordable housing that is under construction or has been approved by its boards, including 10 units on Old Route 22 that are nearing completion this summer.
“On account of this progress, the Monitor withdraws the recommendation that the DOJ should consider bringing legal action against North Castle for its zoning,” Johnson wrote in his correspondence to Cote.
Johnson had recommended on Apr. 28 that the Justice Department give serious consideration to suing the seven municipalities if there continued to be an “absence of remediation.” Also listed were Croton-on-Hudson, Harrison, Lewisboro, Pelham Manor, Larchmont and Rye Brook.
North Castle is one of the 31 mostly white communities in Westchester that was included in the 2009 affordable housing settlement between the federal government and the county. Westchester must have building permits for 750 new units of affordable housing by Dec. 31. At the close of 2015, financing was in place for 649 units, 49 more than required, and 588 building permits were obtained, according to the county.
On June 14, North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro met with Johnson’s housing consultant Brian Kintish and his community liaison, Carolyn Stevens, where he provided an update on the progress of the number of units under construction and in various stages of planning and also addressed the environmental and infrastructure limitations.
Much of the town, particularly Armonk and Banksville, are constrained by limited sewage capacity and protected watershed areas.
Schiliro said he had previously met with Johnson prior to the April report and took him on an extensive tour of North Castle to explain the efforts the town has been making and the challenges it faces. In the spring he said he was disappointed by the original recommendation but remained hopeful that with consistent communication Johnson and his team would recognize the strides the town has made.
“I truly feel that the town and this board, a very bipartisan board, has addressed the big issue and embraced it and we have worked to further AFFH (units) in town,” Schiliro said.
The town passed the county’s model ordinance two years ago, where it now requires 10 percent of the units in certain sized projects to be affordable.
County Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant), whose district includes North Castle, said Monday she was pleased to hear of the monitor’s conclusion.
“I’ve found that North Castle has been very forward thinking in introducing the zoning changes and code,” Cunzio said.
In Johnson’s July 7 report, only North Castle and Rye Brook were recommended to have the threat of a lawsuit lifted. The Town of Harrison and the Village of Pelham Manor remain under threat of litigation while Johnson stated that for the other three municipalities any progress was still being considered or that the Department of Justice should still weigh its litigation priorities.
The report was made public last Friday, the same day that Westchester County found itself back before Cote for a hearing in federal district court in Manhattan. The judge ordered the county to hire a consultant within 30 days to help it complete an acceptable Analysis of Impediments (AI) that will outline the obstacles to creating more affordable housing.
Westchester has submitted eight AI reports after the housing settlement went into effect in 2009, but all have been rejected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
While Cote has been tough on the county, Schiliro said that he heard through a second hand source that the judge commended North Castle and Rye Brook during Friday’s hearing for the progress the two municipalities have made to help make affordable housing more achievable in their jurisdictions.
“That’s nice to hear because it’s real,” Schiliro said. “We’re working hard genuinely and we feel we made progress and it was recognized.”
In addition to the 10 units being constructed on Old Route 22, there would also be seven units at Brynwood Golf & Country Club, two on Old Mount Kisco Road built via developer Frank Madonna’s projects and six more on Maple Avenue through Michael Fareri’s plan at the old lumberyard on Bedford Road. However, Fareri was scheduled to return to the North Castle Planning Board Monday night to revise the lumberyard project from 30 market-rate condominium units to an all-affordable housing project containing up to 48 units.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/