Final Open Letter to the Town Board and Citizens of New Castle re: Chappaqua Crossing

Thursday, October 24, 2013
by Steve Coyle

I believe that the Town Board’s naïveté has greatly benefited Summit Greenfield and potentially set up a dangerous and potentially costly situation for the Town.  Town Board members really need to re-examine their views as regards allowing retail uses at Chappaqua Crossing and they need to do it quickly.  Since the Town Board is racing to approve a grocery and retail use at Chappaqua Crossing, let me begin by explaining what will likely happen if they approve rezoning.

Step 1 would be for Summit Greenfield to procure the retail zoning. They need that first. Once they receive this zoning, they will move on to – Step 2—seek site plan approval. If you have retail zoning, it is then much easier to litigate over a denied site plan approval.  They can argue that:

(1) the cupola building is not landmarked,

(2) keeping the building would prohibit them from executing a lease with a potential tenant,  and

(3) because the site is zoned retail, that they have the right to construct a commercially viable retail product that fits within the existing retail zoning overlays for similar sites. 

Without a current master plan in place, this is even easier to argue. And with a master plan hastily changed to match the developer’s design, it is a foregone conclusion.

Most recently, I’ve read that the Town Board is tailoring the draft zoning to target a mid-size grocery of between 36,000 and 50,000 square feet.  In this business, generally you want square footage ratio for satellites (what the Town Board calls “ancillary retail,” which are there for the traffic the grocery store would generate) to be about one-to-one, so you would expect 40,000 square feet of a grocery anchor to be matched by 40,000 square feet of satellite space.  If a developer builds a greater percentage of satellite space, you tend to have higher vacancies, as it becomes increasingly difficult to attract strong tenants when the ratio of satellite space is higher than 1:1.  So depending on the size of the anchor grocery, some proportion of the proposed 120,000 square foot “outer limit” on retail space is designed to struggle and/or fail.

As part of the on-going discussions surrounding retail at Chappaqua Crossing, I have written several pieces that detail my objections to this proposed use.  The first of these was an open letter that I sent directly to the Town Board on May 6, 2010.  A copy of that letter can be found here:

As further information came available regarding the proposed project, my objections to the proposed retail uses intensified.  So I wrote two open letters on May 14th and September 24, 2013.  They can be found in the links below.

Since I have written those letters, numerous residents and one Town Board member, Jason Chapin, have commented on them.  Also, in the ensuing period, the final SEQRA Supplemental Findings Statement has been released, and a Candidate for Supervisor, Penny Paderewski, published “Open Letter to the Community: My Vision for Chappaqua Crossing”, where she publicly supported a 120,000 neighborhood retail shopping center at Chappaqua Crossing.

I would like to address a number of these issues in this, my final Open Letter to The New Castle Town Board and to the Citizens of New Castle Re: Chappaqua Crossing.

Until Ms. Paderewski publicly stated that she supported Chappaqua Crossing, I had not endorsed any one in the Town elections, nor had I made up my mind as to whom I would vote for.  However, since Ms. Paderewski has announced her support of retail at Chappaqua Crossing, I now know that I will definitely not be voting for her.  Plain and simply, I am opposed to Chappaqua Crossing because I believe that it is an ill-conceived project for our town.  For me, personally, this is not a political issue, but I cannot support a candidate who would approve or seek to approve a retail center at Chappaqua Crossing.  Thus, I will judge each of the remaining candidates based upon their votes and their views, with retail at Chappaqua Crossing being a vital issue.  In general, I believe that the “benefits” of the project have been grossly overstated. 

I would like to address a few of Mr. Chapin’s responses to my letter.

First, while it is true that commercial taxes will go up if retail is constructed at Chappaqua Crossing, three important factors must be considered. 

(1) the commercial tax base in New Castle represents just 1% of the entire tax base. Thus, it is de minimis, and will remain de minimis even if the retail center at Chappaqua Crossing is completed; 

(2) there is little evidence that constructing a 120,000 square foot retail center with a 45,000-60,000 square foot grocery anchor will lead to additional office leasing at Chappaqua Crossing.  In fact, my experience as a real estate owner and investor suggests that retail will likely make it harder to lease the existing office space, as it will likely lead to parking, traffic, and other issues; 

(3) the level of rents that are achieved does matter, as rents, occupancy and cap rates (a.k.a. real estate yields) drive values, and values are what drive tax revenues.  I have spoken with several leasing brokers in Westchester County who believe that the pro forma rents and occupancies used in the tax analysis are grossly overstated.

