New Castle Officials OK Conifer Permit Extension, Deny Most Waiver Requests

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- New Castle's Town Board unanimously approved an 18-month extension for Chappaqua Station developer Conifer Realty's housing special permit while rejecting most of its requests for project fee waivers, meeting video shows.

The site for Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing proposal.

The site for Conifer Realty's Chappaqua Station affordable housing proposal.

Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

The votes, which took place on May 26, followed terse verbal exchanges between both sides.

Conifer originally requested a 24-month extension. Darius Chafizadeh, an attorney for Conifer who spoke at the meeting, cited the need for his client to get approvals from the state Department and Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), along with finalizing building issues.

Conifer sued the town in February over a dispute how long the special permit lasts. The permit was initially approved in September 2013 by a 3-2 vote.

In its lawsuit, Conifer argued that the permit for its proposed 28-unit apartment building lasts for 25 years based on a portion of the town's code that covers workforce housing. The town argued that the permit is only good for 18 months, which is the duration under general language for special permits, and that the 25-year provision only applies to operation of the building as workforce housing. The town also argued that the workforce housing provision of the code lays out items that are in addition to the general permit language.

A state Supreme Court sided with the town in a ruling early last month, writing that Conifer's legal argument is "absurd on its face." Conifer subsequently appealed the ruling.

Supervisor Rob Greenstein, who at the meeting repeatedly noted the use of "absurd" in the ruling, asked whether Conifer would withdraw the lawsuit should the extension be granted. Chafizadeh said he would have to speak to his client.

Meanwhile, the board denied Conifer's request waive fees for a building permit and engineering. The building permit-fee alone is $152,000, Conifer official Andrew Bodewes noted in an April letter to town officials. 

In making its Conifer's side cited a January 2011 letter from then-Supervisor Barbara Gerrard in which she wrote that she anticipates the town would waive the building permit fee.

At the meeting, Bodewes acknowledged that Gerrard's letter is not legally binding. Town Attorney Edward Phillips, in offering a legal opinion, argued that the building permit fee cannot be waived. Phillips also said that the 2013 resolution for the special permit does not allow for an engineering fee waiver.

The board did vote to grant Conifer's request to waive roughly $8,000 in fees connected to town officials' review time when the developer sought building and fire-code variances for the project from a state review board. 

Before the votes, Councilman Adam Brodsky, cited costs that the town has to incur and noted that the Conifer's waiver request was on top of other financial support it is getting.

“Basically you have a bigger profit at our expense,” Greenstein added.

Bodewes denied that Conifer's profit margin would rise should its waiver request be fully granted, telling the board that more local support reduces the amount of other governmental funding it receives. 

The votes came nearly a week after David McKay Wilson, a Journal News columnist who has written critically about the town's approach of the proposal, held a packed discussion forum at town hall on the local history of affordable housing. Critics and supporters of Conifer's project in attendence traded their opinions about the matter.

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