GOLDENS BRIDGE, N.Y. – The Lewisboro Planning Board voted last week to close the public hearing for a 46-unit affordable housing development and, before making its decision, is now tasked with considering several public hearings’ worth of comments, including those of nearly 100 speakers as well as written submissions.
Throughout the hearings, which began in October, residents’ concerns have remained consistent, with safety, traffic and financial ramifications cited as reasons to reject the government-subsidized complex proposed for 35 acres off Route 22.
“The board has obviously gained from the comments,” said Planning Board Chair Jerome Kerner. “Much of the material that has been commented was on our radar right from the get-go, but getting the public input has enhanced our views and hopefully lead toward a better plan, or no plan.”
Another dozen or so residents spoke once again at the final hearing, held at Increase Miller Elementary School on Tuesday, June 19.
Barry Roberts of Todd Road submitted a collectively written letter on behalf of 17 neighborhood residents. Their concerns about the development, Roberts said, are not indicative of their overall feelings about affordable housing.
“We see real and lasting benefits from our community being inclusive and not exclusive,” Roberts said, reading from the letter. “However, we consider the current proposal to be inadequate and dangerous, placing our community at great risk in terms of safety and impact to both current and future residents.”
The latest iteration of the project calls for the construction of five buildings: two with eight units and three with 10 units. One of the eight-unit buildings would also accommodate a clubhouse with exercising and gathering areas and a computer room. One of the buildings would be two stories, while the remainder would be 2-1/2 stories.
The project includes 26 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units ranging in size from 842 square feet to 1,285 square feet. One unit would belong to the development’s caretaker.
Development is expected to disturb 10 acres, with 3 acres of impervious coverage and 17 acres to be permanently preserved open space. The layout also includes 112 spaces for parking, a 1,400-square-foot play area and a 1,500-square-foot sports court. All would be accessed by a single 24-foot-wide driveway.
One of the biggest points of contention is that single point of access to and from the property. Despite the argument of John Bainlardi, vice president of Wilder Balter, that the project is “in compliance,” residents and first responders said multiple points of access would create a safer environment.
Carmine Valvano, a Lewisboro resident and firefighter in Mount Kisco, said his department has seen emergency calls spike when affordable housing buildings are occupied. Most of the calls, he said, are false alarms. Eventually, he said, it creates a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario, in which the volunteers are less likely to get out of bed in the middle of the night to respond to a call.
“The first responders will be overburdened to no end,” Valvano said.
Others said the site is simply not ideal. For one, Ken Sullivan said, the proposed buildings are in the woods, “on the side of a hill,” reducing the development’s walkability. Students, Roberts said, would be picked up by a school bus on a busy Route 22 in the middle of rush hour.
Greg Oyen said the location of the property could also create a strong feeling of isolation from the rest of the community among its residents.
“Right now, what we’re looking at here is just a little pocket, an isolated pocket, where we’re going to put low-income people, and it feels a little bit [like] a ghetto, in the classic sense of just an isolated pocket,” Oyen said. “These are kids who are going to feel very isolated if they come to school like this.”
Others, however, said the affordable housing will benefit Lewisboro. Jane Lindau, a former program director at Westchester Residential Opportunities, said Lewisboro is lagging behind other Westchester communities when it comes to the availability of affordable housing. She said Lewisboro is one of the few municipalities that has not adopted Westchester County’s model zoning ordinance to encourage the development of affordable housing.
“We’ll only be sued over segmentation if we don’t let this go through, because we’re one of the only towns in the county that has not adopted the [model ordinance],” Lindau said.
Fred Margolies, of the Goldens Bridge Community Association, said it’s time to move on from the public hearings.
“It has gone through all of the hoops that it has to go through and we’d like you to vote on this and move it forward,” Margolies said. “This hearing has been more than an embarrassment. You people (the Planning Board) have taken abuse that you should never have taken.”
Mike Gordon said the project could benefit fixed-income seniors who would like to stay in the community.
But many residents objected to this claim, noting that residency is decided by an open lottery. Planning Board members said anyone is free to apply, including people who live on the opposite end of the country.
Bainlardi, however, acknowledging the open lottery, said town and county residents are more likely to apply. At Bridleside, a Wilder Balter affordable housing complex in North Salem, about 25 percent of its residents are from North Salem and about 75 percent are from Westchester County.
Residents were also concerned with what they said were ever-changing figures for traffic, enrollment and tax projections. Wilder Balter has projected that the complex will add 16-18 students to the school district. Residents requested additional traffic studies for the affected area, including I-684 and Route 22.
After about two hours, board members voted to close the hearing. If “substantially” new information is presented during the board’s deliberations, the board said it can re-open the hearing.