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Reluctantly, New Castle Town Board Concedes On Conifer Plan

Randall McLaughlin, pictured at a New Castle Town Board meeting.
Randall McLaughlin, pictured at a New Castle Town Board meeting. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A photo of a rendering of Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable-housing proposal.
A photo of a rendering of Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable-housing proposal. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
The proposed site for Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station apartment building.
The proposed site for Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station apartment building. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- The New Castle Town Board effectively gave up on proactively fighting Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable-housing proposal when it recently granted several votes in favor of the developer.

The measures, which were unanimously approved at the board's March 29 meeting, included extending Conifer's existing special permit for the project to November 2017; raising the height of a proposed safety fence by adjacent train tracks from six feet to eight feet; agreeing to a emergency roofline path for firefighters; allowing a 6-foot opening from the project's pedestrian walkway that connects to the Route 120 bridge; and authorizing safety measures for vehicular and pedestrian activity by the bridge. In the case of the latter approval, further measures may be implemented if the town's public-safety officials request them.

Conifer originally received special-permit approval in September 2013, when board members voted 3-2 in favor of granting it. None of the members who voted previously are still on the board.

In contrast, the sitting five board members have each expressed displeasure with the merits of the project. Three of the members - they are Supervisor Rob Greenstein, Deputy Supervisor Adam Brodsky and Councilwoman Lisa Katz - joined the board in 2014, while Councilman Jeremy Saland and Councilwoman Hala Makowska joined at the start of this year.

Town officials voiced concerns about the project, which includes 28 apartments in a 4-story building, on several occasions in 2014 and 2015; Conifer also had to abide by a multiple of conditions for the permit, which the town would watch carefully. During those years, Supervisor Rob Greenstein, for example, repeatedly criticized Conifer's plan and suggested an alternative site on Chappaqua's Washington Avenue.

Despite the dissatisfaction, Conifer secured several procedural victories. In January 2015, the developer secured approval of six fire and building-code variances from a state review board; the town subsequently urged the board to reconsider its decision but to no avail. Conifer also persuaded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and state Department of Transportation (DOT) to pursue land-lease agreements.

Conifer's downtown Chappaqua project site, which is located at 54 Hunts Place, is on roughly one-third of an acre and sites next to Metro-North train tracks, which is controlled by the MTA, and the Saw Mill River Parkway, which is controlled by the DOT. Several residents have blasted the proposal due to its proximity to both sites, arguing that the project is in an unsafe area and would be isolating for its future residents.

With their votes, board members decided not to actively fight the project, which is still subject to building-permit review. A desire to avoid contentious litigation with the developer was one factor mentioned by board members, all of whom noted their displeasure with the project's site.

“It's far from optimal,” Saland said of the project. “It's not an easy decision.”

Makowska, alluding to the current board inheriting the situation, said that members were sitting with “an imperfect hand that was played.”

Brodsky noted that he would stop the project if he could, but voted in favor of the measures due to possible litigation and because of the “size and tenacity of the applicant."

Greenstein directed his statement towards Randall McLaughlin, who is Conifer's attorney and was present at the meeting. McLaughlin has blasted the town's handling of his client's application in previous news-outlet interviews.

“I'm tired of fighting with you and battling with you," he said. "But the truth is, is that any characterizations that say that we were against affordable housing was 100-percent not accurate. it was unfair to our community. We can move on, we can move past it, but the fact is, actions speak louder than words and the actions speak for themselves.”

The actions that Greensteein referenced were about 32 other units of affordable housing that have been approved town. Twenty-eight of the units are slated for the historic cupola building at Chappaqua Crossing, two are meant for a building near downtown Chappaqua while two more are meant for a building near downtown Millwood.

McLaughlin reacted positively to the town board's votes when asked by Daily Voice.

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