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North Salem Residents Speak Out Against Affordable Housing

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Wednesday night’s planning board meeting concerning the affordable housing proposal for a site on June Road in North Salem drew an audience of about 100, roughly two-thirds of whom were North Salem residents.

Board Chairperson Cynthia Curtis opened the discussion with a recap of North Salem’s history involving affordable housing and various lawsuits on the subject. The proposal on the evening’s agenda would help Westchester County meet its settlement demands with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 750 affordable housing units countywide.

Developer Bill Balter then described the current project, known as Bridleside. The plan calls for a 65-unit complex, comprising 20 one-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units, all rentals and all affordable. This plan replaces an earlier proposal, Salem Hunt, which provided 52 units at market rate and 13 affordable units.

When the meeting was opened to audience comments, the speakers opposed were animated and often emotional. Sometimes supporters in the audience broke into applause.

The possible rise in both real estate and school taxes was a major topic of contention. “As it’s set up, this project is for 134 people living there, with the potential of 16 students,” said long-time resident Jack Gress. “But if we go by federal or HUD guidelines, the potential would be 244 people,” he said.

Gress cited the strain on the police department and the volunteer ambulance and fire departments. “My main concern is the socio-economic impact this project will have on North Salem taxpayers. It’s going to impact our community and someone has to pay for it.”

John White questioned the underlying meanings in the affordable housing ordinance. “The devil is in the details,” he said. He expressed concern about HUD’s requirement that the housing units “remain affordable for 50 years.” He asked what will happens when a tenant’s income increases. “Do people get evicted? I would hate to have to evict people with kids in school after just three years in town.”

“It would be relatively easy to keep some affordable housing if half the units were market value,” he said. “Then you could just keep the mix going and no one would be evicted.”

Rob Murphy agreed. “People who have home ownership have a real vested interest in the community. Let’s go for five or 10 rental units and the bulk of them owned by people who would put down roots.”

Mark Halstead expressed concern over the increase in local traffic and the impact on the schools. Others agreed. “What would keep people in two bedroom units from having four children?” said Elaine Sweeney.

Murphy said he believes, “It’s not going to be 16 kids added to the school system, it’s going to be 40 or 60 kids. That’s costing us $30,000 per kid per year and when you multiply that out, these numbers just snowball.”

After an hour and a half of public commentary, the planning board decided to leave the public hearing open until all the issues were addressed, at least until May. Curtis said that Balter would answer all questions brought up at the meeting in writing and she announced that future meetings will be broadcast live on the Internet as they occur.

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