Sunday, May 11, 2008


An article in today's NY TIMES (REAL ESTATE) discusses using office parks as sites for new affordable housing. What do you think about the proposal?

Published: May 11, 2008
GENERATING both praise and criticism in a county with plenty of expensive housing but not much of the budget-friendly kind, a Department of Planning report urges towns and villages here to use land in existing office parks as sites for new housing, some of it for moderate-income families.

There are two big reasons that he believes the plan would work, Richard Hyman, an independent housing and planning consultant hired by the county for the study, says. To start with, office parks are typically created with more parking than they need, to meet standard zoning requirements. Additionally, the complexes are often built in campuslike settings, with room for more construction — in this case new residential buildings.

The recommendations came in response to a severe shortage of moderate-income housing in Westchester. Demand is expected to reach 19,083 units by 2015, yet between 2000 and 2005 only 970 units had been built, according to Deborah DeLong, the county’s housing director.

Because the roads and utilities in existing office parks are already in place, the study asserts, further development of those properties would not be as costly for developers.

Builders could afford to set aside as much as 15 percent of the housing for moderate-income families without relying on public funds, Mr. Hyman said.

Put another way, said Robert F. Weinberg, an Elmsford developer of mixed-use projects in Westchester: “Here we have already cut down all these trees, put in the sewer and water lines, so there’s no hole to be dug, no addition of parking lots and no extra runoff. It makes sense economically and environmentally.”

Mr. Weinberg, the president of the Robert Martin Company, is a shareholder in Mack-Cali Realty, which owns more than 25 office buildings and several office parks in Westchester. He was an adviser during the preparation of the report — one of several business executives whom the county interviewed, according to Mr. Hyman, who explained: “We didn’t want just an academic study. We wanted a report that was realistic.”

Five office parks in the county were cited in the report as examples of where the housing could be built.

One of them, Talleyrand Office Park, on White Plains Road in the village of Tarrytown — which is owned by Mack-Cali — has 178,000 square feet in two six-story office buildings and a restaurant, on a 75-acre wooded site. It also includes an apartment complex with 300 units, 60 of them designated as moderate-income.

Village officials in Tarrytown were less than receptive to the report’s suggestions. “On the surface it all sounds wonderful,” said Thomas T. Basher, the village’s deputy mayor, “but only if the office park has enough extra space for that. In our office park, it would be like squeezing 10 people into a Volkswagen, and I don’t mean a bus. It just won’t hold it.”

Mr. Basher also questioned why Tarrytown should shoulder more responsibility for moderate-income housing when “we’ve already done more than our share.”

During the 1990s, Tarrytown built 123 units of such housing, 56 more than the county had allocated for the village under a plan developed by a Housing Implementation Commission created by the County Board of Legislators.

But the panel issued a new plan in July 2005, updating the benchmarks for Westchester’s 43 municipalities to a 2015 timetable. According to that plan, Tarrytown has built only 6 of 111 additional allotted units.

Ms. DeLong, the county’s housing director, explained that the case studies in the report were meant only as examples of the feasibility of using office parks as sites for moderate-income houses and not directives for what any particular municipality should do.

She said the report would be circulated to other towns and villages throughout the county in the coming months. So far, only Tarrytown and Greenburgh have reviewed it.

Existing office parks are attractive sites for housing in part because they are already zoned for high-density development, although new regulations would be needed in some cases to permit residential use.

Additionally, the plan would enable municipalities to meet allocations established for moderate-income housing by the county without using undeveloped land, which is often in short supply.

The other four sites used as case studies are also along White Plains Road, but in the adjacent town of Greenburgh, where county officials met with Town Council members two months ago.

“There was no opposition here,” said Paul J. Feiner, the supervisor, “but no commitment either. In principle, though, if people can live close to where they work, they will spend less on gas, which is one of the reasons mixed-use developments make sense.”

The county’s plan to retrofit office parks is one of the first of its kind, Mr. Hyman said. Many mixed-use projects nationwide offer residential, office and commercial spaces, but they are mostly designed either from scratch on vacant land or as a major redevelopment project in a downtown area.

Mr. Hyman observed that local zoning laws governing small towns like those in Westchester — as opposed to downtown areas — were developed before the concept of mixed-use development was revived late in the 20th century.

Especially in suburban areas, zoning regulations enacted after World War II separated residential, commercial and industrial areas to protect property values, but at the same time increased dependence on automobiles.

The planning department hopes that as the report circulates, its ideas will gain favor. But because private companies own the office parks and municipalities control zoning, both groups must be convinced.

