Ltr to Ed: Conifer project is all about suitability

November 1, 2013
by Roger Klepper

I have given much thought to the proposed Conifer affordable housing project.  At first glance, it appears to be not unlike many other matters currently before the town, with a long list of positive and negative considerations.  Much like Chappaqua Crossing, this can serve as ample fodder for lively debate among the town’s residents.  But Conifer is in fact different.

The first that many heard of this project was way back in the early days of the Chappaqua Crossing debate, when Summit Greenfield was putting forth affordable housing as an important component of their development proposal.  Perhaps the Conifer idea initially had some momentum, if for no other reason it was symbolic of alternatives to the affordable housing carrot being held out by SG. 

Then Conifer took on a life of its own.  But let’s briefly suspend reality, pretend that our town had been out front of the affordable housing issue, and did some planning.  Such planning might include some broad parameters around any proposed affordable housing project.  At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I feel relatively strongly that those parameters would include something along the lines of the following provision:

Any affordable housing development would have to be of a character and nature that would be deemed suitable as residential housing for the broader population.

Putting aside for a moment whether the site is in fact suitable, this provision merits some further consideration, or more precisely, what would be implied by a violation of this provision merits further consideration.  Simply put, it’s not something we do as a society.  We draw a hard line when it comes to suitability.  In general, be it food, drugs, whatever, we do not advocate lower suitability standards for the poor.  Perhaps there are those that disagree, but I kind of put suitability into the “we hold these truths to be self evident” category.  It’s a line that we just don’t cross.  But to the extent we would deem the Conifer site as unsuitable for the broader population, that is exactly what we would be doing here.  Our town’s grand effort to advance the cause of affordable housing would be a highly visible symbol of our collective willingness to alter the suitability standards for those less well off.  Essentially, it would be an embarrassment.

Now as far as the general suitability of the site is concerned, my personal opinion is that any such proposal wouldn’t stand a chance at approval, and would likely get dismissed as some greedy developer’s ludicrous over reach.  This site, literally sandwiched between a highway off ramp and active train tracks, would never be deemed suitable for residential housing.  I would be happy to hear a contradictory opinion on this.

But once again, putting the question of suitability for this specific proposal aside, there is an important implication of my proposed suitability standard.  It completely alters the debate regarding the Conifer project.  Unless you disagree with my above provision, then the debate is no longer about affordable housing, it’s about suitability.  As a consequence, many of those items on that list of positive considerations just fall away.  It doesn’t matter if 1,000 families would move in there tomorrow.  It doesn’t matter that the educational opportunities for some would be greatly enhanced.  It doesn’t matter that our town would benefit from increased diversity.  Those are of course very worthy benefits of affordable housing in general, and as a town we could devote whatever resources we choose to realizing those benefits. 

But in the case of the debate surrounding the Conifer proposal, when taken in the context of suitability, they are all rendered irrelevant.  There should be no compromises and no trade-offs.  It doesn’t matter that no better alternatives have been put forth, leading to the inevitable rationalization of the site as not perfect, but the best we could do. It’s not a question of scale or number of units.  The debate, at least initially, is no longer about a weighing of the positives against the negatives.  It must be first be about suitability.

On the surface, perhaps it is tempting to view the Conifer proposal as a convenient way to address issues around affordable housing.  But we can’t trade convenience for principals.  If that leaves us with only inconvenient solutions, then so be it, even if that implies an adverse economic result for the town.  We must only do this right.  The gray area where the Conifer battle is being waged needs to be replaced by a bright line around suitability.  It’s a line that we as a community should not cross.

Roger Klepper is an 11-year resident of New Castle.

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

Mr. Keppler,
It is a pity that no one on the town board can even remotely comprehend your elegant arguments. Nor are they interested in doing so. Their decision had nothing to do with the poor. It was all about themselves and their developer partners.

By bob on 10/31/2013 at 6:36 pm

It may not be suitable for you but people are fighting to get on the waiting list. Who are you to decide for someone else what is or is not suitable for that person if they want it.

That being said, conifer is a boondoggle and rip off which should be halved.

By Dear sir on 10/31/2013 at 7:18 pm

Historically and to this very day, poor minorities have lived in areas that are considered unsuitable for the majority. This site is no different. It is a textbook example of environmental racism. However, under our system of laws, the decisions of our elected officials make the site sufficient in a legal if not in moral or practical sense.

