JuLY 13, 2012

Settlement’s moral divide

The 2009 housing settlement with the federal government, entered into by former County Executive Andrew J. Spano and approved by the board of legislators, requires Westchester to facilitate the construction of 750 units of fair and affordable housing in 31 so-called eligible or mostly white communities in seven years.

Right now the county is making gains in achieving new housing in Westchester County. But there’s still no agreement between the stakeholders — HUD, the housing monitor, the county legislator and the county executive, the courts — as to exactly what is required as a result of the settlement deal. In addition, legal battles regarding the use of Section 8 funds and a second lawsuit over the issue of exclusionary zoning are adding to delay. We’ve suggested that the county is unlikely to prevail on the first issue, but if a court determines that Westchester zoning rules are in fact exclusionary, that could change the way towns legislate for years to come.

This week, an analysis of Westchester County zoning practices found support from one of the nation’s leading land use lawyers, John Nolon, whom the county retained to validate the soundness of its legal reasoning. It confirmed the right of municipalities to present “a properly balanced and well ordered plan for the community,” and that zoning ordinances “enjoy a presumption of constitutionality.”

This was a good step in order to evaluate where the county stands legally. Mr. Nolon is a wise and judicious referee. We know Mr. Nolon as the author of “Well Grounded: Shaping the Destiny of the Empire State: Local Land Use Law and Practice.” For land use policy wonks, this is the bible. For many years, Mr. Nolon provided training and guidance to town board members and incoming planning members. And now, Pound Ridge board members are expected to attend a land use training seminar run by Mr. Nolon on Sept. 19.

Mr. Nolon’s analysis and interpretation are imprinted in almost every planning and zoning code in Westchester in the past decade. “Perhaps the most significant land use power that the state legislature has delegated to local governments is the authority to adopt zoning laws,” he wrote in “Well Grounded.”

But don’t forget, there are two sides to every story, and HUD and federal monitors are unlikely to consider such an analysis alone. Remember the 2004 book “Landscapes of Privilege,” by James S. Duncan and Nancy Duncan, based on interviews with 51 Bedford residents and a study of town zoning, planning and wetlands laws — and its description of Westchester’s “landscape as an aesthetic production acts as a subtle but highly effective mechanism of exclusion ... There is compelling evidence that these laws came into existence as a result of development pressures in the town. This rhetorical linking of cultural and economic capital obscured by romanticism has become a powerful idea in the politics of conservation.” To these authors, civic groups exist to keep out “others.”

Whether or not the sentiment of Mr. Nolon or that of the Duncans will prevail will be the moral underpinning of a court discussion.

For the county, Mr. Nolon’s analysis was only a practice session. A court ruling to the contrary could shake up our county communities in fundamental ways, sending us back to a legal ground zero.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Bedford Village

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  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

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Bedford Hills

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  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

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Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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