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HUD Report Questions Westchester Zoning Laws

County Legislator Catherine Borgia  represents the village Croton and the town of Ossining, and says the author of the HUD report needs to meet with local officials.
County Legislator Catherine Borgia represents the village Croton and the town of Ossining, and says the author of the HUD report needs to meet with local officials. Photo Credit: File Photo

OSSINING, N.Y. -- Seven Westchester municipalities have been accused in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report of having zoning laws that keep out and segregate low-income families.

Croton-on-Hudson, Harrison, Lewisboro, the Town of Mamaroneck, the Town of Ossining, Pelham Manor and Pound Ridge were the seven municipalities named in the report recently released from Housing Monitor James Johnson. Johnson is trying to ensure that Westchester County meets the terms of a 2009 anti-discrimination housing settlement that requires the county to build 750 units of affordable housing by 2016, according to a news release.

Johnson said the towns lack zoning laws that provide incentives for or mandate affordable housing.

“Our work made clear (that) seven municipalities did not meet the first standard. I believe more data is required before one can conclude on the second,” Johnson said.

The county settled the anti-discrimination suit with HUD in 2009, but the two sides have butted heads since County Executive Robert Astorino took office in 2010. HUD is threatening to withhold $20 million in federal grants for nonprofits if the county does not meet HUD’s terms.

Ned McCormack, communications director and senior adviser to Astorino rejected the HUD report.

“The county’s comprehensive analysis in eight submissions to HUD – running to thousands of pages of documentation – found no evidence of any exclusionary zoning,” McCormack said in a statement.  “The county executive once again demands that HUD release the $17 million it is arbitrarily withholding from our local communities. There is no reason for HUD to continue to hold this money hostage, which is designed to help our neediest residents.”

County Legislator Catherine Borgia, who represents the Town of Ossining and Village of Croton-on-Hudson said Johnson’s conclusion is mistaken.

“Both Ossining and Croton are welcoming of ethnic, economic and cultural diversity and have made significant efforts to create housing opportunities that reflect this spirit,” Borgia said. “Both have long-standing community partners that foster the development of affordable housing which encourages the community vitality that comes with diversity.”

Borgia said she would like to have Croton Mayor Leo Wiegman and Ossining Supervisor Sue Donnelly meet with Johnson to discuss his findings.

“I look forward to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to lead to a better understanding of present circumstances and more collaborative and creative ways to meet the needs of our shared future,” Borgia said."It is by working together that we uncover the best way forward."

Wiegman said Johnson’s report does not represent what Croton has accomplished. Croton has worked with developers to create affordable-housing units, Wiegman said.

“We built over 30 units of affordable housing,” Wiegman said. “We’ve done it without any fanfare.”

Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons said he agreed and disagreed with some of HUD’s report noting Lewisboro is not able to develop due to being in the New York City watershed, which hinders multifamily developments.

“The town is unsuited for major development,” Parsons said. “There is a lack of public transit.”

Parsons conceded Lewisboro needs affordable housing and said the town will look at making accessory apartment laws more friendly.

“We need to make sure septic systems can handle it,” Parsons said. “We don’t need new construction, we need existing construction and to put accessory apartments there.”

Parsons said the town needs more affordable housing to allow for emergency personnel like fire and ambulance corps members to live in the town.

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