The Examiner

Judge Rejects Conifer’s Chappaqua Affordable Housing Permit Suit

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A state Supreme Court justice on Wednesday rejected Conifer Realty’s injunction request against the Town of New Castle to prevent enforcement of the special permit’s 18-month deadline to complete construction of the Chappaqua affordable housing project.

Representatives of Conifer, which has proposed building 28 affordable units on about one-third of an acre at 54 Hunts Place, went to court in February arguing that  the town code allows the permit to be in effect for 25 years to complete a workforce housing project without applying for and obtaining an extension. The special permit was granted for the project by the town board on Sept, 10, 2013, and expired in March.

Conifer had argued that because there had been significant opposition to the project by some of the town’s residents there could be motivation for the town board to reject granting an extension.

Calling the developer’s interpretation of the code “absurd,” state Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood sided with the town by ruling that Conifer erroneously applied a section of the code that allows for a specific use to be in effect for 25 years once construction is complete and a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued.

“Moreover, the Town’s interpretation of the Town Code is rational and reasonable,” Wood’s decision stated. “A 25-year time period would enable Conifer to move at a snail’s pace for two and a half decades from date of its special permit before the Town could assert its right, and would very likely eviscerate aspects of the legitimate zoning and planning goals of the town. Conifer’s interpretation defies common sense and the plain meaning of the Town Code.”

Randolph McLaughlin, an attorney for Conifer, said that the developer filed a notice of appeal on Thursday and has notified the town’s attorney of a formal request to extend the special use permit.

“We are confident that the request will be granted in light of Building Inspector (William) Maskiell’s recommendation to the board in February 2015 that an extension should be granted,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

Edward Phillips, one of the town’s attorney, characterized special permit extensions as routine, particularly for a complicated application such as this. Phillips said officials had felt secure that their interpretation of the code was accurate.

Phillips, who concurred with McLaughlin that Maskiell had recommended an extension be granted, said the town was secure in its reading of the code.

“I think that our confidence in the interpretation of the code wasn’t just my confidence but also the confidence stated by the court and the judge,” he said.

The controversial application has generated intense debate over whether the site is appropriate for housing and would be safe for its residents. The parcel is wedged between the Saw Mill Parkway and the Metro-North train tracks. The building would be constructed with virtually no setback from the property lines.

Last fall, the county Board of Legislators approved funding for the project to have the 28 units count toward the 750 new units of affordable housing that Westchester must build by the end of next year to comply with the 2009 housing settlement with the federal government.

Earlier this year, Conifer was granted the necessary fire code variances by the state Board of Review. Most recently, it has been working with Metro-North to receive the necessary permission for the project to encroach on the railroad’s property.



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