Tree removal and water-related issues

Another issue that Mr. Chapin addresses is the removal of trees.  While it is true that the developers will need to fund the Tree Bank Fund to make up any deficit, this does not replace trees on the site.  With any new development, there is typically an increase in water run-off.  When there is a large tree deficit, as there will be at the Chappaqua Crossing Retail Center, then the water run-off will be further increased.  Our town already faces many water related issues. I know, for example, that residents on Pin Oak Lane have been dealing with water related issues for years.  They are likely to face new water-related issues as a result of the proposed development at Chappaqua Crossing.  Mr. Chapin, I suggest that you take a fresh look at the materials that were presented.  There are both pros and cons in the report.  I must say it is interesting, (and very disturbing to me), that you have focused only on one side of the issues and have not looked at other, alternative uses in your analyses.

What would I support at Chappaqua Crossing?

Some of the comments to my last letter came from an anonymous source “Magic Wand.”  While I do not typically respond to anonymous questions, I thought that his or her questions regarding what uses would I support at Chappaqua Crossing were valid.  Personally, I believe that the site is best developed as a mixture of office uses, single family residential, and townhomes.  I believe that if the townhomes were primarily one and two bedroom units, that this would limit the impact on the schools.  Further, part of the site could be limited to age restricted housing.  Another fine option for the site would be a portion that would be geared toward an assisted living/independent facility.  I would love to see the site partially developed as a Town recreation and government center; unfortunately, however, I do not see this as a commercially viable option. (Unless the town and its residents support taking on more debt and facing higher taxes). 

Magic Wand stated that he or she hoped that development could begin by 2014. I believe that this is unlikely, as the current ownership structure lacks the capital to proceed with development.  More likely is that the site will be sold to the next owner/developer who will likely undertake development.  While I realize that many in town would like to see the site remain undeveloped, I do not believe that this is a viable or supportable option either.  The site warrants development; however, I do not believe that a retail center is in the best interest of the town, its residents or its merchants.

In response to Ms. Paderewski

Why the office space remains unleased

As to Ms. Paderewski’s Open Letter, I would like to address several issues.  First, the vast majority of the office space at Chappaqua Crossing remains unleased for three reasons:

•  First, the project has been challenging economically for the fund that owns it, with the equity having been evaporated and little to no monies left to fund tenant improvements, leasing commissions and free rent for tenants.  Without proper capital reserves, it is virtually impossible for an owner of a property to attract brokers and tenants to their property.

•  Second, the office market in Westchester County has been, and remains, quite weak.  This further limits the ability to lease the vacant office space.

•  Third, Summit Greenfield has not renovated or sought to renovate much of the office space at the project, due to extremely limited capital reserves and a weak office market.  In my professional experience, adding a supermarket to an office complex almost never increases demand for office within a project.  In fact, it is often a competitive and disruptive use.

Razing the cupola building

In her letter, Ms. Paderewski states that “Summit Greenfield could tear down the Cupola building and put up a new, glass box office building under our current zoning, and if it is left with nothing but obsolete buildings, it may have no practical choice but to do so.”  In my mind, the likelihood of this happening is virtually nil.

• Firstly, Summit Greenfield does not have the capital necessary in their current joint venture to fund construction of a new office building.

• Secondly, as stated above, the Westchester County office market is quite weak.  Current rents and occupancies do not justify new construction costs.

• Thirdly, there is very little chance that Summit Greenfield could borrow capital to fund such a re-development.

Ensuring that stores will not duplicate or compete with existing merchants

Ms. Paderewski states in her letter that “I will work with the Town Board to ensure that the types of stores that will be developed will not duplicate or compete with the unique charm and appeal of what our existing merchants offer – but will instead provide complementary offerings to our existing stores – in ways that won’t create direct competition that might harm their businesses.”

I do not believe that this is a viable solution, nor do I believe that it is legal.  While the Town Board can change zoning laws such that only certain types of retail are allowed within the retail zoning laws, government can not dictate what tenants an owner can lease to, nor can those zoning restrictions be too far reaching if the use is within the basic parameters of that zoning use (in this case retail).

Attempting to drive and limit tenancies invites litigation, in my opinion.  Further, any such zoning restrictions would need to be well thought-out and legally tested.  In my opinion, they would need to be part of the comprehensive master plan for the Town.  Unfortunately, as we all know, work on this document is only nearing its starting point!

In her conclusion, Ms. Paderewski, in part, states, “As a leader, I truly believe in standing up for what I think is best for our Town – and I would go all out to do so - but I will not let resentment or anger towards Summit Greenfield lead us back to years of costly litigation which, if we win, leaves us with a deteriorating office facility.” Ms. Paderewski’s statements very much mischaracterize my objections to retail at Chappaqua Crossing.

Personally, I have no resentment or anger toward Summit Greenfield.  If I were in their shoes, I would likely be pursuing a similar course of action. (However, I would like to think that I would never have purchased the Reader’s Digest Campus in the first place).

