L to Ed: Our Legislature should support local control of zoning, vote no on Conifer funding
December 13, 2013
Written by Rob Greenstein with William R. Spade, Architect - AIA, Co-founder of Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing
In early January of this year, Rob Astorino came to New Castle Town Hall on for his “Ask Astorino” session. I asked him “What is your opinion of the affordable housing proposal at Hunts Place?” “What do you think of that location?” Astorino responded: “One of the biggest things I’m fighting for is local control,” he said.
Astorino continued: “I want to make sure local zoning keeps being done by local government. It is their process. The county won’t jam anything down anyone’s throats.” http://chappaqua.dailyvoice.com/politics/astorino-talks-funds-affordable-housing-new-castle
On Wednesday, December 4th, members of the General Operations and Budget and Appropriations Committees decided to wait for the decision of the New York State variance hearing. That decision will be issued in February. In light of the serious public health issues raised in this hearing and lack of local consensus, we would respectfully request that your respective committees do the same. Please email your Westchester County legislators—their email addresses are below—and ask them not to jam this project down New Castle’s throat, ignoring the health and safety issues that have been raised by the local officials and residents.
Last year, Legislator Peter Harckham moderated a two-hour forum on Westchester’s federal housing settlement. He stated “I have always maintained that creating affordable housing is good public policy. However, it is critical to forge local consensus in order to be successful in this process.”
There is anything but local consensus for this project.
At the New York State Variance Hearing held on December 10, Chappaqua Assistant Chief Russell Maitland stated that his sole responsibility is ensuring that the residents are protected, and the safety of his firefighters. He operates on a risk/benefit analysis. His concerns are access to site. If there is a car accident, tree down, flooding, spill, etc., and we had several incidents just last year during Sandy, there will be a delay. People die from smoke more than fire, time is of the essence. If there is a problem with the railroad tracks, i.e. a train fire, the occupants are at risk because the building has an unprotected wood frame exterior bottom line. He mentioned that the fire department will respond to anything that is built, and acknowledged that there is an inherent danger in firefighting, but questioned whether this site would make their job even more dangerous.
New Castle Building Inspector Bill Maskiell stated the staging area on top of the building appears to follow/comply with code, but it actually doesn’t. Portions of the building exceed thirty feet in height. It is essentially a fifty foot tall building. There is a twenty-foot wide deck at the 2nd story at the north end of the building, the primary fire access staging area for an aerial ladder truck. To clear the deck, the aerial ladder truck would need to be parked so far from the building that the ladder would not reach the roof of the bldg. All of the access staging areas submitted do not comply with code. Access on Hunts Place: the applicant took measurements at a twenty-foot width, as opposed to the code-required twenty-six-foot width. On the Metro North side, the building is seventeen feet from the tracks, and when a train is on the tracks it is fifteen feet from the train. A track fire would affect the building. The building would be two stories higher than the bridge, two or three from the bridge and ten feet closer to the tracks with the proposed “buttresses”. He summarized his testimony by saying, the fire department has a lot on their plate, will enter no matter what, but that doesn’t mean it is right. There is no reason to put this building up, not for financial gain. There is no altruism here. This is done for financial gain. Please deny the variances. The building is not up yet, there is no reason to allow it. This is beyond what this board should do.
Supervisor-elect Rob Greenstein pointed out that local schools were closed for the safety of the children, out of an abundance of caution, which is what we should be concerned about. The site is not suitable for human habitation—bridge, highway, RR, not one blade of grass, and no bus stop. There should not be a lower standard of living for the people who are to live there. There certainly shouldn’t be a lower standard for the firefighters. We have no agenda. Our #1 concern is the safety of the people and our volunteer firefighters.
