Town Board opens public hearing on Conifer’s Hunts Place proposal for affordable housing
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
by Christine Yeres
As lead agency in the State environmental review process, the Town Board opened the public hearing last Tuesday on Conifer Realty’s application for a special use permit to construct a 36-unit affordable rental apartment building of four stories on Hunts Place in downtown Chappaqua.
Providing background for the public hearing, the Town Board announced that Conifer’s representatives were currently working on design changes to the building with James E. Johnson, the federal monitor in the HUD-County fair and affordable housing settlement who had expressed reservations about its suitability for affordable housing. Conifer was also preparing a visual impact analysis of the project, the Town Board reported.
The Town Board [minus Supervisor Susan Carpenter and board member Jason Chapin] opened the hearing on August 7 in order to meet a requirement that the public hearing begin within 62 days of the June 7, 2012 receipt of the completed application. Deputy Supervisor Elise Mottel made it clear that the Town Board’s environmental review process is ongoing. Still, several residents took the opportunity to speak.
Joan Corwin, proprietor of the Chappaqua Bus Company, reminded board members that Hunts Lane was an industrial road with truck traffic and the personal vehicles of her 125 bus drivers. “I’ve had a lot of experience with safety,” said Corwin. It’s been my life and my concern.”
Ed Frank cited for board members a section of a letter from federal monitor James Johnson stating that although the Hunts Place location is not ideal, he believes it can be salvaged. “Perhaps Mr. Johnson needs to take another look,” suggested Frank. He pointed out that another project of Conifer, Erie Harbor in Rochester, N.Y. had motivated 600 neighbors of the project to sign a petition rejecting the design. “This [Hunts Place] project will bring embarrassment to the hamlet of Chappaqua,” said Frank.
Another resident said to board members “We’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” and noted that zoning laws strictly regulated what he was able to do with his 1700 square foot house on a lot of .52 acres. “Look at the hoops I need to go through to get something small.” He urged the board to consider a building of “a story or two—not four or five [Conifer is proposing four], and maybe ten units, not 36” and to re-examine the from the aesthetic perspective—“something that big in the heart of Chappaqua . . . my vote would be to deny it.”
Ellen Schlossberg asked that the Town Board commission a vibration study “to determine how badly the train traffic is that affects the site. MetroNorth does n ot go 30 miles per hour, but high-speed. It will impact anyone living there and trains run very late into the night.”
“I’ve been on record as to how important affordable housing is,” Will Wedge told Town Board members. “I think there’s been a bit of a land rush in this town to try to ensure we were doing our part in the county to meet the requirements [of the settlement].”
Apart from “too small a site, too big a building,” said Wedge, he objected to the representations by Conifer that letters of support for the Conifer project written by the former supervisor, Barbara Gerrard, State Assembly members and U.S. Senators were endorsements of the project, “but there has to be a very specific process before permits can be issued.
“Conifer understands,” Wedge continued, “that there is a difference between the town saying ‘Pretty good idea’ and what is happening now, when we actually see the proposal,” which Wedge characterized as “asinine for .38 acres.” Conifer was operating, said Wedge, “under the assumption that something was promised when no promises were made. Stop throwing good money after bad. The town should deny the permit.”
Bill Spade, a local architect who has in previous meetings asked town board members to clarify the approval process noted that papers filed by Conifer appear to indicate that Conifer believes no requirements are imposed on the site for setbacks, building height. “I think we all acknowledge that zoning variances are required,” said Spade. “I’m befuddled that there isn’t an updated chart from the applicant indicating [as much].” Spade asked for an update on the state of the contamination on the property.”
Peter Davidson’s comment was brief. “The question is,” said Davidson, “‘Is this an appropriate site for this kind of housing?’”
Conifer will pay a visit to the Architectural Review Board on Wednesday, August 15, in the evening (the hour has not yet been posted). Conifer last consulted the ARB on its original plan for a five-story building. The current one is for four stories.
The Town Board set the continuation of the public hearing for Wednesday, September 19, at 9:00 p.m. at town hall. On September 10 a joint meeting of the Planning Board and Architectural Review Board is scheduled, to discuss the Conifer proposal.
Related: Conifer brings Hunts Place project back to Architectural Review Board, NCNOW.org, 8/17/12