Op-Ed: Process & thoughtfulness will make affordable housing that fits our town

December 24, 2010
by William R. Spade

In response to the discussion of the proposed affordable housing development on Hunts Lane, it strikes me that, between our restrictive zoning code for the downtown area, and the existing land-uses in that area, we have left ourselves with the dilemma of seemingly few choices for affordable housing, or residential uses in general.  This, I believe, has led our Town Board to view a 5-story monstrosity as an all-in-one solution.  However, there are a number of alternatives that could be pursued, including land-use revisions as well as other specific parcels that, with enough time and concerted effort on the part of the Board, would generate affordable housing options more consistent with the character of our town.

One alternative is to consider changes to the zoning code for the downtown zones.  Based on my own limited review of our code, the main zone in what we consider downtown is a business zone (B-RP) which limits buildings to 2 stories in height.  However, many of the lots in this zone are occupied by one-story buildings.  This, creates an economic barrier to any further development on these parcels.  To add another story to an existing building, or to tear down a one-story building to build two stories, is economically infeasible, especially if the intent were to create affordableunits.  I believe that the B-RP zone should be modified to allow 2-1/2 or 3-story structures, which I thinkwould encourage more appropriate low-scale alternatives, with retail/commercial below and residential above, than one out-of-scale 5-story building.  And the addition of any new residential development in town would be a great boon to our downtown businesses.

In conjunction with this, the Board should also consider further modifying the workforce housing floating zone (which is presumably the zone that would get applied to the Hunts Lane property), which presently restricts lots to being within 1,500 feet of the train station.  This then artificially excludes viable lots in other parts of town.  This only serves to further reduce the options. 
 
A second alternative is to consider the land-use patterns that have evolved in the downtown area.  One need only look at a map to see that the majority of our property in town is devoted to municipal uses.  This includes Town Hall, the train station parking lot, the commercial parking lots, and Bell school.  A bit further from the immediate downtown is the Chappaqua Ambulance Corps and the Town DPW properties.  If creating affordable housing is a priority, we should be looking at these existing land uses that absorb huge swaths of valuable downtown land, especially the parking lots, and look at these properties to help solve this problem. 

A third alternative is to consider a number of privately-owned parcels that may be currently underutilized, and with proper zoning incentives, be developed with some portion of affordable housing.  These include the vacant Maxime Bistro’s property on North Greeley or the 126 and 142 King Street properties.  Outside of the downtown area, there are other parcels in the area of the 120 / 117 intersection, or in Millwood at 120 / 133 that might be viable alternatives.  These would have shopping and transportation services immediately available, but should not be precluded just because they are not near the train station.

Our need for affordable housing isn’t the result of a sudden, unforeseen ruling by a federal judge, and the need to come up with a quick fix with limited options.  On the contrary, it’s the result of overly restrictive zoning and the absorption of large portions of our downtown area with municipal uses.  Taken together, revisions to our zoning code and revisions to our concepts of land uses in the downtown area could engender the necessary changes to make residential development, and affordable housing, more viable in lower scale solutions.  We should be looking at all of the properties in the downtown area under municipal control, and the many others that are privately-owned, to encourage more thoughtful solutions that would be in keeping with the scale and character of our community.  While this may take more time and effort on our Board’s part, the Board should not take the quick and easy solution, and permanently stick us with a 5-story, out-of-scale and out-of-character building, while saying that there are no other viable options.

Preserving the historic character of our town depends on the process and thoughtfulness we employ to resolve this issue.

William R. Spade
Architect and 20-year resident of Chappaqua
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Letter to the Editor: Hunts Lane affordable housing plan too massive for site
Monday, December 13, 2010
by William R. Spade

Open letter to the Town Board: Hunts Lane proposal makes Chappaqua Crossing wholly a liability
Monday, December 13, 2010
by Betty and Leonard Weitz

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