Al Longhitano, a resident, ex-chief of Chappaqua Fire Department and consulting engineer specializing in fire protection, opposed granting a variance to building code requirements calling for a fire rated wall with no windows on the shared property line with the railroad tracks, acknowledging that failure to grant such a variance would result in apartments without windows along the east side of the building. He pointed out that the only things separating the tenants from a track fire in the applicant’s plan are 1/8 inch glass windows and a wood frame wall on the three upper floors, jeopardizing the lives of tenants on 2nd, 3rd, 4th floors. He didn’t see justification for granting a variance that would expose the residents to that kind of fire exposure. Trains are sometimes pulled by diesel locomotives that carry fuel on the tracks, there is hydraulic oil from railcars, could produce an intense exposure fire. These are factors certainly jeopardizing life and property. He opposed a variance regarding fire apparatus staging areas pointing out that two of the three staging areas identified by the applicant would not allow aerial ladder apparatus to gain access to the apartment windows on the east or west sides of the building for rescue operations. The third staging area would give access to part of the west side only. He asked how would ladders get to windows on the other side of the bldg? If tenants were trapped in their apartments by a fire in the hallway, how do you get them out without access to their apartment windows?
Bill Spade, resident and licensed architect and co-founder of Chappaqua for Responsible for Affordable Housing, stated that this proposed building is an overdevelopment of an industrially zoned lot. The only way to have a building on the site is with the parking underneath. He pointed out that this exit ramp for the Saw Mill is 240 feet in length, as opposed to the requirement of 495 feet, making a dangerous exit condition to begin with. On top of this, one of the building’s exit stairways will discharge occupants right onto the end of this ramp, where, in an emergency, occupants will be congregating on a sidewalk at the edge of the ramp. It’s a dangerous condition, and dangerous location. In regard to mutual aid response, first responders will come to the Parkway overpass bridge on Hunts Place and will cue up under the bridge. Since there is not enough room for more than two trucks, the road will become quickly clogged, creating a disaster potential, and slowing rescue efforts. At the Route 120 Bridge staging area, occupants will also be trying to get out onto the Rt. 120 bridge, in the same location as the trucks & first responders are coming in, through a 4-foot opening in the Bridge side wall. Ultimately the variances in total represent an unsafe condition — the preponderance of the number of variances required should indicate how unsafe it is. He also pointed out that all of the variances require easements or special approvals from the MTA and New York State DOT, and yet Conifer has not produced any documentation as to whether these agencies are willing to consider granting these very unusual and risk-raising easements.
Ed Frank, resident and licensed engineer, expressed concern for life, safety, health, and property. In his opinion, the traffic plan they submitted had inexact data. He observed that vehicles queued on the Saw Mill Parkway exit ramp substantially more than what was indicated in Conifer’s traffic report. The build-up of traffic at that ramp could certainly affect the time it would take for rescue efforts.
Hillary Anderson, a resident and mother, raised concerns that in an emergency, the intersection of Hunts Place and the Saw Mill exit ramp is a dangerous, blind intersection, and traffic safety affects the children. Putting so many additional young children in the mix at this intersection is very dangerous.
Jim McCauley, resident, pointed out access question—if mutual aid is in the intersection, no one else could get there. Fire trucks can’t turn off at the Greeley Statue exit, they can’t fit — the length of time to respond is then extended.
Peter Davidson, resident and lawyer, said the applicant hasn’t met the legal standard for granting the variances (which requires that the alternatives proposed do not reduce the level of safety, where in fact they do, and entail a change so slight that they produce negligible additional benefits, where in fact the changes are substantial). He raised concerns about access to the building due to flooding under the Saw Mill Parkway Bridge, which it’s prone to do. Cars stalled under the bridge would block access.
Ted Anderson, resident, testified that it was an intrinsically dangerous place to live. He mentioned speeding, traffic, congestion and limited visibility.
Rob Fleisher, resident, raised concerns about the children in the building. With seventeen two bedroom apartments, and the safety issues for adults are different than those of children.
On Wednesday, December 4th, members of the General Operations and Budget and Appropriations Committees decided to wait for the decision of the New York State variance hearing. That decision will be issued in February. In light of the serious public health issues raised in this hearing and lack of local consensus, we would respectfully request that your respective committees do the same. Please email your Westchester County legislators and ask them not to jam this project down New Castle’s throat, ignoring the health and safety issues that have been raised by the local officials and residents.
Supervisor-elect Rob Greenstein, Town of New Castle
Written with William R. Spade, Architect - AIA, Co-founder of Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing
Our thanks to Eileen Gallagher for detailed note-taking during the meeting.