Federal monitor says 6 towns in New York's Westchester County have zoning that may violate law


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Federal monitor James Johnson discusses a report on Westchester County zoning laws in White Plains, N.Y., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Johnson's report found that six towns and villages have laws that may violate federal standards.. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald).

WHITE PLAINS, New York — Six towns and villages in Westchester County have zoning laws that may violate a federal standard, a housing monitor said Wednesday.

The court-appointed monitor, attorney James Johnson, told county lawmakers he analyzed zoning in the 31 municipalities involved in the 2009 settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit against Westchester.

Disagreements over the settlement — especially involving zoning — have led to an impasse between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and County Executive Rob Astorino, now the Republican candidate for governor.

HUD is withholding millions of dollars in grants for Westchester, saying the county has failed to submit an acceptable zoning analysis as required in the settlement. Astorino has repeatedly insisted that the county's studies find no discriminatory zoning, a finding HUD has rejected.

In an attempt to end the impasse, members of the county Legislature asked Johnson to do his own analysis in hopes it would be acceptable to all parties. He said Wednesday, "This is a potential way for the parties to move forward, but it could also be a sidetrack."

Applying what are known as "Huntington" standards, stemming from a federal court case, Johnson reported potential problems in Harrison, Larchmont, Lewisboro, North Castle, Pelham Manor and Rye Brook.

His 120-page study says that each municipality either restricts multifamily housing to districts with high minority populations or restricts the development of housing types most often used by minority residents.

Johnson emphasized that the report was "evidence, not findings" and that municipalities might have good reasons for their zoning laws, for example, "insurmountable environmental issues where the infrastructure can't support multifamily housing." He invited town and village officials to meet with him.

Larchmont Mayor Anne McAndrews said she has already arranged to meet Johnson next week "and introduce him to how small Larchmont is and how we have embraced the settlement" with 48 new units of affordable housing.

Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg issued a statement criticizing the report and saying the village would analyze and respond to it. North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro said the town would meet with Johnson to review the issues he identified.

Calls to other municipalities were not immediately returned.

Harrison was among seven towns and villages that Johnson named last year as possibly having exclusionary zoning laws based on a different state-law standard. He said Wednesday that three of those municipalities had made changes and were off the list or likely to come off it.

The prospects of ending the impasse were unclear. The chairman of the Legislature, Michael Kaplowitz, asked Astorino to submit it to HUD by Friday to beat the deadline for as much as $16 million in HUD grants.

But Astorino refused, saying in a letter that the report was incomplete, inaccurate and "would completely undermine the principle of Home Rule."

Kaplowitz said he did not yet have enough votes to overrule an anticipated Astorino veto and have the report sent directly to HUD from the Legislature.

The 2009 settlement also calls for the county to build 750 units in mostly white areas and market them to non-whites.

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