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New Castle to Propose Affordable Housing Mandate in Two Retail Zones

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New Castle will schedule a public hearing on extending the town’s affordable housing requirement into two commercial zones, an issue that elicited some strong words last week between Councilman Jeremy Saland and the board majority.

Officials are contemplating legislation that would mandate that 10 percent of new residential units developed in the Retail Business (BR) and Retail Business & Parking (BR-P) zones would need to be affordable under the town’s existing ordinance, which covers the town’s multifamily residential zones. The areas that would be affected are the 72 acres in the Chappaqua hamlet that had been under consideration for rezoning for the past two years during the controversial Form-Based Code debate as well as the BR zone in Millwood.

A vote is planned for Tuesday evening’s Town Board meeting to schedule the opening of the hearing for Feb. 15.

Supervisor Lisa Katz said she’s concerned that if the 10 percent affordable requirement isn’t adopted for the two zones, there is no reason for a developer to provide those units.

The mixed-use development at 91 Bedford Rd., which has 14 units on the second and third floors, for example, did not have any affordable units because it wasn’t required.

“No developer is going to come and say, ‘Please let me come in and build affordable units,’ because they don’t make as much money off of them,” Katz said. “I want to make sure we incentivize them to do that, and make sure we require them to build that, which is actually in conformity to what Westchester is asking us to do as well.”

During last week’s board discussion, Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said if the board wants to make the affordable housing a requirement in the BR and BR-P zones, it may also want to consider other zoning revisions in order to make building affordable units financially feasible for developers. Hull said there would still be a first-floor retail requirement, which would likely motivate developers to ask for a fourth story.

While some national outfits might be able to absorb the cost of a 10 percent affordable requirement under current conditions, New Castle applicants have been mostly smaller local developers and it would be challenging for them to create affordable units with the existing parameters.

“If you are anticipating making zoning changes then what I’m saying may not be true, but right now if you want this law, then there will be a period of time until you may make other changes where this law will not achieve an affordable unit, or achieve very little,” Hull said.

Saland, who is the only remaining board member who was in support of the Form Based Code, raised the issue of how Katz and running mates and current board members Tara Kassal, Victoria Tipp and Chris Hildenbrand campaigned on a platform that a 10 percent affordable requirement would be “an immediate fix to create vibrancy and affordability.”

“It strikes me as an odd thing to do and I think it sounds good on paper,” Saland said of simply adding the affordable mandate, “but it will, unfortunately, have the reverse effect, meaning it won’t get the housing because it won’t bring the development.”

Kassal responded that other municipalities with the 10 percent mandate have attracted builders to invest in their communities.

“You see small independent developers as well as national (developers) think we’re a highly desirable town and developers can find ways to make that deal work,” she said.

On a few occasions during the discussion, Saland read Katz’s comments from meetings over the past year, prompting Katz to tersely tell Saland that “you’re trying to make me look bad for some reason.”

Katz said the Form Based Code relinquished local control to developers, but one of the town’s goals, which is to increase affordable units and diversify housing stock, could be achieved by other means.

“I put this (proposed law) forth months and months ago, and it was shot down by the (former) board, despite saying if you don’t want the Form Based Code then you’re a racist,” Katz said. “So now we’re doing something about that and I think it’s very important. It just depends on how we want to do that.”

When Saland continued to press Katz, saying he was trying to hold her accountable for her words, Hildenbrand stepped in, charging Saland with approaching the board meetings as a “gotcha checklist” rather than productive sessions.

He added that the board will examine this proposal and if other changes need to be made to strengthen the legislation, that will be considered.

“In a year’s time there will be plenty of opportunity for you to look back and say this board didn’t live up to what it said,” Hildenbrand said. “But right now, let’s work through the problems, let’s find solutions because everything you’ve done since the election til now has been this is the timeline, we’re going to hold you to it, these are the things you said.”

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