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


We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

The building’s 5 stories has 1 1/2 below ground. The height is no different than the prior building, i.e the Chappaqua Drama Group.

It’s interesting that the CDG Barn, a decaying old structure with constant piles of random materials left out, drew little public outcry for over 40 years.

There’s no deception or trickery here. This proposal has been public for 2 years. The author is painting a picture of Chappaqua that is simply untrue, i.e. there is no 350 year old ‘character’ of Chappaqua. The downtown area is a hodgepodge of random structures, mainly built in the late 50’s and early 60’s. These same objections were voiced when the old lumber store was converted to the then ‘massive and dense’ Greeley Hardware Store.

The proposed structure is a good solution.

By Tin Hats on 12/13/2010 at 8:25 am

I think it would help me to see a rendering of it from different views.  I hope that’s part of the review process.  I wonder if this project requires an environmental impact statement and review under NYS’s Environmental Quality Review Act.  Especially the part about existing petroleum contamination.

By I need to see it in pictures on 12/13/2010 at 8:39 am

@Mr Spade…While I do not have your architectural credentials I must say that it seems your portrayal and description of this affordable housing project on Hunts Lane is a bit overstated and exaggerated. Hunts Lane is NOT the “Gateway to our community” as you describe it. Last I checked Hunts Lane sits behind/next to the Saw Mill River parkway and on the other side of the bridge that separates our downtown. Hunts Lane also is the home to our bus depot parking lot, our “town dump” (recycle center), some auto repair shops, etc.
While I will not debate your expert opinion on the aesthetics, design, and inaccurate portrayal of this building as presented in the sketch I do think it important to frame the debate accurately. Again, this location – Hunts lane – is hardly the “gateway to our community”. If our town is to comply with the “affordable housing mandate” then Hunts Lane is the perfect location. By definition, affordable housing will never be built or look like the expensive homes and condos in our town. So if we must comply we should build respectable eye pleasing building that is located in an area that is suitable for affordable housing – that location is Hunts La. – which is hardly any gateway to anything but the dump!

By Longtime Resident on 12/13/2010 at 9:04 am

Architect Spade is correct.  This structure will be visible from all of the downtown.  It will
be a massive intrusion.  If the above letter writers do not realize this, they are remiss.
His description of the latest design are also right on.  He has written a thoughtful, clear
and schooled analysis of this proposal.  Readers could and should learn from his letter.

By R.G. on 12/13/2010 at 10:43 am

No doubt it is the right thing to hold all developers to a high standard and perhaps Mr. Spade’s comments point to the still work-in-progress nature of the plan, but the letter’s portrayal, to me, certainly seems overstated (for one I also do NOT view that as the “gateway to our community”) .  While the aesthetic/design/etc details may not be perfect (and I must say that fellow professionals tend to be the most critical of each others’ work), we also should not lose sight of the big picture fact that this would solve the affordable housing requirement without the grave downsides of alternative proposal(s) such as Chappaqua Crossing.

By Tim Wong on 12/13/2010 at 10:51 am

To RG….almost 2 floors of the proposed building are below ground level. That makes it a 3 story building – not 5 floors as misrepresented by Mr Spade. The structure will be no higher than the drama groups “barn” that sat there for years. That barn by the way was in disrepair, needed paint, and always had materials (scenery or stage materials) piled up. I do not recall the objections of people that this barn was at “the gateway to our community”. We have more important things to be concerned about than one architect being critical of another over aesthetics. This affordable housing project is needed and mandated by law. Hunts La is the perfect location. Hunts La is hardly a gateway to anything. More importantly if we build this it removes Summit Greenfields appeal to rezone Chapp Crossing to residential so that New Castle will comply with the affordable housing law. This Hunts La project is needed and serves the important purpose of blocking residential zoning at Readers Digest.

By Not so fast… on 12/13/2010 at 11:33 am

Three floors are visible from the BRIDGE, that leaves TWO floors that are below the BRIDGE, not below GROUND LEVEL.  There is NO below-ground-level in this picture.  And the article about the proposal says that the parking level is at GROUND LEVEL, not UNDERground.

Viewed from ground level, it will indeed be FIVE stories in elevation.  I don’t like to think of other affordable housing ops as “blocking” the Chappaqua Crossing proposal for 10% affordable.  As a site for affordable housing, the CC site “blocks” itself—it doesn’t have multi-family zoning characteristics.  The only facility it’s near is the H.S.  And there’s certainly no shopping THERE … unless you count the cafeteria…And precious little public transport (one B-Line bus).

By I need to see it in pictures on 12/13/2010 at 12:02 pm

Solution to the view from town:  Trompe l’oeil?

By Nancy King on 12/13/2010 at 2:27 pm

Someone please clarify—when you stand, for example, behind the Village Market facing the train tracks, will you see 5 stories or 3 stories?  I think you will see 5, but I am not sure.  It seems to me that if you see 5, this building will indeed look quite massive as it will be more than multiple times the height of the vast majority of nearby buildings.  I like the overall concept but the details are troubling. I feel bad asking this when it involves such a worthwhile goal.

