Affordable housing advances in Chappaqua

Michael P. McKinney, Staff Writer
The Journal News www.lohud.com 

“NEW CASTLE – A controversial affordable housing project in Chappaqua has gained momentum after the Town Board unanimously approved permit changes sought by the developer.

The location — 54 Hunts Place — is a third of an acre bounded by the Saw Mill River Parkway, Route 120 and the railroad tracks close to downtown Chappaqua. The next step for the 28 units is to obtain town building inspector approvals, according to Randolph McLaughlin, lawyer for the Rochester-based developer, Conifer Realty.

“It certainly was a huge step in the direction of bringing the project to fruition,” McLaughlin said.

There is no clear timetable of when the project could begin.

“To the extent that the (special-permit) modifications improve public safety at the project site, the Town Board supported them,” town Supervisor Robert J. Greenstein said in an email.

A bridge in the area of 28 units of affordable housing proposed for 54 Hunts Place in Chappaqua (Photo: Michael P. McKinney/The Journal News)

Although the board approved the permit modifications on March 29 for Chappaqua Station, a four-story development, the board, police and fire officials and some residents have long expressed criticism of the project, including that it would be crammed onto a small lot, and have raised safety concerns. Town officials sought to have the developer locate a new project next to the New Castle police station.

The issue in Chappaqua has played out in the larger context of a 2009 consent decree in a fair-housing lawsuit for which Westchester County is to build at least 750 units of affordable housing. Westchester made a move in support of the Chappaqua project when it bought the site this year.

In January, The Journal News/lohud.com reported the county has lost an estimated $22 million in federal money because of not complying with the 2009 decree.

The permit modifications that Conifer brought to the Town Board have resulted from issues raised by state and town officials during the review process. The permit, which was due to expire this November, has been extended into 2017.

Among the modifications is one from the Chappaqua Fire Department, which expressed concern about exiting on the building’s east side. That exit in the plan has been moved to the building’s southwest side near a stair tower. And the west-side sidewalk — initially proposed to be 45 feet long — will now be 200 feet long “to provide a safe passage to the exterior area,” according to a Nov. 25 letter from Conifer requesting the permit modifications.

Also approved is a Fire Department-requested path to allow access to the full distance of the roof, from north to south.

In his regularly released town supervisor’s report, Greenstein wrote that “every member of the current Town Board believes that the Hunts Place project site is a terrible location for residential housing of any kind. The current Town Board also believes that Conifer’s proposed building, which will be built from lot line to lot line on the 1/3-acre project site, is too large for that location.”

But, Greenstein’s report said, the board voted for the permit modifications and “many of these modifications will make the building safer for future residents and our first responders.” The board also ensured that public safety officials can revisit of the modifications in the future, “should additional safety measures become warranted.”

Greenstein said by email Thursday that, under the special permit, Conifer is applying for building permits in stages. The developer currently has a building permit to finish environmental remediation at the site. That remediation work has not yet started, he said.”

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