Residents overwhelmingly panned the proposed Chappaqua Station affordable housing project at the continuation of a public hearing on Wednesday night arguing that the building would be too large and placed in an inappropriate location.
The New Castle Town Board, which listened to the public’s comments on the 36-unit building planned for a third of an acre at 54 Hunts Place, was also told that issues such as noise generated by nearby Metro-North trains, potential pedestrian dangers, lack of green space and fears that the residents would be stigmatized are reasons to reject the application.
“It’s too big for the lot, it’s too big for the hamlet and I don’t think there’s any way to responsibly squeeze 36 units into this lot the way it exists today,” said Chappaqua resident Matt Egan. “I think any toddler could explain that to you.”
The hour and a half hearing, which also featured a presentation outlining revisions from the applicant, Conifer Realty, a Rochester-based developer of affordable housing, will help the board determine whether to grant the special use permit that is needed to build the project. Design changes include increasing the height to five stories in the middle section of the building, the addition of duplex apartments, incorporating more stone into the facing of the building and using green Hardy siding to help it blend in with the surroundings. The structure would have 27 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom apartments, which would all be rentals.
The hearing was also held just after the planning board and architectural review board issued reports criticizing the proposal. Those reports are expected to be made available to the public but were not discussed at the hearing.
Most of the residents who spoke told the board that the site would be excessively dense. Conifer Realty would need variances from the zoning board of appeals for lack of setback and parking and too much height. On two sides, the building would come up to the property line and be within seven feet of Metro-North property. There would also be 40 on-site parking spaces–one for each ample overnight parking nearby that can be used, the company’s representatives said.
Another drawback is that the building would also be in close proximity to the Saw Mill Parkway.
“Their own documents show you can’t build this without Olympic caliber real estate gymnastics,” said resident Will Wedge. “Conifer’s plans are totally contingent on substantial access and lot expanding easements from the New York State Department of Transportation and on leasing the lot expanding property from Metro-North railroad.”
Wedge and others raised the likelihood that Chappaqua Station would stigmatize residents who live there because the building would be out of character with the area. Instead, affordable housing should be integrated throughout the town.
“It’s not someplace I’d want to live, it’s not someplace I’d want relatives to live,” said 19-year Chappaqua resident Brian Rattner. “I’d really be embarrassed that this is the best we can do because I know we can do better.”
Local resident and architect William Spade informed the town board that two petitions containing more than 600 signatures combined, one on line and another on paper, had been collected opposing the project.
However, not everyone in the crowd at town hall objected to the proposal. Chappaqua resident Steven Goldenberg dismissed the notion that residents would be stigmatized and said that people would criticize an affordable housing project regardless of where it’s proposed.
“There’s no perfect site,” Goldenberg said. “Wherever you’re going to build this project people are going to find legitimate complaints. The question is can you compromise and make it acceptable? What I saw today, it seems to be very acceptable.”
Joan Arnold, executive director of A-Home and Allied Community Enterprises, which restores, builds and manages affordable housing throughout Westchester and is partnering with Conifer Realty, said the applicant has a long and distinguished history in its commitment to quality affordable housing. There is also the possibility that the parcel could be used as a warehouse, storage facility or other industrial facility if Conifer’s plans are rejected.
“This partnership enables A-Home and ACE to address a housing need on a larger scale but it’ll be respectful of the community and have its tenants become active members of the community,” Arnold said.
Conifer Realty was formed in 1975 and has received accolades from community officials from Long Island to the Finger Lakes region, said Andrew Bodewes, a company vice president in charge of the project. He said the project is an opportunity for New Castle to become an affordable housing leader and to help young adults and retirees stay in the area rather than being forced out because of the high cost of housing.
It would also help Westchester toward its goal of developing 750 units of affordable housing to comply with the 2009 settlement with the federal government.
“We’re not talking about providing housing for people who don’t want to take responsibility for themselves or who want to live off the government,” Bodewes said. “We’re talking about providing housing for people who are working hard and need an opportunity to create some stability, want a good place to put their head at night.”
The town board adjourned the hearing until Oct. 23. It is accepting written comments, which can be submitted to Town Clerk Jill Simon Shapiro.
Supervisor Susan Carpenter said the board was not in a position to make an environmental determination regarding the permit. She said information that the town has requested such as a visual impact study and reports on pedestrian safety, soil contamination and remediation and compliance with green building standards has not yet been received.