Special Use Permit Changes for Conifer Affordable Units Approved

Martin Wilbur, Staff Writer
The Examiner, news.com 

“The New Castle Town Board approved last week the final six modifications to Conifer Realty’s special permit for 28 affordable units in downtown Chappaqua but the applicant must still address multiple conditions before it may begin building.

Board members unanimously agreed to the revisions dealing with mainly several safety issues that were needed to allow the project to move forward and be considered for a building permit.

Changes include a roof with a path and covering that will allow firefighters access to the top of the building; increasing the height of the fence separating the parcel and the MTA property from six to eight feet; extending the sidewalk on the left side of the building 200 feet; increasing the width of the pedestrian opening leading from the property to the Quaker Street bridge to six feet; and having a sliding gate or fence with a security key fob for residents to enter the property’s main entrance.

Conifer representatives said they have been unable to convince the state Department of Transportation, per the town’s request, to install a fence for the pedestrian walkway on the bridge.

Despite its vote, the entire board voiced deep reservations about the project at its March 29 meeting, particularly Conifer’s refusal to install an emergency generator on the property. Town code does not require an applicant to install a generator.

Conifer received its original special permit in 2013 before any of the current council members were on the board.

Project director Brian Donato said Conifer, which manages about 14,000 affordable units across the Unites States, has only installed generators in its buildings where it’s required by code. In the event of a long-term power outage, the company has plans to relocate residents or even carry people down the stairs if they need help evacuating, he said.

Randolph McLauglin, the attorney for Conifer, told the board that if problems arise, the company’s on-site management team will be on hand to address them.

“We’re building a building and we’re not walking away from it,” McLaughlin said. “We want to be a good neighbor to this town and our people who are going to live here. So, sure, if there are issues that come up and the public safety officials, the (police) chief, says to us, ‘Listen, we need to fix something,’ we’re going to work with you to fix that problem.”

However, Councilman Adam Brodsky urged Conifer to install a generator, although he acknowledged that town officials are in no position to make that a requirement. However, it would be a wise decision for Conifer to make, he said.

“When you stand up here and you say that we’re going to carry the residents, what you should be saying is we’re going to put in a generator,” Brodsky said. “If you’re spending $14 million or $15 million or $20 million and several hundred thousand more to have a generator, if you care about your residents just tell us you’re going to put a generator in and that’s it.”

Donato said the issue is not a financial one but with the building anticipated to take up nearly the entire .39-acre parcel, there is insufficient room on the property to house a generator.

Before the town board closed the public hearing on the proposed modifications to the special use permit, several opponents returned to voice their opposition during the hearing that lasted more than two hours. Chappaqua architect William Spade said the site’s many drawbacks is a chief reason for the escalating expense of the project and the difficulties Conifer and the town are having in resolving various issues.

“So now you’re dealing with all of these issues because you’re trying to shoehorn this project into this site,” Spade said. “It’s not an appropriate site and you’re fighting all of these issues because of that.”

Supervisor Robert Greenstein said he understood the concerns but it’s the town’s job to address them and make the project as safe as possible.

“We’re all aware of the concerns and repeating them again and again, it’s frustrating for everybody, but it’s not going to change anything,” he said.

McLaughlin said he anticipated Conifer to shortly finalize the lease agreement with the MTA. The board also granted an extension of the special use permit until Nov. 24, 2017.”

www.theexaminernews.com