By Please clarify… on 12/13/2010 at 5:32 pm

Development review should include 3-D modeling of the proposed building.  At its proposed height, the building would be visible not only from the Route 120 bridge itself (as pictured in the article), but also from the following:  Allen Place, Lower King Street, Hunts Place, Hunts Lane, Saw Mill River Parkway Northbound, Saw Mill River Parkway Southbound, and Quaker Rd. 

By Lance on 12/13/2010 at 5:39 pm

In response to some of the comments:
1. Building Height: See the photo at bottom of the article: http://www.newcastlenow.org/index.php/article/new_town_board_and_state_dot_smile_on_hunts_lane_affordable_housing_project
Unless my glasses need correction, it looks to me like it’s 5 stories above grade.  The rendering showing it only as 3 stories is from the bridge level, which is 2 stories up.

2.  Gateway to Town:  As the Saw Mill Parkway, and to a lesser extent Route 120, are the major access roads into Chappaqua, in my opinion, where these access roads lead into Chappaqua is the gateway to the Town.  This proposed 5-story building would be front and center at that point, and every person and vehicle would have to pass it on the way into and out of Town.  From every direction of access, whether on the Parkway coming from the north or south, or on 120 heading south/east, this building will dominate the view.  It would be the tallest structure by far, and by default, it will become the icon of the Town.  Bear in mind that no other small community in this region has such a large structure at the entry point to the community.

3.  Need for affordable housing:  yes, we need affordable housing, but it must be done in a thoughtful and well-planned manner, and fit into the context of the community.  Trying to put all of those units onto one small site, right at the entrance to the Town, is not thoughtful and well-planned.  The Town needs to have a more comprehensive plan to find appropriate locations where the density can be spread out.  There are other possible sites for such housing and they should be explored.

By William R. Spade on 12/13/2010 at 9:13 pm

Mr. Spade, you stated “there are other possible sites for such housing and they should be explored” please list the sites, who the owners are, whether they have expressed an interest in building affordable housing &/or indicated a willingness to sell the property to a builder willing to build affordable housing units.  As you know, our town must produce affordable housing units somehow. And the supervisor has pointed out that the town has no land of its own on which to do it.  So how do you suggest that New Castle comply with the Fair Housing Settlement?  And do you have any suggestions to make this project more aesthetically pleasing?

By Rob Greenstein (I am NOT R.G.) on 12/14/2010 at 8:44 am

Since there have been many advances in noise reducing materials, I believe that the
Hunts Ln site would be perfectly acceptable for affordable housing.  The plan,
as it is now,  is problematic for all of the issues cited by William R. Spade. 
Rob Greenstein’s response is unfortunate in its contentious and challenging tone.
For the record, I am completely against residential development at the Reader’s
Digest property beyond what is now permitted.  The Boards decision on this need
not, and should not rest on the Hunts Ln. project.

By R.G. on 12/15/2010 at 9:15 am

R.G., I apologize if my tone came across as contentious and challenging.  Admittedly, I have a pet peeve for those who criticize but don’t offer alternatives.  But, putting that aside, no one is suggesting that the Hunts Lane project is perfect as is.  In fact, I would sincerely welcome Mr. Spade’s suggestions to make this project more aesthetically pleasing.  I am a firm believer in taping into the resources of our community, and who better than an architect to provide constructive criticism on this project?  I also believe that it is in the best interests of our community for this project to go forward.  While I agree that the Board’s decision re: residential development at Chappaqua Crossing “need not, and should not rest on the Hunts Ln. project”, the fact is that we must comply with the Westchester Affordable Housing Settlement and this is an infinitely better option.  And, unfortuantely, our options are limited.

By Rob Greenstein on 12/15/2010 at 7:46 pm

@ Rob Greenstein:  “the fact is that we must comply with the Westchester Affordable Housing Settlement”

How is that a “fact” and how do you derive the “must”?

The settlement was with a single party, Westchester County, and not the Town of New Castle—and that’s a fact.  Anything else is commentary.

By Blackacre on 12/17/2010 at 8:35 pm

Blackacre, here’s some more commentary……….

American government is a federal one, which means that authority and jurisdiction are divided among national, state, and local governments.  New Castle is part of Westchester County.  The settlement was entered into by former Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano and approved by a majority of the Board of Legislators, including a representative of New Castle (Mike Kaplowitz).  I’ve included links for additional commentary such as the Settlement Stipulation & an article from NewCastleNOW when the settlement was approved by Westchester Legislators. 



By Rob Greenstein on 12/18/2010 at 8:26 am

@ Rob Greenstein:  “authority and jurisdiction are divided among national, state, and local governments.”

Well, yes, they are divided.  And that’s the point.  The Town of New Castle is a separate legal entity.  It was not sued and is not a party to the settlement, as your first link so amply demonstrates.

And read what your second link says:  “Kaplowitz was able to cast his vote in the affirmative once he was assured that the settlement did not force the county to sue its municipalities to comply.”  Now why would he say that if the settlement with the County bound the Town?  Because it does not, as the balance of the article makes clear.

