NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – The North Salem Town Hall Annex was standing room only at the Wednesday night Planning Board meeting, as the board and developer Wilder Balter fielded questions from the public regarding the Salem Hunt/Bridleside proposal for a 65-unit affordable housing complex on June Road.
Discussion of the project began at the April 4 public hearing, where many questions were asked by residents. In an effort to satisfy various public uncertainties, Wilder Balter composed a written reply, which can be read on The North Salem Planning Board website.
Members of Wednesday’s audience continued to express concern over the project’s impact on the community. Several people asked, “How will this benefit us as a community?”
Resident Gail Pantezzi said that building the new complex in response to the Weschester County mandate for affordable housing would, “create a pocket community of a particular group of people. What rental housing we have in this town is scattered in varied form all throughout the entire town, Croton Falls, North Salem, Salem Center and Purdys. This is a mandate coming from another group of people who do not have this town’s interests at heart.”
Planning Board Chair Cynthia Curtis responded, “Unfortunately when the county assesses the situation they don’t count existing housing stock, only new development.”
Sal Pantezzi said, “The agreement calls for 750 houses in Westchester County. If we build 65, that’s around ten percent of the whole county. What about the other municipalities that are also targeted to achieve this goal?”
Curtis replied, “Call up the county legislator and ask that question. The county is not allocating what any other community has to do and it is not saying, ‘If you do this, you are done.’”
Other residents were concerned about future responsibility for the project should the builder/rental agent’s business fail. “Who would provide garbage pickup and who would fund the proposed shuttle bus?” asked Howard Hellwinkel.
Wilder Balter partner Bill Balter assured the questioners that his business was sound and that he intended to continue for many years to come.
Curtis added, “This project will be overseen by the county. The state will be overseeing it for 30 years. The longterm maintenance of the project falls to whomever owns the property. The deed restrictions cannot be violated.”
When questioned about potential residents, Gary Friedland, chief operating officer at Wilder Balter said, “We go through a very careful screening process. Every application is reviewed for credit, criminal, sexual predator, landlord-tenant history. We want good people who pay their rent on time. We have to follow guidelines. There is no discrimination, but we make the decision and we set the standards.”
Resident Regina Vasaak said, “We have a lot of people in this community who are getting older and may not be able to sustain the houses they have. Is there a possibility of giving them priority?”
Curtis answered, “We have to follow the HUD model, which is no preferences at all.” Balter added, “We find that local people put their names on a waiting list one or two years in advance, so they are close to the top and we have a high success rate of getting local people in. We get calls every week from people in North Salem.”
The public hearing has closed, but Curtis said that the Planning Board would accept written comments from residents for the next three weeks.