Conifer brings Hunts Place project back to Architectural Review Board
ARB members seated; Schoch, Warshauer and Bodewes (L. to R.) are standing
August 17, 2012
by Christine Yeres
Conifer returned to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) Wednesday night to present the four-story version of Chappaqua Station, its proposed apartment building of 36 affordable units at Hunts Place.
Conifer Project Director Andy Bodewes and local architect Gary Warshauer, along with Steve Schoch, a second architect brought in by Conifer to assist in altering Warshauer’s original five-story version, asked ARB members for feedback on how to move forward with the project.
New Castle’s Town Planner, Sabrina Charney-Hull, explained that although Conifer would return on September 10 for a joint meeting with the Planning Board and the ARB after some “tweaking of the design” and present a more complete package as well as a visual impact analysis, “any comments would be helpful to see if they’re going down the right track.”
“The biggest question,” said ARB member Terrence Dunn after the Conifer team had reviewed the project, “is ‘Why here’? I just don’t understand how this site between a railroad track and a highway could ever be viable. Is this the only site you believe is viable? It’s just such a poor site.”
“From an architect’s standpoint,” Warshauer responded, “transit-oriented development is in transitional locations and as you go along train lines in urban areas it’s not unsual to see construction over train lines.”
“In denser areas,” returned Dunn, “but this isn’t a dense area.”
“We may be able to increase the roof terraces a little bit as we look at some options,” said Warshauer, “but you’re looking at utilizing the the fabric of the community, its downtown spaces.”
“I understand that,” said Dunn. “I’m just looking at the site—it is what it is.”
“But you’re in the downtown,” Warshauer repeated.
“But you’re within inches of the train that runs every 15 minutes until 2:00 a.m. and on the other side you have the highway,” said Dunn. “It’s just not the most . . . propitious.”
“It seems inhumane,” added Board member Anne Hasegawa.
“There is noise,” acknowledged Schoch, “but often transit-oriented development is this close. There are these kinds of sites and there are architectural ways of dealing with this kind of distraction and mitigate the sound. Very often in transit-oriented development you do wrestle with these kinds of things. I know you don’t have this kind of thing [in town], but Andy [Bodewes] will talk to you about how the town [board] said this is the site for affordable housing.”
“When the town board affirmatively moved to change the zoning,” Bodewes explained, “they said that.”
“That’s your interpretation,” responded ARB member Robert Schenkel.
“The PB reviewed that lot with this site in mind and unanimously recommended that the workforce zoning law be passed and that’s why we’re on this site,” replied Bodewes.
Addressing ARB members, the town’s building inspector Bill Maskiell added that the zoning was changed not only within a 500-foot radius of the train station, but also within a 1,500-foot radius. “I just don’t want [the ARB] to think that [Hunts Place] was the only place” the zoning change captured.
“The zoning was passed for this site,” Bodewes responded, “and I have the [town board] minutes to show that.”
[Editor’s Note: Bodewes believes that the Town Board has the authority—and an obligation—to grant the Special Use permit for workforce housing at Hunts Place without Conifer having to procure variances from the Zoning Board for the underlying Industrial zone setback and bulk requirements. On this point, the Town Board seems to disagree. As reported in NewCastleNOW.org on March 30, 2012, although the Town Board solicited advice from the Planning Board on Conifer’s Hunts Place project, Conifer would need variances from the Zoning Board to construct Chappaqua Station.]
“This is really the gateway to the community,” said Schenkel, “and you’re putting the biggest, most massive building there. If anything, this version is less successful. The flat panels [of the horizontal Hardy Plank boards] are even more commercial, low-end hotel-looking. This is the first thing people see. From an architectural standpoint, I find it highly inappropriate.”
“If we use different materials?” asked Warshauer.
“It just looks institutional,” said Hasegawa.
“It’s a commercial institution that’s gigantic, far bigger than anything in the community,” said Schenkel. “I don’t know if it’s possible to break down the mass.”
“i know it’s going to screw with your layouts on the inside [of the building] as you start working with the mass,” added Dunn, “but there’s no relief from that mass. Even if you look at the overlay of the site plan, there’s nothing close to this that has that mass in Chappaqua—especially in the downtown.”
“The articulation of the walls and the extrusions on the top of the building [the towers on the front entrance] are a little disturbing,” said Schenkel. “I’d rather have them lopped off and dropped down to decrease the mass.”
“So remove the tops?” asked Warshauer.
“It is an apartment building—it’s not a house,” said Schoch, “so trying to apply a residential language to something that’s larger is difficult and sometimes doesn’t come off well. Should we look to other large buildings in the area or to the language of nearby houses and apply it to this?”
“We’re not necessarily asking you to approximate a series of townhouses,” said Dunn. “The typology of the housing is a block and how do you break it down to make it to the scale of the neighborhood?”
