By LIZ BUTTON
A long-awaited affordable senior housing development may finally come to fruition on a 2.1-acre parcel of Westchester County-owned land on the corner of North Street and Theodore Fremd Avenue, which various Rye City Councils have eyed as an affordable housing destination for more than 30 years.
The county is highly supportive of the project, in part because the city would do its part to comply with the county’s $51.6 million settlement with the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. The settlement, reached in 2009 by then County Executive Andy Spano, a Democrat, requires 31 designated Westchester communities to create 750 units of affordable housing by 2017 in the interest of combating what HUD determined were discriminatory housing practices.
Deputy Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Planning Norma Drummond said the HUD settlement limits the county to 25 percent of the 750 units which can be reserved for affordable housing for seniors.
According to Mike Martino, housing consultant for the project at 150 North Street and a former mayor of Tuckahoe, the county has reserved some of the senior units within the proposed 54-unit, two building development to count toward that 25 percent. Roughly 50 percent of the units will count toward settlement stipulations, Martino said.
According to Drummond, the county prefers to keep the development available for Rye to use for affordable housing and is anxious to move forward with the project. Currently, Rye has some affordable housing at Rye Manor, located at 300 Theall Road, which has around 100 units for seniors.
“The county actually, in fact, under the previous administration, [sent out requests for proposals] for other uses on that property and did get bids for industrial uses on that property, but, again, because of the Rye City Council’s commitment to doing affordable housing on that site, the county wants to move forward with this site as affordable housing,” Drummond said.
The council is also anxious for the project to go forward, and voted at its Dec. 18 meeting to move the application on to the city’s Planning Commission.
City Manager Scott Pickup said building these units is “an opportunity for the city to work cooperatively with the county to show, on a larger basis, that we are all working toward the same goals.”
However, there have been roadblocks over the years the county and the city have had to navigate together.
Significant contamination was discovered at the site after a round of testing by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2011, but the DEC now considers the site developable, Drummond said.
The county health department also recently tested the site—which stands adjacent to the existing Con Edison operations and equipment facility on Theodore Fremd Avenue and abuts the Metro-North railroad tracks—and came to the same conclusion.
Drummond said the health department found that, with the exception of low levels of the petroleum-derived chemical benzene, all of the other chemical concentrations found earlier had been significantly reduced. The department’s verdict was the development could go forward as long as there is no enclosed residential space on the first floor. Pursuant to the environmental findings, the developer chosen by the county, Lazz Development/Pawling Holdings, plans to make the first floor an open-air parking garage, allowing continuous fresh air to flow through at grade level. Lazz Development was invited back by the county to undertake the North Street project after its successful work on Rye’s Cottage Street affordable housing development, constructing nine units in 2004, then another 22 units completed this year.
In early 2010, the City Council, under Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, authorized Lazz Development to build up to 25 affordable homes on the North Street development, to help Rye comply with the county’s 2009 HUD settlement.
The city had initially made an agreement in place with the county in 2005 to designate that county-owned site for affordable housing for city employees and seniors, according to French. According to Lou Larizza of Lazz Development, the company’s plan for North Street is to construct 54 units of senior housing located in two buildings that would consist of 44 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units. Residence on the property would be restricted to occupants of ages 55 and above.
In the proposed complex, each three-story building would have a maximum height of 40 feet and contain nine units per floor; 27 senior affordable housing units per building. Each building would also have a community room, a laundry room, elevators and a heavily landscaped courtyard, just like Larizza’s Cottage Street project.. Residents in these affordable housing arrangements will not pay for heat and hot water, only electricity, according to Larizza, and rents will be approximately $900 to $1,100 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,100 to $1,300 for two-bedrooms.
Martino said it has multiple sources of funding, including federal low income housing tax credits. The county and state will provide additional funding, he said.
“What we typically do is we look at all the local agencies to bring the costs down so we can offer the most affordable rents to the seniors, and we’ve already touched base with a number of these,” Martino said. “A lot of the equity comes from the federal low income housing tax credits.”
Lazz Development will also be touching base with the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal and taking advantage of various senior housing programs within the county planning department, Martino said.
As the approval process continues, the application will eventually filter its way through all the city’s land use boards upon receiving the go ahead from the City Council, according to City Attorney Kristen Wilson. Once approved in Rye, the completed application will go to the Westchester County Planning Board for approval.
Councilman Peter Jovanovich, a Republican whose term expired at the end of 2013, said he hopes the final result will be pleasing to the eye.
“I think it would be great if you all would listen carefully to the Board of Architectural Review. It’s amazing how great design can be achieved without more dollars,” said Jovanovich, whose wife Robin currently serves on the board. “Just because it’s for seniors and it’s affordable doesn’t mean it has to be less harmonious and less than salubrious for passersby.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, former city councilwoman and Rye Interfaith Housing Corporation president Carolyn Cunningham expressed her group’s support for the project. She recalled when, in the early 90s, then County Executive Spano promised the city the North Street parcel would always be reserved for affordable housing, even when other interests wanted to put industry there.