May 3, 2016
1. Public hearing: Repeal of the Affordable Housing Law (Chapter 102 of Town Code)
Before a standing room crowd, the hearing lasted for three hours. Of the 21 speakers, 18 opposed to the repeal, two supported the repeal and one person was undecided. The hearing was adjourned with Supervisor Grace saying he was willing to discuss modifications in the law (see below).
A video of the hearing is available at http://www.yorktownny.org/townboard/meeting-videos .
Supervisor Grace opened the hearing by explaining why the Town Board was proposing to repeal the law, enacted in 2011, that requires developers of more than seven units of market rate housing (as distinct from subsidized housing such as Crompond Crossing and the proposed Kear Street project) to set aside, on a sliding scale, 10% of the units for sale or rent at an affordable price. (Prior to the start of the hearing, the supervisor’s assistant distributed copies of the board’s rationale for repealing the law as well as an exchange of correspondence between the supervisor and James Johnson, the monitor overseeing the county’s housing settlement.)
Throughout the hearing, Supervisor Grace repeated his position that he was not against affordable housing but was against the method used in Chapter 102 to provide affordable housing. Repeatedly calling the law “fundamentally flawed” because it imposed an illegal tax on developers, he said the issue boiled down to one point: if there was going to be affordable housing, who was going to subsidize the units: developers or someone else. And, while he said he was open to meeting with the Community Housing Board, the housing monitor and HUD to discuss possible changes in the law, by the end of the hearing, he held firm to his position that the law was inherently illegal.
On the legality of the law: Several speakers (some of whom were lawyers) challenged the supervisor’s contention that the law was illegal. They pointed out that no court has decided that set aside requirements are illegal and that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a similar set aside law in California. They dismissed the relevance of the two court cases Supervisor Grace cited in support of his position as being “not on point.” It was noted that set aside provisions are common in many other municipalities throughout the state, including 19 in Westchester. When it was stated that the municipal attorneys in the 10 Westchester communities that have approved developments with set asides had no problem with the law, the supervisor called them lemmings who were jumping off the cliff.
In response to several comments about the risk of Yorktown being sued if it repealed the law, Supervisor Grace said the town was at risk of being sued either way; by developers or a pro affordable housing group.
Many speakers, acknowledging that the current law may not be perfect, questioned why the board had acted so hastily to repeal the law without taking the time to consider ways to analyze the situation and consider how the law could be improved or modified. Ken Belfer, chairman of the Community Housing Board, noted that contrary to the town’s usual procedures, the draft law had not been referred out to town advisory groups, including the Housing Board, for comment prior to being set up for a public hearing. He also raised the issue of whether the town had followed the required SEQRA process.
Need for affordable housing: Many speakers spoke in general terms about the need for affordable housing. Yorktown resident Mel Tanzman summed up these comments when he said: “This is about people, not abstract legal arguments.”
But resident Jay Miller, speaking in support of the repeal, said that it wasn’t the responsibility of town or its taxpayers to provide affordable housing to people; if our children or senior citizens can’t afford to live in Yorktown, then they should move elsewhere. And Jay Kopstein said he supported the repeal because the current law isn’t limited to providing affordable housing to Yorktown residents. (Note: the Fair Housing Law prohibits the concept of allowing local preferences.)
And speaking on behalf of the town’s clergy, Rev. Claire Woodley of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church said simply, “Don’t do it… Don’t put yourself in a place of shame… Be a hero.”
Other comments: Three speakers who have been involved in the housing issue for many years in Yorktown, challenged some of the supervisor’s statements about how the town’s 1988 affordable housing law had functioned.
Former Town Clerk Alice Roker, recalled a conversation she had had with Supervisor Grace about the 1988 law when he was town attorney. At the time, when developers had a choice of providing affordable units in their developments or paying $3,000/lot into a Housing Trust Fund, you called the payment a “contribution” and had no problem with it, she said. She went on to say that today, developers basically consider a set aside requirement as a “cost of doing business,” much like the town’s other land use regulations they have to comply with.
