SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Under pressure from the federal government, the Lewisboro Town Board last week voted to adopt a “model ordinance” governing affordable housing in town.
The ordinance was given the green light at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting, weeks after federal housing monitor Stephen Robinson warned that Lewisboro could face a lawsuit if not adopted by years end.
Robinson met with Supervisor Peter Parsons, Councilman John Pappalardo and the town’s attorney in November. Robinson, in a forthcoming report to District Court Judge Denise Cote, told the town officials that he was prepared to list Lewisboro as being noncompliant with the county’s 2009 affordable housing settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Basically, [Robinson was] going to recommend a lawsuit against us,” Parsons said of the meeting.
The prospect of going to war with the federal government was not appealing to Parsons, who said he pleaded with Robinson to delay filing his report until Lewisboro took corrective actions. Robinson, in an email, told The Katonah-Lewisboro Times that he will file his report in January.
Though approving the model ordinance was enough to remove the “noncompliant” label, Robinson said, that was only one part of his concern with Lewisboro, the other being the Planning Board’s delay in approving Lewisboro Commons, a 42-unit affordable housing complex proposed for Goldens Bridge.
“While I cannot say the town is in full compliance, I don’t think I would use the word ‘noncompliance’ with respect to their current status,” Robinson said.
The Planning Board, at its Nov. 20 meeting, was warned of the ramifications should it not approve the affordable housing complex in short order. By resolution, board members set a self-imposed deadline of Feb. 26 to vote on the project.
Parsons said he wrote a letter to Robinson following the ordinance’s approval, in which he told the federal monitor he was optimistic about Lewisboro Commons being approved.
“I suggested the resolution was exactly what he wanted and it was really just a question of timing,” Parsons said. “So, please be nice to me.”
Parsons said Robinson was concerned that the Planning Board was “delaying [Lewisboro Commons] into non-existence.”
At the Nov. 20 meeting, Councilman John Pappalardo was tasked with relaying Robinson’s comments to the Planning Board. Pappalardo described Robinson as being “suspicious” of the Planning Board’s lengthy review process.
“I don’t know if it is fair to characterize myself as being ‘suspicious,’” Robinson said to the paper. “I am concerned. I think the issue bears watching. I do hope and trust that Mr. Parsons was correct in his optimistic assessment of where the town is headed in this regard.”
Following the adoption of the model ordinance, the biggest change to the code is a requirement that new residential developments include a percentage of affordable units. Developments of 10 or more units will be required to set aside at least 10 percent as affordable. In developments of five to nine units, at least one will be affordable.
Developers who build affordable units may be eligible for a density bonus, meaning, should the Planning Board give its approval, they could exceed zoning requirements to build more total units than would otherwise be allowed.
The revised code prohibits preferences for these affordable units, meaning Lewisboro residents or employees, for example, would not have an advantage in applying. The units would be marketed by Westchester County and available to families whose household income is at or below 80 percent (for-purchase) or 60 percent (rental) of the county’s Average Median Income (AMI).
These units would remain affordable for at least 50 years, beginning when a certificate of occupancy is granted for rental units or when for-purchase units are sold. Rental applicants will sign leases for a maximum of two years and, if still eligible under the AMI guidelines, shall be offered the opportunity to renew.
People who own affordable housing units can resell them, but the sales prices will be capped by the AMI.
From the outside, the affordable units must be indistinguishable from other units in the development. However, interior finishes and furnishings can be “reduced in quality” to make up for the lost income. They must be between 450 and 1,200 square feet, depending on the number of bedrooms.
Robinson said he will comment on Lewisboro’s version of the ordinance in his January report.