The room at Rye Brook Village Hall was packed on Oct. 18. Forty residents turned out to unanimously oppose a multifamily development in their neighborhood. The rezoning proposal for 259 North Ridge St., a heavily traveled through street, was denounced as not in keeping with the neighborhood’s single-family culture. But the most heated talk was of the potential impact on property values of “a 24-car parking lot with industrial lighting,” as several residents put it.
All of this angst over just 10 units on four acres. Oh, did I mention that eight of the units would be affordable housing under the federal consent decree with Westchester County?
One of the residents denied it would be affordable housing for her because, she said, “I don’t fit the racial profile.” And she told the 100 percent white audience “we all know” that the affordable housing doesn’t go to people like us.
During a break, when I reminded the village board chairman that this was completely false — that race does not count at all in the required lottery for the units and 50 percent of units under the consent decree have gone to whites — he refused to correct the record. He said that it’s not the board’s place to comment on what the public says.
Catering to every interest has paralyzed our nation. The Founders understood that rights must be balanced with responsibilities for the common good — such as the responsibility to insure that communities have the “full array” of housing — as the New York State Court of Appeals put it in the 1975 Berenson decision.
While special interest groups love the paralyzers who bend to their political will, the public admires the true leader who defies the conventional wisdom and understands that the common good sometimes trumps the inconvenience of a parking lot in someone’s viewshed.
Rye Brook should know better, as it’s lost one-third of its population of 25- to-34-year-olds since the 2000 census. To those who blame the exodus on millennials’ preferences for city living, I reply, “If you build it, they will come.”
As a news reporter and a housing advocate, I have met principled people who have triumphed over special-interest groups to say that it’s not all about them. Joe Delfino, the former mayor of White Plains, comes to mind. Despite fierce opposition, he remade his city and brought it back to life. And New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, after waging a terrible campaign for county executive based on what was politically safe, reemerged with a strong vision and ambitious development plan pushed through the City Council.
On Oct. 25, the developer submitted a revised plan in a last-ditch effort to save the project. He offered to reduce the number of affordable units to five from eight and parking spaces from 22 to 14. He added a 6- foot-high privacy fence around the parking area to prevent headlight glare from possibly disturbing neighborhood residents.
Let’s see if the Rye Brook Village Board has the courage to approve the North Ridge Street project when they vote following a public hearing scheduled Nov. 8, election night.