By CHRIS EBERHART
Harrison was one of seven Westchester municipalities named in the federal court monitor’s 2013 report that found what the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development calls exclusionary zoning and remains the only municipality not willing to change its zoning code to be in compliance, according to Westchester County legislators.
Harrison—along with Pelham Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, Lewisboro, Ossining, Pound Ridge and the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck—was listed in the 2013 report by federal monitor Jim Johnson, who was tasked with overseeing the 2009 affordable housing settlement between Westchester County and HUD, to have exclusionary zoning that limits opportunities to build affordable housing.
Johnson’s report, as it relates to Harrison, stated, “Harrison’s current zoning code does not appear to provide meaningful opportunities for the development of affordable housing,” and “Harrison provides no incentives or mandates for affordable housing.”
Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, denied the report’s findings and said Harrison does not have exclusionary zoning.
Johnson’s report said otherwise.
There are three districts in Harrison that allow for as-of-right multi-family dwellings, or housing that people are legally entitled to—multi-family residential, multi-family limited retail and garden apartment zoning districts. The three districts, which are all located in the southern part of the town in the area of Halstead and Oakland avenues, combined to account for 0.3 percent, or 32.9 acres, of the total 11,147 acres within the municipal boundaries of the Town/Village of Harrison.
According to the monitor’s report, 1.5 acres of the 32.9 acres zoned for affordable housing are undeveloped, which means there would only be enough space for about 45 units.
Harrison hasn’t built an affordable housing unit since 2000, according to the monitor’s report, which is why Harrison was labeled as having exclusionary zoning.
According to the monitor’s report, exclusionary zoning means “the municipality has not considered and does not have the potential to satisfy its fair share of regional [affordable housing] need.”
Municipalities have an obligation to fill part of the regional need based on the court case Berenson v. Town of New Castle in 1975, which said, “There must be a balancing of the local desire to maintain the status quo within the community and the greater public interest that regional needs be met.”
The Town of Mamaroneck recently rezoned, which increased the amount of land set aside for multifamily housing from approximately 1.7 percent of the town to 8.3 percent, and was consequently taken off the list of seven in February of this year.
According to county Board of Legislators Chairman Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, five of the remaining six municipalities are “in serious talks with the monitor” to discuss modifications to their zoning codes to allow for more affordable housing opportunities.
“With five of the six close to modifying their zoning, Harrison would be the only holdout, and you don’t want to be the only one. You don’t want to be in that category,” Kaplowitz said. “Harrison can look to its commercial district to create more affordable housing opportunities. These are reasonable considerations…The modifications we’re talking about aren’t revolutionary. They don’t impair the local communities. In fact, in some instances, they help the local community.”
Kaplowitz urged Harrison’s officials to meet with the monitor to discuss recommended changes to the zoning code, but Belmont refuses to do so. He said the Town and Village of Harrison do not have exclusionary zoning, so there’s nothing to change.
Although Harrison was one of the municipalities named as having exclusionary zoning, much of the housing battle has been fought above the local level with County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, sparring with HUD.
The county executive has been unwavering in his position that Westchester is in compliance with the 2009 affordable housing settlement and none of its municipalities have exclusionary zoning, while HUD maintains its opinion there are Westchester municipalities that have exclusionary zoning and, therefore, the county is not in compliance with the housing settlement.
Because HUD believes the county is not in compliance, it has withheld $17.4 million in community development block grant money from 2011 to 2013, which goes toward revitalizing neighborhoods, preventing homelessness and building affordable housing.
The $7.2 million grant from 2011 has been reallocated and lost to Westchester, and Astorino said he was willing to forfeit the $5.2 million grant from 2012.
The county, which had to “affirmatively further fair housing” by a May 7 deadline but didn’t, would have lost the $5.2 million grant if the Board of Legislators didn’t intervene.
Kaplowitz said HUD has recognized the Board of Legislators as the county’s representative in the negotiations moving forward. The reallocation of the community block grant deadline has been extended until June 9. By then, the municipalities need to be rezoned so they don’t have exclusionary zoning.
Calls to Johnson and Republican Town Councilman Steve Malfitano were not returned as of press time.