Also, I am professional acquaintances with a few of the players involved.  They are neither bad nor evil men, they are, simply, investors who are seeking to make the best out of what has turned out to be a bad situation.  Regardless, retail at Chappaqua Crossing, is, in my personal and professional opinion, bad for the Town and is a questionable use for the site. 

These are facts, not “unsubstantiated rumors and misconceptions”

Ms. Paderewski’s final statement is “Chappaqua Crossing has had a polarizing effect on our Town with unsubstantiated rumors and misconceptions about its impact, but it is an important issue that we must address with fact—not fear—and understand the implications, benefits and opportunities that it also presents for the future of New Castle.”

Over the past several months, I have spent countless hours analyzing and studying the materials that have surfaced regarding Chappaqua Crossing.  I have sought to provide facts and thoughtful analysis in examining this project that will have long-lasting impacts on our town.  I am not alone in these efforts, as others have voiced similar concerns.  For Ms. Paderewski to label concerns regarding the impacts of Chappaqua Crossing as “unsubstantiated rumors and misconceptions,” ignores the thoughtful analysis that others, and I, have done.  Further, it ignores many of the facts as they have been presented in the studies that the Town has received.

I was really struggling as to whom I would vote for in the upcoming election for Town Supervisor.  I know now whom I will be voting against.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

What a wonderful and articulate letter, Mr. Coyle.  Thank you for bringing light to the Chappaqua Crossing issues, as well as to Ms. Paderewski’s clear lack of understanding.  I, too, will NOT be voting for Ms. Paderewski (or Buckley for that matter), and will be voting for Team New Castle - Rob Greenstein, Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky, who seem to have better heads on their shoulders for this and all other town issues.

By Thank you, Steve on 10/24/2013 at 8:40 am

Very well thought out and constructed letter. You hit on all the important points in an informative manner without hyperbole.I just hope they listen; and think about what they are doing. It OK to change your opinion on this project when the facts are presented so well.

By very concerned resident on 10/24/2013 at 9:34 am

Steve Coyle has demonstrated by his informed and open critical approach to the Chappaqua Crossing retail proposal that he is more than a resident, he is a true citizen of Newcastle. It would be a dereliction of duty if the town board members did not thoroughly explore among themselves and in public each and every material point he has raised. Being part-time does not free town board members from the high standards of professional review commensurate with the significance of this proposal. And, who could doubt that in any well-run professional organization the Coyle correspondence would be among the centerpieces of critical analysis. This is not an issue of partisan politics, just a matter of resisting the momentum and fatigue that can result in poor decision-making and rather doing the professional level work that board members were elected to do.

By Fatigue is not an option on 10/24/2013 at 11:07 am

Mr. Coyle should be hired by the Town as a real estate advisor. Whatever he would charge would be offset by savings from future legal costs that may occur if his sound advice is not followed. Alternatively candidates from both parties could sign an agreement that they have read Mr. Coyle’s letters and agree to reimburse the Town for any legal fees and wasted time caused by not following his advice. The majority of our residents are not commercial real estate experts, and from the way the current board has mis-handled the Chappaqua Crossing project so far, they are not either.

Mr. Coyle raised an important point about the financial status of Summit Greenfield - in addition to NOT being able to fund the real estate construction, how will they be able to pay for the millions that it will cost to alter Roaring Brook/Readers Digest Road into 6 lanes? Or will the Town pay that cost (and has that cost to the town been factored into the projections)? 

Editor’s Note: The TB has noted several times that RBR will not be made into six traffic lanes.  At the HS entrance it may fan out to be more than the existing four, for dedicated turning lanes.

By Frame Mr. Coyle's letter on 10/24/2013 at 11:56 am

Well thought out letter, good points. Ms. Paderewski is on the wrong side of this debate and is on the wrong side of the Conifer Hunts Place debate. How she could believe that she would be in favor a few units of residential hosuing in lieu of 28 units on this unsuitable site? This belief calls into question her decision making abilities. There is no quality of life for persons who would live in such an unsafe non-habitable site wedged between a RR, a parkway, and a bridge. Similarly, the benefits of constructing a shopping center in the midst of a residential community when compared to the reduction of the quality of life for the residents does not add up (I do not live near CC).

The Gerard-Carpenter adminsistration has been a failure, like you, I will not be voting for the Gerard-Carpenter-Paderewski dynasty.

By Ed Frank on 10/24/2013 at 12:08 pm

For your cogent letter. The issue remains though; Penny’s opponent I fear will lead with his ego not his better judgement. His tone is often hostile and confrontational. After the last few months of SC’s nastiness I would hate to see a similar sort running the show. What to do?? The one with the ideas I don’t embrace or the one with the wrong temperament for the job. We need a third party candidate!

By Thank you on 10/24/2013 at 1:17 pm

too late to put Steve Coyle on the ballot for the coming election ?

