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Questions Over Viability of New Castle Affordable Housing Legislation

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New Castle officials’ consideration of a 10 percent affordable housing requirement in two downtown commercial zones generated both support and skepticism during the opening of a public hearing last week.

The Town Board has proposed including the requirement for projects that include residential units in the Retail Business (B-R) and Retail Business & Parking (B-RP) zones in Chappaqua and Millwood. One affordable unit would need to be provided for any project with more than five apartments, the same requirement that’s currently in place for residential zones.

Board members and residents who favored the legislation said at the Feb. 15 hearing that it would force developers who want to build units in those zones to contribute toward the goal of increasing the town’s affordable housing stock. There had been multiple references during last year’s Form Based Code discussion and again this year about how two developments, including the mixed-use project at 91 Bedford Rd. in Chappaqua, had no requirement to include any affordable units.

“To me, it’s whether the town wants to send a message that this is something we value or whether we want to send a message that this is something we don’t value,” said Supervisor Lisa Katz, “and I certainly value ensuring that this is in our zoning code so if someone does want to put up a multifamily building that is more than five units that we would require that at least one of those units, and 10 percent if it’s more than 10, meets those affordability requirements.”

However, those opposed to the measure said it would be largely ineffective unless other zoning changes are enacted in tandem with the affordable requirement. Currently, the B-R and B-RP zones, which are part of the 72-acre study area that was included in the Form Based Code, require ground-floor retail and a maximum of three stories, which detractors argue would fail to incentivize any downtown development.

During last year’s Form Based Code debate, there was a strong desire among community members to limit building height.
Councilman Jeremy Saland said the requirement could even serve as an impediment if the 10 percent obligation is adopted.

“I don’t believe from a practical standpoint based on what we are facing in the community in terms of the lack of the ability to have underground parking, the issue over height, that the 10 percent will ever be realized and it may be a hinderance to the development that we want to see,” he said.

Last month, town Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull told the Town Board that it is unlikely the 10 percent requirement would spur much development without addressing the other restrictions. Otherwise, it would not be financially feasible for smaller local property owners in New Castle to redevelop with the additional requirement.

Katz said the motivation for the legislation is not necessarily to spur development but to make a commitment to affordable housing.

Councilwoman Victoria Tipp added that there are places where allowing a fourth story would be appropriate to help a developer with a plan but that has to be part of a broader discussion.

During the hearing, resident and former councilwoman Lori Morton, a supporter of the ill-fated proposed Form Based Code, said she applauded the board for trying to add greater housing diversity in the hamlet, but if the affordable housing requirement is in isolation without other changes, it would create little positive change.

She asked the board to table the legislation until there is a broader comprehensive zoning plan for the hamlet and to resist the “symbolic gesture” of enacting the law.

“I don’t see how you can ask the community to support these detrimental zoning changes without doing anything about the zoning changes planned to mitigate the handicap,” Morton said.

But resident Ed Frank said it would be a mistake to disregard the legislation. The town with its 10 percent ordinance is doing better than many other municipalities and adding the requirement to the two zones would enhance it further, he said.

“The affordable housing would be diminished if this legislation isn’t considered,” Frank said. “There’s no reason not to.”
Last Tuesday, the Planning Board during its meeting also entertained discussion on the concept of the requirement. Last May, it sent a letter to the Town Board generally supporting the idea. Planning Board members said they want to speak to the elected officials at the joint meeting scheduled for Mar. 1.

“I don’t think it does any harm but I don’t think it does much good either,” said Planning Board member Eldad Gothelf. “I would love some data as to what the thinking is and what this will actually produce.”

Another Planning Board member, Richard Brownell, said it could be part of a set of “baby steps” to help the hamlet.
The Town Board adjourned the public hearing until its Mar. 8 meeting.

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