Letter to the Editor: Hunts Lane affordable housing plan too massive for site

Monday, December 13, 2010
With 21 comments in the last week
by William R. Spade

Dear Editor:

With regard to your article on the proposed Hunts Lane affordable housing project, while I am in full agreement that the town needs more affordable housing, from the rendering and description posted with this article, I believe that it would be a huge mistake for the town board to approve this building as presently conceived.

The building in its proposed location, which is the gateway to our community, is far too large for the scale of our downtown, and the exterior design looks like a cheap, third-rate apartment building.  This will stick out like a horrible sore thumb and will irreparably damage the historic character and quality of our community.

Rendering hides full scale of five-story building

The rendering included with the article should not be allowed to fool anyone; this is a massive five-story building, crammed up next to the Saw Mill River Parkway and Route 120 Bridge.  This will dwarf our small-scale village context, where most of the buildings are one- or two-stories. 

This particular rendering attempts to trick the viewer into thinking that the stone-walled bridge is a normal grade-level street, and the building looks like a normal two-story house set among other similarly scaled buildings.  However, this is an artificial view of the building that no one will see, or experience.  The fuller rendering presented by the developer, which can be seen on other websites, reveals a massive building that is too large for this location. 

A five-story building constructed in this location, the gateway to our community, would become the defacto icon, and one that would not make us proud.  Coming into Chappaqua from the Parkway entrances, or from Route 120, this building would dwarf everything around it and loom as the central focus.  And yet, it would be mindlessly stuck in this island surrounded by the Parkway, the railroad and the Route 120 bridge.  I can think of no other small–scale community in this region that has such a large building immediately next to its primary entrances.  This would be an urban design faux pas, and a huge, permanent mistake. 

Design cries out for more elegant redesign


In addition, the building has been designed in such a scale-less, cartoonish manner using artificial colonial details such as fake sills, shutters, and quoins, and with garish green-metal gabled roofs, it in no way befits the prominent location that it will occupy, nor has the elegant character of other buildings in the town.  Even a modest amount of additional thoughtfulness to the design would produce a more elegant and appropriate solution.  But this can only appropriately occur if the building is downscaled.

It is clear that the economics of this property are driving this overly dense solution.  Just as with the Chappaqua Crossing proposal, the board should not be lulled into going along with an inappropriately scaled project just because the landowner and developer want to make the most money that they can on the property. 

It is also clear that the board is trying to solve the affordable housing problem. But it can’t be done by producing an overly massive project in one spot, and especially in such a prominent location.  The board needs to be more proactive in encouraging lower scale projects in more areas to help meet this need.

I hope that the board will take these issues into account and hold the developer to a higher standard than has so far been demonstrated.  They should require the developer to drastically down-scale the building and improve the design by using features that will bring it into better conformance with the design standards in the downtown area and of the broader community.  The 350-year character and aesthetic quality of our historic town is at risk with this proposal. 

William R. Spade
Architect and 20-year resident of Chappaqua


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