Bulldozers, dump trucks and excavators are knocking down trees, churning up soil and delivering heavy supplies to about 19 acres of land off of Route 9A in Montrose. If you live there, you have noticed.
The construction of a four-building affordable housing development named Roundtop next to the VA Hospital began in mid-February and is expected to be complete by the end of 2012. The development will feature 92 one- and two-bedroom units (46 units of each size), offered only to households with incomes no higher than 60 percent of the area median household income.
The project by Wilder Balter Partners was first brought to the Town of Cortlandt Planning Board by a different owner in 1993. It helps fulfill part of Westchester County’s Affordable housing requirements, created by (HUD) agency following a 2006 lawsuit by the Anti-Discrimination Center, a New York City-based advocacy group.
It is across the street from the Cortlandt Train Station, on a Bee-line bus route and within walking distance from (Hendrick Hudson) High School, said Bill Balter, co-manager of Wilder Balter Developers. “It is a well located development for any kind of housing.”
Balter, a well-known Westchester County developer who also built and owns the senior living community Woodcrest at Jacobs Hill development in Cortlandt, expects local residents to line up for the new apartments.
“We have more than 200 people waiting for Jacobs Hill. There are going to be way more people who will want the units (at Roundtop) than the number of units available,” Balter said.
Median household income (sixty percent of that is $57,723). Rent at Roundtop will range between $975 for a one-bedroom and $1200 for a two-bedroom unit, respectively, Balter said.
There will be two separate waiting lists, one for 83 apartments that the county approved for financing, and another for eight apartments approved by the Town of Cortlandt before the county got involved, which means that Cortlandt residents get preference for those eight units.
Balter is building a similar project in Larchmont that offers units for sale, rather than for rent, to households whose income is no more than 80 percent of the area’s median.
Twenty towns and cities throughout Westchester are affected by the fair housing settlement, including Yorktown, Rye, Pleasantville, Dobbs Ferry and others.
Roundtop was not always meant to be an affordable housing development. Plans to develop the land in Montrose first went to the town Planning Board in 1993 when Rocco Triglia owned the project, said Town Planning Director Chris Keyhoe. Triglia’s then five-building project was finally approved in 2008, but he never moved forward with construction.
In 2010 Balter found the development and went to the county for funding to make it an affordable housing project, helping to fulfill the settlement requirements. The county took ownership of the project, put the affordability restrictions on it and sold to Balter to develop.
Before the HUD settlement, local municipalities had the power to decide if and where affordable housing would be built and located, but now localities have no say and the county’s decisions supersede any objections Cortlandt may have.
“I am a supporter of affordable housing within reason, a mix,” said Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi in an interview earlier this year. “(This project) is not preferable because it is too dense, because of traffic issues and it is not equitable because the distribution of the housing settlement should be distributed throughout the entire county and not in one locale.”
Cortlandt offers affordable housing opportunities in its Jacobs Hill, Springvale and Amberlands apartment developments, Puglisi said.
“We are not doing anything different than what was approved by the planning board,” Balter said. The planning board was reviewing the project's environmental impact throughout the 1990s when Triglia owned the project. When the project was finally approved in 2008 the planning board did not require any traffic improvements, Keyhoe said. That approval carried over to Balter. “It impacts no more than what was approved,” Balter said.
While the 83 Roundtop units count towards the county’s proposed 750 units, there are still issues in the fair-housing case to be resolved.
HUD announced in December that it is still not satisfied with the county’s plans to fulfill the requirements of the settlement. The plan was submitted in July 2010 and was the county’s third attempt at satisfying the settlement requirements. The HUD appointed federal monitor overseeing the settlement, James E. Johnson, said the county's plan does not sufficiently recognize the barriers to fair housing and identify the specific actions the county will take to overcome them. HUD said the county needs help overcoming exclusionary zoning practices by some municipalities. Johnson has given Westchester County until April to submit a fourth attempt at a plan that the department finds acceptable.
County Executive Rob Astorino’s Communications Director and Senior Advisor Ned McCormack issued a statement following HUD’s announcement in December: “Putting the Analysis of Impediments together is an iterative and collaborative process," McCormack said. "We've been asked for revisions. We will review HUD's suggestions carefully and work with them to make revisions in time for the April 1 deadline."
If you are interested in being placed on a waiting list for the Roundtop at Montrose units you can contact the Housing Action Council at (914) 332-4144, which will be administering this project for the owner Wilder/Balter Properties, Inc.