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WestHELP Debate Continues in Greenburgh

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – The issue of what to do with the former Greenburgh WestHELP site, whether to turn it into a school, restore it to use as affordable housing, or come up with some other option altogether, has created a political uproar at the town and county levels.

Last month, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner proposed razing the 108-housing units on the campus of Westchester Community College and granting the Ferncliff Manor school a 50-year lease for the lot. He said the school would pay nearly $1 million in rent to the town.

State Assembly member Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) endorsed the Ferncliff Manor plan, and called the school a “natural fit” on the lot.

The plan, however, met resistance from some town residents and several Westchester County legislators who noted that the county-owned land was leased to Greenburgh only for the use of affordable housing and insisted it continue to be used that way.

On Wednesday, Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), chairman of the County Board of Legislators, met with members of the Edgemont Community Council and told them the county’s 30-year lease agreement with the town, which was signed in 2001 and requires affordable or senior citizen housing be available on the lot, would be followed to the “letter of the law.”

"It will be used for low and moderate income housing or the county will have no choice but to terminate the agreement,” Jenkins said in a telephone interview.

He added that if Feiner's plan were modified to include housing and the school, it might fit within the terms of the county lease.

Despite Jenkins’ warnings and a mounting opposition, Ferncliff Manor remains the town’s number one priority, Feiner said. The rent from the school would be more than any revenue from affordable housing.

On Thursday, Feiner called together members of the town board, County Legislator Michael Smith (R-Greenburgh) and his wife, Marie Smith, the head of the Mayfair-Knollwood Civic Association, Joseph Hankin, the president of Westchester Community College and Bishop Wilbert Preston, chairman of the Greenburgh Housing Authority, for an informal round-table discussion to hash out other options for the property, which has been vacant for seven months.

One option would be to create senior citizen housing.

Like affordable family housing, a senior complex would generate little income for the town, Feiner said. It would have less of an impact on the surrounding community than a family-occupied complex, he said.

Another option, a proposal first hatched during the Thursday evening meeting, would be to create an intergenerational housing program with senior citizens and Westchester Community College nursing students living in the complex.

Under that plan, a portion of the former WestHELP site would be used for senior citizen housing, while the remainder would be rented by the college for dormitories, creating a new model for intergenerational housing.

Hankin, the college president, said the school may be open to the idea.

“We are always looking for more space,” Hankin said.

By offering housing to seniors and students who meet the low or moderate income standards, the plan would fall within the terms of the lease agreement, Feiner said.

On Friday, the supervisor had another idea on the table. The county could sell the land, buy the town out of the lease and use the land for affordable housing.

“We now have a lot of options and they are all viable,” Feiner said.

The supervisor is prepared to present the plans Tuesday to the county's Board of Legislators Committee on Community Services.

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