by Tom Auchterlonie
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino holds a press conference in front of Hillary Clinton's home in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino held a press conference in front of Hillary Clinton's Chappaqua home on Friday, calling on the presidential candidate and former secretary of state to weigh in on a Justice Department filing related to an affordable-housing proposal for her community.
“Now, I have a question for Hillary Clinton, who’s in her home today right behind me: does she think she lives in a discriminatory town? I don’t," Astorino said. "Does she think that the Obama administration is being very unfair in attacking her own community? I do, but we need to know where Hillary Clinton stands on this issue and she needs to speak up today.”
Astorino's remarks were in response to a filing earlier this week in which United States Attorney Preet Bharara, through an assistant, asked a federal judge to impose more than $1.6 million in fines on Weschester. The Justice Department claims that the county is in violation with a 2009 affordable housing settlement, which calls for the construction of 750 units over a seven-year period in 31 predominantly white communities.
The filing claims that Westchester failed to meet a 2014 annual benchmark for housing units with financing secured because its approval of funding for the 28-unit Chappaqua Station apartment proposal was conditioned upon state approvals that weren't granted until January 2015.
The approvals were for building and fire code variances, which were authorized by a state review board.
Astorino disputed the claim, arguing that Westchester is in compliance and accusing the government of unilaterally changing settlement terms.
Chappaqua Station's developer, Conifer Realty, is seeking to build on a site that is roughly a third of an acre and located at 54 Hunts Place. The location, which is by railroad tracks and the Saw Mill River Parkway, has drawn opposition from some residents, who have expressed safety concerns about the project. New Castle town officials have also expressed safety concerns.
The filing also sides with a report from the settlement's monitor, who argued that Westchester should have gotten more involved in New Castle's review of the project. Not doing so, the filing argues, contradicts a settlement provision that names litigation against municipalities or offering financial incentives as available measures.
Astorino argues that Westchester suing New Castle would only slow down progress towards getting housing and that the town is not being discriminatory, a point he sought Clinton's comment on.
Astorino approached Clinton's front gate and corresponded with her through an aide. He told reporters that she was on the phone and was heading out, but asked for his personal phone number, which he provided.
Moments later, a black van, dubbed "Scooby" by Clinton's campaign and the national press, exited the property and was driven away. It was not clear if Clinton was inside the van, which has tinted windows.
Conifer Realty filed a building-permit application to the town earlier this month, Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack told Daily Voice this week.
In May, the New Castle Town Board voted to renew a special permit for the project, which was originally granted in 2013 by a previous Town Board. The vote came weeks after a state judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the developer against the town, which contended that the permit was good for 25 years instead of the usual 18 months.
Astorino also reiterated his longstanding allegation that federal officials, through their conduct in the settlement implementation, are trying to override local zoning control