“But wouldn’t you have to integrate some of those [house] elements to make it look less institutional?” Hasegawa asked Dunn.
“That it’s so visible and a gateway makes it complicated, but four-story townhouses, a series of them—there are plenty that have been done nicely,” said Schenkel. “It’s more challenge on the interior,” he said to Schoch, “I understand. You’re trying to design an efficient box, because it’s affordable housing. But it doesn’t work so well in this site.”
“Let me ask a broad question,” said Dunn. “I’ve been in the business for 26 years, and I never go in with one design, but with three. I’m curious as to why . . .”
“Through our architectural process with our client we did suggest a lot of different things and then came up with a concept,” Warshauer explained. “And we’re in the process of coming up with modifications based on some things we’ve said initially. We have some other ideas, but we wanted to hear from you—you are the architectural stewards of Chappaqua and we wanted to hear from you and come back.”
“Unfortuantely,” said Charney-Hull to ARB members, “this isn’t a normal process. Because of the [state environmental quality review requirements of the] special permit before town board, you have a 45-day window in which to give your comments.”
“So I have another 45 days to move my family out of town before this goes up,” said Dunn. [** see Note below] “I’m being as blunt as I can because with this kind of design there’s going to be an uproar. And it’s going to cost you money to improve it. I don’t know what your ROI [return on investment] is, but is but it’s going to cost you money as you try to break up that mass.”
“We really like the candor of the board,” said Schoch. “We’d like it better if it were favorable, but, if not, we’d rather have this kind of discussion. But the building is 36 units and the site is what it is.”
“There’s not a lot of room to push in and out without losing things like bedrooms and units,” said Schoch. “It’s a 36-unit building with a certain volume. We’ve pushed it down [from five stories to four] and that pushed it out. It’s like a balloon. Squeeze it here, it comes out there. In a double-loaded corridor apartment building there’s not a lot of room to push in and out. We worked hard to get some relief with the bay windows, but to go further than that—to make a truly substantial depression you will lose fundamental program space.”
“Could you vary the one and two bedroom units going down the hallway, and get some shadow?” asked Schenkel
“We did do some of that,” said Schoch. “We got two feet of relief by bringing the main wall back and the bay windows out.”
“It can’t look like a hotel,” said Hasegawa. “People cannot go over the bridge and see a Marriott Courtyard.”
“It looks like a roadside hotel,” said Schenkel. “There are some old, massive inns that are quirky and those doesn’t look so massive. You’ve got to find some architectural techniques and materials. It’s not a hotel. It’s the gateway to a very nice community.”
There are some examples, said Schenkel, in Hartsdale and Scarsdale, “that are more high-end than you can afford,” but the Avalon in Bronxville is not so expensive and it’s a good formula. It’s been done before and it doesn’t look so institutional. Morristown and Trenton, in New Jersey, have done big stuff more successfully.”
“This site is horrible,” said ARB Chairman Lonnie Goodman.
“It’s a terrible site,” said Schenkel.
“Look at some of the development in Chappaqua,” said Dunn. “The newer brick buildings on the street where the hardware store is. That design moves in and out, but with some elements [consistent] across the entire location. It works.”
“Sometimes instead of trying to have people not notice you,” said Schenkel, “you should do something nice [that’s noticeable].”
NCNOW asked whether Conifer’s team, which has been working with the federal monitor James E. Johnson to improve the design of Chappaqua Station, had any results yet to show the ARB.
Bodewes responded that Conifer’s plan was to take the advice just received from the ARB, the ideas worked on with the monitor, incorporate both into the building plans and “come up with something on September 10 [date of the joint meeting between Planning Board and ARB]—a package that will [respond to all of the flaws that have been pointed out].
“We understand,” said Bodewes, “that it’s a tough site, but we’ve done this before. We have a track record of successful developments since 1975. We’re in it for the long haul. In the end, it will be a very nice product that we’ll own and manage. We want to work with everyone here and with the town the best we can.”
The public hearing on Conifer’s proposed “Chappaqua Station” project opened on August 7, 2012—click HERE for NCNOW’s report of it—and continues on Wednesday, September 19, at 9:00 p.m. at town hall.
[** Editor’s Note: When this article was published Friday, August 17, this quote was without attribution. We’ve since added “said Dunn.” ~ CY]
Related: Town Board opens public hearing on Conifer’s Hunts Place proposal for affordable housing, NCNOW.org 8/14/12
The Architectural Review Board’s memo on proposed Hunts Place apartment building, NCNOW.org, 4/13/12
Town board makes itself lead agency on Conifer’s Hunts Place project, NCNOW.org, 3/3012—with an explanation of the roles of town board, planning board, zoning board, and architectural review board in the review process.