Note the distinctions that the article draws between the County and the municipalities.  For example, “The settlement also provides that the County will change certain of its policies to facilitate the removal of impediments to fair housing.  In particular, the County will seek to eliminate municipalities’ right of first refusal over land purchases made by the County to develop fair and affordable housing, and will condition the use of public funds (including HUD grants) on commitments by municipalities to implement policies that promote fair and affordable housing.”

Merely because Mike Kaplowitz was a County legislator from New Castle does not mean that the settlement binds the Town.  To suggest that it does (if that is what you were doing) is intellectually dishonest sophistry. The obligations in the settlement agreement are those of the County, not of the Town.

Nothing you have furnished demonstrates that it is a “fact” that the Town of New Castle “must” comply with the settlement.  Indeed, they demonstrate quite the opposite.

By Blackacre on 12/18/2010 at 5:35 pm

Blackacre, I agree there’s a disconnect between the federal government’s agreement with the County, and the County’s ability to force municipalities to do anything. 

Although New Castle itself doesn’t receive HUD funds, the County does.  And some Westchester towns receive it also.  The county can’t afford to lose HUD monies and will put will put what pressure it can on the municipalities to comply.  Hopefully, the county won’t have to expend any energy on enforcement in New Castle, since we have some real affordable alternatives here, such as the Hunts Lane property.

The fact is that SG is not offering the 20 affordable units out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re hoping that New Castle will believe that the SG affordables offer is the only way we have to meet the county settlement requirements.  But they’re not.

There are inconsistencies in the settlement, but they’ll get worked out.  While you are certainly entitled to your interpretation of the mandates of this settlement, I think it would be wrong to ignore them.

By Rob Greenstein on 12/19/2010 at 7:25 am

An alternative to the Hunts Lane site is the yellow building site located across the street from the post office. The yellow building has been “abandoned” and is in a state of disrepair. As best as I can recall, the yellow building which formerly housed a restaurant, has been vacant for ten years. It is my opinion that the yellow building is a more appropriate site for the project and would eliminate objections to the structure that has been proposed for Hunts Lane. Any comments?

By Post Office Site on 12/19/2010 at 5:19 pm

I concur with Blackacre regarding to the Settlement.  There is no direct connection to the Town in the Settlement between the County and the DOJ, and the Town Board should not press a rushed solution under the pretext of some impending enforcement.  There would clearly need to be further action on the part of DOJ (5 years or more from now) if they were to try to extend the enforcement directly to the Town.  I believe that we should therefore use this timeframe to create a thoughtful and well-planned solution. 

And neither the 20 units at Chappaqua Crossing, nor the 31 units proposed at Hunts Lane, are thoughtful and well-planned.  They are both being offered by developers who are trying to use the affordable issue as a hook on the Town Board for their overly dense projects.  The Board should take the pressure off themselves by letting these developers know that they will take the time necessary to plan affordable housing in a manner consistent with the Town’s character.

I am also of the belief, however, that our zoning code, and by extension our land-use principles, have prevented the development of viable economically diverse and affordable housing alternatives in appropriate locations – this is the very heart of the action taken by the DOJ.  We ought to be looking at this as an opportunity to re-examine and amend these principles, and our zoning code, in order to encourage the expansion of the economic diversity of this town, and not just to satisfy some specific quota.  If we stopped only at some specific number of units, and patted ourselves on the back for doing just enough to get by – that would be a greater injustice than presently exists.  And what would that say to our children?


By William R. Spade on 12/19/2010 at 5:20 pm

I agree the yellow building by the Post Office looks like it should be explored.  It is close enough to the train that working people could get to work easily.

By Leslie on 12/20/2010 at 6:16 pm

Jason, please re-read my letter dated July 19th. I believe already explained my prior postion.  You can now try to spin it for political purposes but my position is clear….we can & must do better.  This project will bring negative attention to New Castle for decades to come. 

I am not in favor of affordable housing at any price.  When Summit Greenfield was using the affordable housing units as a carrot to get their project approved, my position was that we didn’t need their carrot.  Summit Greenfield was dangling 20 affordable units as a carrot in its multifamily rezoning proposal.  My position was that while affordable housing is a commendable goal, we can’t afford this dangling carrot when it’s bundled with a dense residential development.

Much has changed since 2011.  The Settlement Consent Decree required the County to ensure that each municipality eliminate any barriers to the development of affordable housing.  New Castle adopted affordable AFFH (“Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing”) model ordinance provisions.  Affordable AFFH Units must be included in any subdivision of eight or more lots.  Affordable AFFH Units can be built over all the retail buildings in the Chappaqua and Millwood hamlets.  When the Chappaqua Crossing site was rezoned to provide for a Multi-Family Planned Development District, the developer was required to include make 20 of the 111 units Affordable AFFH Units—or close to 20%, which is over the 10% required by the Model Ordinance.


By Rob Greenstein on 07/29/2013 at 12:01 pm

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