Federal monitor reiterates doubts on appropriateness of Hunts Place for affordable housing
Monday, July 23, 2012
Editor’s Note: Last Monday a letter from James E. Johnson, federal monitor in the 2009 fair and affordable housing settlement between Westchester County and HUD, appeared on the town’s website. In it, Johnson expresses his concern that, as currently designed, the Hunts Place project “raises the risk of significant stigmatization and isolation of residents,” and suggests that Conifer “can do much better on this very challenging site.” He offers to help “develop a set of potential remedial measures that could make the design more consonant with the goals of the decree.” This most recent letter is published in its entirety below.
Following the July 12, 2012 letter is Johnson’s previous letter [of April 12, 2012] with excerpts from Conifer’s May 14, 2012 responses interjected in italics after each of Johnson’s bullet points.
Federal Monitor James E. Johnson to Andrew Bodewes of Conifer Realty:
July 12, 2012
Mr. Andrew V. Bodewes
Conifer Realty LLC
183 East Main Street, Suite 600
Rochester, NY 14604
Dear Mr. Bodewes:
Thank you for your May 14, 2012 submission concerning the proposed Chappaqua Station affordable housing community on Hunts Lane in Chappaqua. That submission was in response to my request that Conifer analyze its proposal in line with guidance set forth in the Monitor’s Report dated April 25, 2011. This letter sets forth my concern that this project, as currently designed, will not further the goals of the consent decree and raises the risk of significant stigmatization and isolation of residents. As a result, this project also raises the risk of having a negative impact on the community. This letter provides a process for addressing those concerns.
In the time since we received your submission, a member of my team has reviewed one of Conifer’s developments in Rochester and I have personally reviewed the portfolio properties listed on your website. Conifer has a record which should give many comfort with its ability to develop attractive and successful affordable housing. I have also consulted with architects about the design for the project and have reason to believe that Conifer can do much better on this very challenging site. Indeed, it is Conifer’s record of success that gives us reason to believe that it is possible to develop the site consistent with the consent decree.
As an initial matter, there is no questions that this site has many of the indicia of isolation. It is bounded on three sides by, respectively, a railroad line, a bridge and a four-lane parkway. The only occupied property adjacent to the proposed development is a bus depot. The most viable pedestrian access to the site would be from a footbridge. Given those physical challenges, one could reasonably conclude that the obstacles to integration with the community, and the stigma associated with the separation, cannot be overcome.
The interior amenities described in your letter could make the project attractive to residents, but the single apparent exterior amenity, a small terrace, is insufficient to overcome a design that could mark the residence and its occupants as distinctly apart from Chappaqua.
Over the weeks, the Monitoring team will be meeting with architects and hopes to develop a set of potential remedial measures that could make the design more consonant with the goals of the decree. I will also look forward to receiving any data that is developing during the course of the review by Chappaqua’s Planning Board and its Architectural Review Board.
I am available to discuss further at a mutually convenient time.
Very truly yours
James E. Johnson
cc: Susan Carpenter
Kevin Plunkett, Esq.
James E. Johnson’s April 12, 2012 letter to Conifer expressing concerns over the Hunts Place location of Conifer’s proposed apartment building project. On May 14, Conifer responded to Johnson’s letter. Excerpts of Conifer’s responses appear in italics, after each of Johnson’s bullet points.
April 12, 2012
Mr. Andrew V. Bodewes
Conifer Realty LLC
183 East Main Street, Suite 600
Rochester, NY 14604
United States ex rel Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York (No. 06 Civ. 2860 (DLC))
Dear Mr. Bodewes [Conifer’s representative]:
I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and your team, among others, on March 1, 2012. I write to clarify my views and direct your attention to guidance I gave to Westchester County and reported to the Court in April, 2011. At this meeting, Conifer proposed a 36-unit affordable housing development located at Hunts Lane in Chappaqua (“Chappaqua Station”), in which all 36 housing units would count toward the County’s obligation to develop 750 Affordable AFFH Units under the Stipulation and Order of Settlement and Dismissal in the above-captioned matter.
At the meeting I noted my concerns about the site location and configuration of the proposal. Those concerns were informed by guidance issued more than a year ago concerning best practices for affordable housing locations. For your convenience, I list them here:
• Sites should be in or adjacent to a largely or completely non-minority residential neighborhood
Conifer responds that the Hunts Place location “has the benefit of a mix of land uses including single-family housing, multi-family housing and a large amount of commercial retail.”
• Sites located in an eligible census block but isolated from non-minority residential neighborhood by visual or other barriers—such as a highway, railroad or commercial strip – or unusual points of entry are undesirable unless significant mitigation measures are taken to provide visual and physical access across these barriers.
Conifer responds that “Significant measures have been made to ensure a solid connection from the building to downtown. Chappaqua Station’s main entrance will be at grade with the recently replaced Quaker Street Bridge…. This connection will provide pedestrian access to all of the businesses in downtown Chappaqua and the Metro North Railroad station, serving as a model of transit oriented design.” .. . The building “will also incorporate materials similar to those used in other buildings in the vicinity including the train station.”
