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December 6, 2013
Editor’s Note: Following is the text of a letter from Supervisor Susan Carpenter to the Catherine Borgia, Chair of the Government Operations Committee of the County Legislature, whose approval of funding the Conifer project requires. Carpenter’s letter responds to the criticisms of the Conifer project voiced by Bill Spade and Supervisor-elect Rob Greenstein in a meeting before the same Committee of Government Operations nine days earlier.
December 4, 2013
Honorable Catherine Borgia
Westchester County Legislature
800 Michaelian Office Building
White Plains, New York 10601
Dear County Legislator Borgia:
I watched your hearing on the Conifer project proposed for the Town of New Castle and, as the current Town Supervisor, I would like to bring several things to your attention.
This project was proposed to the Town Board as early as 2009, and was publicly reviewed by both the Planning Board and the Town Board. While the site is not ideal, the Town determined that there were few other options and that, as transit oriented development, with easy access to both the Metro North and the bus line, it should be considered. The review process and the rezoning of the Chappaqua hamlet to accommodate this and any other AFFH or workforce project that might be feasible was conducted in a very public review process. I understand Mr. Spade, who attended your last meeting, felt he was unaware of the project and the rezoning, but I can assure you it was not done in secret. I believe any review of the record for the rezoning in the Chappaqua hamlet will make this clear.
The Town has looked for other sites, I have personally walked every site Mr. Spade suggested and others that the town has identified for other AFFH projects, and called affordable housing developers to suggest they look at these sites. So far we have been unable to identify another site, and while Mr. Spade told you he was working on several, he has been telling me that for two years, with nothing actually ever being identified. The site they brought to your attention is a wetland site that the Town was not even able to pave. When the opponents of the Conifer project has suggested this site, they had been told that it is unlikely to be a potential site because it is a wetland, so being told that at your hearing should not have been a surprise.
The incoming Supervisor represented to you that the opposition in the Town is only to the Conifer site and not to affordable housing. I would note that there has not been an affordable housing site in the New Castle that did not spark public opposition, but I doubt that is unique to this town. However, Mr. Greenstein supported his argument by declaring there was no opposition to the affordable housing at Chappaqua Crossing. I would suggest that you consider the record of strident opposition of any housing at Chappaqua Crossing, and Mr. Greenstein was one of the loudest voices in opposition. At the time Conifer was originally proposed he used the Conifer project as an argument against any housing at Chappaqua Crossing, and argued that the affordable housing should be at the Conifer site instead.
I am aware that this is an extremely expensive project. As originally proposed, with 36 units, it would have been more in line with other projects. However the Town of New Castle, in a very thorough review, worked with Conifer to reduce the number of units and increase the 2 bedroom units to allow residents to take advantage of Chappaqua schools. While this is a constrained site for families, I expect there may well be families who would value the opportunity to provide their children with the education most of us moved to Chappaqua for. The reduction in the number of units and the increase in 2 bedroom units, along with a significant redesign of the building to have it be architecturally more appropriate to its location has indeed driven up the cost.
In addition, Mr. Kaplowitz noted something I have raised numerous times with the Monitor, the County and HUD. The Model Ordinance, which New Castle passed over 2 years ago, was designed by people who did not necessarily understand the land use issues of Northern Westchester. We have very few sites left for subdivisions of any size, and the 10% AFFH requirement is not likely to result in many units. The density bonus, which would allow any single family lot in town to be a duplex is unlikely to be effective without subsidies for owner-occupied housing. Rental developers so far have not found it cost effective to manage two-unit rentals.
Finally, most of the Town of New Castle does not have sewers, and much of the town is in the New York City watershed making it difficult to develop multifamily housing. The Conifer site happens to be one of the very few undeveloped parcels that is served by the sewer line. The Town is currently working with the County and DEP to extend a sewer line through the north and west side of town, passing through Millwood, to remediate failing sewers at Random Farms, Yeshiva and Riverwoods. We have asked the County to provide in its agreement with the Town for adding parts of Millwood to the sewer line in the future to allow AFFH and mixed use development. Access to the sewer line in the undeveloped part of the Millwood hamlet would be necessary for any multifamily housing. I hope going forward that the County will consider that as an important reason to allow this additional part of New Castle to become part of the County sewer district.
Susan Carpenter, Supervisor, Town of New Castle