By steve walsh on 10/24/2013 at 1:56 pm

I understand everyone’s predicament. I think the majority of us do not agree with Penny’s policies, and do feel Rob’s passion and emotion can get the best of him at times.

However, I think we need to take a step back and think about what we are voting for, not just who we are voting for. A vote for Penny is a vote against the beliefs of our town, while a vote for Rob is a vote for our morals. No one can deny that Rob will do everything he can to stop the Conifer, and to prevent a mall at Chappaqua Crossing. In my opinion, his attitude while doing so makes little difference in my voting decision. If Rob works towards the policies I support, I find it easy to vote for him, despite I do not always agree with the fashion in which he does his business.

By Concerned Citizen on 10/24/2013 at 3:58 pm

One point that I don’t quite understand. Mr coyle states that Our commercial tax base is very small and cc will Double thst small amount .But that increase is de minus on the entire tax role as a whole.  As all journeys start with a single step, all increase start somewhere. Just because that doubled commercial increase is small in real terms, it shoul not be dismissed.

By Tax base on 10/24/2013 at 4:51 pm

I adamantly support CC so long as the facade remains, if it changes…...absolutely. It even though I have written many supporting posts

By CC. Supporter? on 10/25/2013 at 11:05 am

Mr. Coyle,

Thank you for all the work you’ve done on this issue.

By bob on 10/25/2013 at 11:10 am

It continues to amaze me how Rob’s actions in front of a live tv audience are characterized one way, yet Penny’s “bad day” when she thought no one would hold her accountable is so easily dismissed.  She is on the wrong side of both of these issues and the current town board is doing its best to back the next town board into a corner.  One bad day has already been uncovered for Penny.  A bad era of two years is ending for our current supervisor.  I hope people can look at the issues and not vote in another bad era for our town.  Steve thanks for your hard work.  Like many in this town who are trying to raise their voices, its falling on deaf ears.

By Bad Day for New Castle on 10/25/2013 at 9:56 pm

A nice change (from page 43) the town board (I mean the the developer) made to the findings about to be adopted before the election. The editing marks in the pdf don’t show up when you copy and paste here, but the word “required” has been changed to “expected.”

“It is requirexpected that most of these truck trips will be spread throughout the day and no loading/unloading will be allowed before 5 AM.”

By bob on 10/29/2013 at 10:35 am

To all who read all posts. You must discount what bob says by 70%.  He is on record for opposing CC in the face if facts and logic which supports it. While he is entitled to his personal one vote and opinion, it is just that…. One person’s jaundiced view of the situation. His opinion is to be voiced and entitled to be shown up to be biased and nimby-esq..  bob is in the category of people who in good faith , honest believe that the earth was formed 6000 years ago. My point is that illogic and faith based beliefs drive him. That is ok so long as We all are aware of his tilted manner of thinking.

The survey trsults show that he is so biased, prejudiced and intransigently opposed to CC that no facts or reason put any dent in his diatribes.  While I don’t doubt that he is sincere in his beliefs My point is that no facts or persuasion changes his point of view. So all who read his dozens of posts should bear Mind that it doesn’t matter what anyone says or does, will argue a dog to be a cat…. Period end if story,

By Dear bob on 10/30/2013 at 7:32 pm

@Dear bob,

If you rewrite that last post so that it’s in moderately readable English, then I’ll make the effort and demolish your thesis.

By bob on 10/31/2013 at 8:17 am

You are boring. Your repeated oppositional fantasy thinking has been stated many times.  The public has spoken. We are evenly divided giving u the benefit of the doubt. If you were king, you could force me to spend my money for your cause célèbre. But this is a capitalist democracy. If you don’t like it, move to Russia. LOLOLOL. By now the devoted readership sees that you are a one trick pony

By DeAr bob on 10/31/2013 at 1:18 pm

Ok so you don’t argue a dog to be a cat. You argue that the world is flat and that the horseless carriage should have been banned from society. You can’t stop progress is my point.  I will defend your right to try. But I believe that 1 + 1 = 2, you clearly believe otherwise. Are you a part of the   B. cereal mafia ?  Just kidfing

By Dear bob on 10/31/2013 at 1:24 pm

I love your illogic. It highlights your fantasy thinking which is your right to have.  Keep it coming. The more you say the more people see that the opposition is made up of illogical, self centered, ( selfish as they are enticed to be) Nimbys.  Go go go bring on your nuttiness

By Dazed and confused on 10/31/2013 at 1:52 pm

@DeAr bob,

If commentators are boring you, the sure and easy cure is to just stop reading their comments. Your misrepresentation of the issues and positions taken on them are starting to get to you, turning your writing into gibberish.

By bob on 10/31/2013 at 3:03 pm

Keep it coming. You say nothing new. Every time you open your mouth you discredit yourself even more. At this point you are CC ‘s best friend

By Dear bob on 10/31/2013 at 8:30 pm

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