By The way it is on 10/31/2013 at 7:51 pm

Alternatives to the unsuitable Conifer site have been proposed. There is a very suitable site on Washington Avenue in a residential neighborhood that was proposed by a resident Wally Toscano who is an Architect. Mr. Toscano made a presentation early this year to the Town Board and presented preliminary sketches to the Board; not one of the Board members showed any interest in the concept. Evidently, the Board was locked into the Conifer proposal by the previous supervisor Barbara Gerard who without proper public discussion assisted Conifer to obtain taxpayer funding for their project. It is unfortunate that a group of concerned citizens have had to fund a legal action to overturn the town board’s wrong decision. Agree that the site is not suitable for housing of any type and a previous proposal about five years ago for market rate housing was turned down. Ms. Paderewski is having serious troubles understanding that the site is not a habitable location for residential housing, Mr. Greenstein understands that the site is not suitable. Ms. Paderewski similarly has little regard for people who would be severely affected by the Chappaqua Crossing project. This kind of thinking must be replaced on Tuesday. I am voting for the Greenstein team.

By Thank you Mr. Keppler on 10/31/2013 at 8:26 pm

Dear ‘Dear sir’:
Did you even read the letter?  The whole premise is that affordable housing should be treated the same as any housing and if it is not suitable for housing in general, it should not be suitable for affordable housing.  Essentially, we are a better community than that.  We should provide affordable housing that is suitable for anyone and at $500,000 per apartment, I think it can be done.

By widGet on 10/31/2013 at 9:16 pm

The lack of suitability of this site for residential development was recognized by the town on more than one occasion.  I can only hope that despite the approvals granted by our town board, that others who stand between those approvals and the construction of this project will take the time to look in the mirror before approving the funding, site approvals and remaining variances that this project requires.  There is still time for others involved in the process to do the right thing.  Mr. Klepper is as good and kind as any person I know. Lets hope his wisdom and truth finds the right ears.  Affordable housing at any cost is not the answer.

By Robert Fleisher on 11/01/2013 at 12:24 am

Yes, “Dear sir, “Dear whatever,” never reads what is written or posted before commenting. That would take a minute and that’s why the comments are gibberish.

By bob on 11/01/2013 at 7:03 am

Great letter, Roger!  I could not agree more.

By Rob Greenstein on 11/01/2013 at 9:45 am

Historically and to this very day, poor minorities are located in areas that are substandard and would be considered unsuitable by the majority.  The Hunts Place site is a textbook example of environmental racism.  However, under our system of laws, as long as government officials deem it acceptable, the location is legally sufficient.  As long as the private sector can make significant money building and managing such housing, it will continue to be built.  Obviously, the Town Board’s moralizing is difficult to swallow when these facts are known, but that’s just the way it is.

By The Way it Is on 11/01/2013 at 9:50 am

@Thank you Mr. Keppler,

Not the town board’s “wrong” decision, its illegal decision.

By bob on 11/01/2013 at 1:14 pm

bob’s right. Zuch and the board can’t even understand what Mr. Klepper is saying. So they are silent.

By where’s zuch? on 11/01/2013 at 1:16 pm

Economic racism is defined as involuntarily compelling those who
1 work 6 days a week to pay off $250,000 ofstudent loans and
2 pay over 50% of their salaries in taxes (beloved chappaqua real estate, income, social security, Medicare, sales etc)
3 and have two incomes to enable them to live here

Compell those people to subsidize others who do not have those burdens so that those other people are able to live in a community that they cannot afford, including life style issues.

No problem, build conifer next to your house and/or take in one of those families into your home. It would be wonderful that you would feed and clothe them. In that case you are not a bleeding heart hypocrite

By The way it ain’t on 11/01/2013 at 6:44 pm

Chappaqua is not the federal government. The broad integration issues you raise are irrelevant. This a town which welcomes all who can afford to live here. I do not try to live on sutton place and ask the billionaires to help pay my rent. I don’t try to live in the mansions of Newport Rhode Island. I pay for what I get or do without. Why should anyone else get something that they are not entitled to? It is unfair to force local people to pay for bleeding heart, ultra liberal gratification .

By It ain’t so on 11/01/2013 at 6:52 pm

There will be esteem issues for children who cannot afford to keep up with their peer group on terms of material things . That is the reality of teenage life.