Susan Siegel (the person writing this summary) noted that three developments in various stages of approval had or were likely to be approved for higher densities than would have been permitted based on current zoning. If Chapter 102 was repealed, she said, the developers would continue to get the higher density (and a larger profit) but they wouldn’t be required to provide any affordable housing units.
Resale restrictions: Both Supervisor Grace and Councilman Bernard had issues with the law’s requirement that limited the resale price of the “for sale” affordable units. Designed to keep the units affordable over time, they said that the resale restrictions “trapped” the home buyers. And Councilman Bernard said that if the buyer stayed in the house for 20 or so years, even if their incomes increased, then the lack of turn over wasn’t helping other families in need of affordable housing. Both board members took exception to any inference that their support for repealing the law had any racial overtones.
2. Public hearing: Creation of Hunterbrook Sewer District Extension/Orchard View Subdivision
Two residents from the abutting Pine Grove Court neighborhood had questions and concerns about the extension. When it became clear that their concerns dealt with stormwater, not sewage, they were advised to monitor the Planning Board meetings that would deal with stormwater issues.
The board approved the request for the sewer district extension into the Peekskill Sanitary Sewer District. (Supervisor Grace abstained, explaining that he knew the applicant.) The request will now go to the county for approval.
3. Public hearing on bond authorization for Consolidated Water District
Supervisor Grace explained that Yorktown’s share of the cost of the new storage tank at the joint Water Works would be $1.1 million. He did not say what the total cost would be but explained that since the new tank will be larger than the one being replaced in order to provide more capacity for Montrose Water District and Cortlandt, those two communities would be paying for the extra capacity. He noted that the cost of the new tank is actually less than what it would have cost to maintain and paint the existing tank.
Ed Ciffone and Susan Siegel (the person writing this summary) questioned why the resolution was to bond “up to a maximum of $3 million” when the town’s share would only be $1.1 million. In response, Supervisor Grace said that the town would only be borrowing $1.1 million. When Comptroller Pat Caporale explained that the $3 million figure was based on an initial estimate and that the town only received the $1.1 million figure on Monday, she said the resolution only needed to be for $1.1 million. Supervisor Grace continued to argue for the $3 million resolution, saying he was only planning to borrow $1.1 million. But when Ciffone and Siegel continued to ask why then was the resolution for $3 million, the supervisor eventually agreed to modify the resolution so that it would be for only $1.1. million.
4. Public hearing on Building Construction Administration Code
Without any discussion or public comment, the hearing was opened and closed and the law adopted. The law clarifies a section of the code relating to when building permits are required.
Todd Orlowski was appointed Superintendent of Parks and Recreation at an annual salary of $95,000.
Conservation Board: Robert Puff
Ethics Board: Michael Reda
Planning Board: Richard Fon was re-appointed for another three year term and Anthony Tripodi was appointed as a new member.
(Note: Supevisor Grace announced that there are still openings on the Ethics Board and the Community Housing Board.)
6. Miscellaneous resolutions
Spectra pipeline: the board approved a resolution holding the town harmless relating to a blasting permit issued to Spectra.
Police Generator: Authorized an additional $25,110 for a transfer switch related to the purchase and installation of a new emergency generator
Hazard Mitigation Plan: Adopted the county’s 2015 Hazard Mitigation Plan
Bids: Awarded bids for a used bucket truck for the Parks Department,, dry cleaning services for Police Department uniforms, and laboratory services for the sewage treatment plan
YCCC: Waived most of the rent fee for the Enrichment Center.
7. Courtesy of the Floor
Survey on use of Spectra $1.5 million: Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, presented the board with a summary of the online survey hosted by Citizens for an Informed Yorktown. She reported that 69% of the respondents said the money should be spent on infrastructure improvements, with 51% saying that the top priority the money should be road paving, followed by 22% who wanted the money spent on park and recreation improvements. When Ms. Siegel distributed copies of the summary to the board, Supervisor Grace said: “I don’t want to see it.”
Unpaid taxes: Ed Ciffone asked what the town was doing to collect $4.3 million in unpaid taxes. He highlighted the $86,000 owed by the Sultana Pool since 2008 and wanted to know why the town hadn’t foreclosed on the property. There was no response from the board.