As Mr. Hyman noted, all the county can do is suggest and advise. “In the end,” he said, “zoning is the prerogative of the municipalities, so it’s going to be up to them.”


Anonymous said...

Sure, if developers want to and they think they'd have a market. No need for municipal government to stand in their way.

Anonymous said...

Good plan I would like to see if Greenburgh goes through with this type of housing where there would be no freebees hopefully.

Anonymous said...

I suspect it will make office buildings much harder to rent and result in more cert claims by them. Paul, lets not be the first to try this. suggest to county that Harriosn or WP try first. They arent in the dire, 20% tax increase area, that we are. OOPS forgot, no one cares about B budget. Maybe you should try and think how this effects the local school districts.

hal samis said...

This sounds like a windfall for the owners of office parks.

Additional development on stabilized properties already built out to their permitted max.

Now they can piggyback additional revenue from what was previously assumed to be capped.

Hey Jude, there's money to be made in affordable housing.

And, since "affordable", well the Westchester County definition of, is such a hot button of Town politics, why limit it to massive development on these sites when the "burden" could be shared on smaller built-out parcels where 1-5new units can be squeezed out

But the problem goes beyond the where and how. The problem is that the real housing shortage exists from not creating low income housing where there are limited players instead of the vanilla, antiseptic feel-good mission to provide housing for those earning upwards of $50,000.

For me, it always come back to where do the people, who run cash registers at CVS or stock the shelves at Bed, Bath and Beyond, live? These are the people that need help, not policemen, not firemen, not teachers who work nine months... When the definition of affordable is lowered to meet the needs of the poor and down trodden, then, and only then, shall I be interested in hearing about creating what is truly deserving of the tag, affordable. Not just that which is a bonus to large developers who honor the card: take a ride on the Reading Railroad, roll the dice and pay the owner... less prominent is "if you passed go collect $200".

So if you want to enrich developers by granting them additional development rights, then do so to encourage the creation of "low income" housing not the so-called "affordable" species; tsx credits exist for this too.

Anonymous said...

Hal is 100% correct - this is a thinnly disguised windfall for builders whose progjects are capped out, but want more, more $$$.
Let it happen in Harrison and White Plains first. Let's see how many certs are filed and by how much their assessibles are reduced. We're too broke - too high a percentage increase in our taxes to be the first out of the box on this issue. Please - give us a breather, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Ricardo lange, a homeless man who is on the Community Center search committee, is currently in jail, so.....he will not be attending the meeting. OH BY THE WAY, I have heard he uses Councilwoman Sonya Browns address on his arrest paperwork....


PS: The interim commissioner's nephew, who is a convicted felon, is also on the "Search Team"


Anonymous said...

We do not need anymore affordable housing.
The ones that are here now are being run to the ground.
The only thing that can come from affordable housing are slums.
Can you show us one area that there are homes that are not considered slums.
So get this idea that office parks can be used for affordable housing.
How about some good and expensive condos?
These would bring in the much needed revenue.
Affordable housing is made up of freebee users.
I as a landlord refuse to change any one of my apartments to section eight .I feel that whomever lives in my complex should be happy knowing that they have the best place to live with all the comforts of owning their own home..

Anonymous said...

Yes parks should be used for housing but I'm not referring to office parks.
How about using some of our parkland that is wasting away.
Oh by the way I hear that we are being sued for Thaxter ridge dump.
Please give us the particulars .Two and a half million so far and adding up to more.
I guess our DPW boss thought that he was above the law.

Anonymous said...

Why not, everyone else in town govt seems to think so

Anonymous said...

Don't pick on Sonja and Valerie. What about Cora? Hasn't her family received special treatment from Greenburgh housing?

Anonymous said...

Oh well anyone who was on the board for the Housing Authority made plenty of friends and money.

No one checks so they have card blanche to do what they want.
Why do they take the Job?
No paycheck goes with the services so they make things up in other ways.

Relatives and friends have first choice.
Money talks and BS walks.

The library can be used for affordable housing.
Many schools in the city were transformed into apartments. The library cannot survive with all the hidden expenses.
Just think about it before more tax dollars are granted to a dying

Anonymous said...

Which one of the following does not belong:

A. The new library

B. Additional TDYCC funding

C. Taxter Ridge

D. Outrageous police salaries and OT

The answer is A, the library, becuase it was the only one voted on by only the people who would pay. As flawed as Mr. Samis says the project is, it does at least resemble what was put forth to the voters. My guess, is that if the other 3 were put to a vote SOLELY TO TOV RESIDENTS, they would fail miserably.