The following appeared in the Westchester County Business Journal. The original letter can be viewed here.
The piece was written in response to an op-ed by Alexander Roberts, who is the executive director of Community Housing Innovations Inc., a fair housing group headquartered in White Plains.
BY RICHARD MURDOCCO
My name is Richard Murdocco, and I am writing regarding Alexander Roberts’ recent column titled “Zoning to discriminate in Westchester.”
I have my Bachelor of Arts from Fordham University in both political science and urban studies, and my master’s in public policy from SUNY Stony Brook, where I studied regional, transportation and environmental planning. I regularly write on regional land use issues, with my work appearing in Newsday, Pacific Standard magazine and weekly for the Long Island Press.
Roberts equates zoning with housing availability, and to an extent, he is correct. Zoning restricts or allows certain usages, thus if a neighborhood was zoned for single-family units, that is what would be built. However, his argument is missing a critical component of planning — balance.
Roberts states that if Rye were zoned for more density, more density would be built, but doesn’t question whether the area is appropriate for such growth. The best planning efforts are community-centered, driven by demographic and scientific data, and balance the often-conflicting social, economic and environmental forces. Mr. Roberts’ analysis focuses so much on Westchester’s need for affordable housing that it neglects the issue of capacity. Can Rye’s transportation and wastewater infrastructure systems handle the growth he is advocating for?
Further, is it prudent to equate density with affordability? Manhattanites may take exception to that linkage, as would those who pay the market rates and rents in many of Long Island’s newer multifamily developments.
Overall, discussion of affordable housing is an important one to have, but Roberts’ column highlights the narrowness of allowing stakeholders, whether they are in the housing, environmental or development world, to dominate the regional conversation on land use policy.
Like its cousins Nassau and Suffolk, Westchester County needs a strong comprehensive planning effort that honestly assesses regional needs, implements realistic policies that focus on a balanced approach to growth and integrates fulfillment of those needs into the fabric of the pre-existing communities.
Richard Murdocco runs a blog on land use called The Foggiest Idea. He can be contacted at Rich@TheFoggiestIdea.org.