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Harrison Tries To Set HUD Straight On 'Exclusionary' Zoning

Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont speaks at the opening of the MSK West Harrison medical center Wednesday. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Harrison embraces a diverse population, and is more affordable than much of Westchester County, Belmont argues. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

HARRISON, N.Y. -- In a letter to a federal housing monitor, Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont says the village and town of Harrison are anything but exclusionary to anyone wanting to reside there.

Belmont notes his town has a reputation for being affluent, but is near the middle of Westchester's 43 municipalities -- 19th -- with a median household income of $105,111, according to the 2010 census.

"The town is more ethnically diverse than is generally perceived,'' Belmont wrote, citing statistics to prove it in a Sept. 26 letter to James E. Johnson, who is monitoring a 2009 fair housing settlement between Westchester County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (HUD)

There are more than 2,000 Asians living in Harrison, Belmont said, giving it the seventh largest population of Asians of Westchester's 43 communities. And Harrison's Hispanic population comprises about 12 percent of the town's 27,500 residents.

Land use figures also are misconstrued in HUD's analysis, Belmont argues, noting 60 percent of Harrison's land is non-residential. Westchester County AIrport, for instance, occupies more than 700 acres at the north end of the town.

Further, 40 percent of Harrison's dwelling units are comprised of two-family homes (21 percent) and multifamily units (19 percent), making the community more affordable to live in than most Westchester communities, according to Belmont. "This housing stock allows older residents to remain in town and provides an opportunity for young people to find housing that is relatively affordable," he writes.

In a 120-page report issued last month, the federal monitor concluded that Harrison was the only town that continued to fail federal standards by concentrating multifamily housing in areas already occupied by minority residents, as well as by restricting housing most often used by minorities.

Belmont counters that studies cited by the federal monitor fail to recognize the significant redevelopment potential of Harrison's multifamily zones, where housing structures were "built in the early or mid part of the last century, and are now at a point where the buildings have outlived their useful lifespan and must be substantially renovated or razed or redeveloped."

"Identifying one element as deficient (housing affordability) and calling for it to be 'corrected,' fails to comprehend the complexities in accommodating a one-size fits all solution," Belmont concluded.

Last month, the federal monitor also alleged local laws that exclude minorities from fair housing persist in Larchmont, Lewisboro, North Castle, Pelham Manor and Rye Brook, a claim elected officials in those communities refuted.

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