By LIZ BUTTON
Rye residents will have full warning and a fair say well before any senior affordable housing complex at the corner of North Street and Theodore Fremd Avenue ever breaks ground, according to Mayor Joe Sack.
Sack, a Republican, said, in the recent past, the public did not have enough notice preceding certain land development proposals that came before the City Council, a number of which would have required changes to the city’s zoning code.
“Some of these projects just landed smack dab on the dais [without sufficient previous public notice or discussion], which I believe led to those projects suffering,” Sack said.
The mayor cited the 2012 plan to build a Hampton Inn Hotel at the old Mobius headquarters at 120 Old Post Road, which some residents opposed because of safety concerns and potential for overdevelopment, as well as the controversy surrounding the city’s sale of the Lester’s property at 1037 Boston Post Road.
But the 2.1-acre, county-owned site at 150 North Street has been eyed by numerous Rye City Councils for more than 30 years as a destination for affordable housing.
The property lies adjacent to the existing Con Edison operations and equipment facility on Theodore Fremd Avenue and abuts the Metro-North railroad tracks.
“Putting affordable housing onto this site is not a new concept,” Deputy Mayor Laura Brett, a Republican, said. “But it is certainly not an issue that has been put in front of the public recently.”
So, at this point, the key to building consensus is publicity and transparency, Sack said.
“We’re trying to get out in front of [the issue],” he said. “I think there is consensus on the council with this: To build consensus so the public agrees.”
On Friday, Jan. 24, the mayor and deputy mayor toured the site with local media and developer Lou Larizza, of Lazz Development, who was invited by Westchester County, which owns the property, and the city to undertake the project after his successful work on Rye’s Cottage Street 9-unit affordable housing development completed in 2007 and the 22-unit development completed in 2012, Larizza said.
In 2010, conferring with the county, the City Council authorized Lazz Development to build up to 25 affordable homes at the North Street property.
The application must ultimately be approved by the county, which has expressed its support for the plan. That support is bolstered by the fact that roughly 50 percent of the North Street senior housing units will count toward the stipulations of the county’s $51.6 million affordable housing settlement, according to Mike Martino, housing consultant for the project.
An agreement reached in 2009 with the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development requires 31 Westchester communities to create 750 affordable housing units by 2017 to combat what HUD determined were discriminatory housing practices.
While the HUD settlement limits the county to 25 percent of the 750 units which can be reserved for affordable housing for seniors, the county has reserved some of the proposed senior units on its North Street property to count toward that 25 percent, according to county officials.
Larizza’s tentative plan is to construct 54 units in two three-story buildings with occupancy restricted to individuals age 55 and above. The complex’s buildings would have a maximum height of 40 feet and contain nine units per floor, with stone pillars and pine trees placed in the front to block the buildings’ view from the street.
Beside any potential intrusiveness on surrounding neighborhoods, visual or otherwise, there are a number of other issues the public will have the chance to debate well before construction starts. These issues include contamination the state Department of Environmental Conservation discovered during a round of testing in 2011 although, since then, the DEC has deemed the site developable.
The county health department ruled the development may go forward as long as there is no enclosed residential space on the first floor, so Larizza said he plans to make the first floor of each building an open-air parking garage, allowing continuous fresh air to flow through.
Another unusual aspect of the site that might be of interest to the public is it abuts the railroad tracks; however, Larizza said he has much experience building in such locations.
“Most of my sites abut highways and railroads,” Larizza said, pointing to an affordable housing development on Grant Street in the Village of Rye Brook that abuts Route 287, and the city’s two affordable housing developments on Cottage Street, which abut both I-95 and 287.
The proposed project is currently before the city’s Planning Commission, which must make a recommendation to the City Council whether to allow for rezoning the property, which is currently zoned for general business and neighborhood business.
The only other Rye location currently zoned for senior affordable housing is Rye Manor at 300 Theall Road, which has around 100 units.
Brett, who is liaison to the Planning Commission, said the commission hopes to present a recommendation at the Feb. 5 City Council meeting at the earliest. Larizza will be presenting the project’s site plan rendering on that date as well. Once a recommendation has been made, Sack said he will set a public hearing, which may fall as early as the council’s Feb. 26 meeting.
Around that time, Sack said he plans to arrange another walk-through with Larizza open to all Rye residents.