• The configuration of the site or the design of the buildings should not inherently stigmatize or isolate residents as low income.
Conifer responds that “Chappaqua Station could very easily be a market rate development because of its premier location and design. This the site and configuration will not stigmatize or isolate the residents.” Conifer lists examples of market rate / luxury developments in Westchester “that are on or very close to the Metro North line—Yonkers’ Hudson Park, New Rochelle’s Avalon New Rochelle, Tarrytown’s Hudson Harbor, Mount Vernon’s Horizon at Fleetwood, and others.
Conifer continues, “The footbridge connection to the Quaker Street bridge fully integrates the development into the hamlet and all the nearby residences and services,” and lists design aesthetics that connect the development to the bridge and other town buildings; covered parking, a club room, fitness center, outdoor landscaped terrace, and computer room—“All of these are considered premium amenities in any apartment community.”
Conifer lists A-HOME as its not-for-profit partner which “will be actively involved in making this happen at Chappaqua Station.”
• Small development sites (i.e., those containing less than 10 units) should be near existing residential uses and should be comparable in scale relative to current and planed adjacent land uses.
“Not applicable,” Conifer notes.
• Large development sites should seamlessly integrate with adjoining residential areas and/or be of a size and design that reinforces positive neighborhood qualities (such as social connection, sense of place, pedestrian amenities, and usable open space).
Conifer responds that “the area to the west of the Metro North Railroad and Saw Mill River Parkway is predominately developed with single family homes. To the east is downtown Chappaqua which has a variety of land uses including a substantial amount of retail, commercial, municipal services, multi-family developments, and some single-family homes.” Conifer notes that the Hunts Place location is convenient to “pedestrian amenities, ball fields, library, town hall, school and playground without having to get in a car.”
• Multifamily buildings should be located within walking distance (approximately ten minutes) of public transportation, such as a bus stop or train station. One- to four-family homes and accessory units need not have such a level of access to transit.
The site, notes Conifer, is ideally “transit oriented,” which “eliminates residents’ need and dependency on a personal automobile,” and is “consistent with Metro North’s goal of developing multi-family facilities along its lines to encourage ridership and use of mass transit.”
• Multifamily developments should be in reasonable proximity to and ideally have walkable connections to community resources, such as downtown areas, grocery shopping, pharmacies, banking and other convenience shopping; employment opportunities; schools; religious institutions; medical and social services; and parks and recreational facilities.
Conifer responds that its project is located just 500 feet from downtown Chappaqua, with the main entrance accessible from the Quaker Street bridge. “A library, bank, park, health facilities, playground, post office, pharmacy, day care, municipal facilities, and schools are all located within a half mile of the project.”
• To the extent possible, multifamily buildings should be served by water supply systems and also public sewage or state-of-the-art sustainable means of on-site treatment. One- to four-family homes and accessory units can be served by wells and also individual septic systems or private package plans, rather than municipal infrastructure.
Public sewers and water systems are available, notes Conifer.
• Sites should exhibit no obvious negative environmental influences that cannot be corrected or acceptably mitigated. Environmental impacts include but are not limited to: deteriorating or blighted residential uses; massive parking lots or storage yards; unsightly loading zones at retail facilities; heavy industrial uses; excessive noise or physical hazard from railroad, vehicular, or air traffic; dumps, sanitary landfills, or salvage yards; sewage treatment plants; store hazardous materials; buried or spilled hazardous wastes; operating oil wells; mine shafts; and gravel pits.
Conifer responds that although “there is some contamination associated with the prior use of the site,” it has recently been accepted in the New York State Brownfield clean-up program.” Conifer will work with the Department of Environmental Conservation to remedy the contamination.
As to noise, “the building will have features to address potential noise concerns resulting from its location,” such as “triple-glazed windows, stone base and fiber board siding which will protect residents from any noise impact.
See Monitor’s April 2011 Report, p. 11-12 (attached to this letter). The Report advises that “[a]s the County, municipalities and developers conceptualize projects, they should focus their attention on [these criteria]. Sites that lack many of these features will likely be subject to heightened scrutiny from the Monitor.” Id.
In my capacity as Monitor, I write to ask you for your views on how the Chappaqua Station development comports with the best-practices criteria. I understand that your response is voluntary. If the Chappaqua Station development does not comport with any standard, please explain why that specific standard should not be be followed. Because the design and configuration of the building is an integral component for many of these standards, please provide all concept drawings for the Chappaqua Station development, including drawings that illustrate Chappaqua Station’s attachment ot the bridge. Finally, please indicate what specific sites in Chappaqua, if any, were considered as alternatives, and why they were not ultimately chosen. I would appreciate receiving your written response by May 13, 2012.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Your cooperation is very much appreciated.
Very truly yours,
James E. Johnson