By Agreed on 11/02/2013 at 8:56 am

Why should there be an decided effort to import minorities into this town as opposed to allowing things to happen in the course of natural events?  What is a minority according to you?  We have a huge mix here already. The Christmas thanksgiving celebration shows this. I won’t be politically incorrect by listing all the ethnic groups and minorities we have.  The operative word is poor. Their children may not be able to blend in financially (no disrespect, true caring only meant).  Cliquey girls can be mean and impossible to each other when there are no economic challenges. I am frightened by the prospect of the difficulties which are certain to occur. I welcome everyone. I admire hard working “moderate” families who can enhance all of us with their perspectives. But the children are an entirely different story and cannot be controlled where and when it counts. Just look at the Facebook bullying tragedies. Don’t kid yourselves. You are on a slippery slope but you don’t see it.

By Dazed and confused on 11/02/2013 at 11:07 am

@Dazed and confused,

“I welcome everyone,” you say. Really? The rest of your comment certainly doesn’t back that up.

By duh on 11/02/2013 at 1:14 pm

All who can pay their own way are welcome.  Those who want the rest of us to pay for their lives in addition to our own , and those who want to force others to in effect involuntarily adopt others who can’t pay for themselves……..well that is not the American or democratic way. That is the socialist way. No problem if that is what you want, so relocate with them to socialist countries that are based upon that belief. We all struggle for ourselves and , to the extent we want it are able, provide some charitable support to others. I think a line should be drawn when that semi charitable soul is figuratively force to give another ro and board in his or her own home. I don’t see you making such an offer. However if the would be new neighbor can support himself, welcome. Truly and really.  And that person developes a problem, make sure he has a key to your house

By Dear duh on 11/02/2013 at 2:56 pm

No matter in what manner so long as they democratically feed their own children and pay for their own clothes and roof, unless you, mr duh, personally will pick up the tab. No problem, you hypocrite .

By Everyone is welcome who can pay for themselves on 11/02/2013 at 4:16 pm

I am ashamed and concerned that these are the values of our community.  Are these the values we are passing on to our children?  I think this election is a perfect example of the poor behavior that goes on on this Town.  Take a good look in the mirror.  Your children are watching and listening to you.  Meanness is running wild in New Castle.  Your children learn from you and some of you need to take stock.

By I am ashamed on 11/03/2013 at 7:34 am

@Dear duh & Everyone is welcome…,

You keep digging yourself into a deeper hole and your hatred of your fellow man is seeping through.

By duh on 11/03/2013 at 8:22 am

Is it hatred to work hard for for your own family and expect others to do the same for their own families ? I don’t hear you offering the keys to your car and home to those who can’t afford to live here ….you total hypocrite . It is the smarminess of your “let them eat cake “ultra liberal attitude that is the real problem.

By Dear duh on 11/03/2013 at 11:04 am

Ashamed of what? That hard work is to be valued and giving more to your family than you had growing up?  The only unstated color involved in everything is. Green .

And that is our society. Ok , you don’t like the American way. Nobody forces you to live here

By Dear ashamed on 11/03/2013 at 11:09 am

@ “Dear duh” & “Dear ashamed,”

Calm down. Anger like yours is not healthy.

By duh on 11/03/2013 at 11:57 am

Whose angry? Just expressing disgust with your disdain for hard work and the desire to support one’s own family. No problem . You clearly are a hypocrite . It’s your life

By Dear duh on 11/03/2013 at 1:09 pm

I read recently (not confirmed but it was in a legitimate newspaper) that 85% of the New York State budget goes to welfare recipients in the form of housing, medicaid and food stamps.  Social Service Department actually uses the word entitled when they refer to services to people they serve.  I work hard, very hard to live in town.  I raised my children, paid my taxes, always with the thought that I was so glad I was able to do this for myself and my family.  Not through someone else’s handout, but my own hard work.  So many of the families on social services are generation after generation with many more children than our families have.  I don’t have the answers but I can understand the frustrations of people who write in on this platform.  There is no good answer at to what we should do but frustration is a real feeling for many of us.

By one more thought on 11/04/2013 at 4:12 pm

Mr. Klepper, your points are exactly right but Susan Carpenter and the others on the town board who voted for this disaster have their own personal agendas. When politicians have personal agendas, projects that normally would not to entertained, are entertained.  Susan Carpenter has personal reasons for approving this project and has the power to do it.  We, the town of Chappaqua, will all lose once this is built.  It is like a billionaire donating their old ripped and torn clothing to the poor and saying, “see, I give to the less fortunate”

By It will be built on 11/05/2013 at 3:08 pm

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