Ltr to Editor: Retail at Chappaqua Crossing a big mistake for smaller gains than claimed
With 86 comments since publication
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
by Steve Coyle
Since my letter to the Town Board of May 10, 2013 explaining to board members why I believe it would be a mistake to approve the retail and grocery proposal for Chappaqua Crossing, no one from the Town Board has solicited my opinion or ideas. I find this odd, in that I have spent considerable time studying the documents related to the proposed development and given that I have made my living for the past 25 years by investing in real estate.
I am also surprised that Mr. Chapin’s letter on the benefits of a supermarket and retail at Chappaqua Crossing did not openly discuss the findings of the impact study commissioned by the Town. This report was delivered on May 17, 2013, and contains a number of startling numbers and facts. (Note: NewCastleNow.org published this and it can be found here: http://www.mynewcastle.org/images/SiteImages/LAtest_News_PDFs/Crossing/May_2013/Town_Staff_Comment_summary_on_DSEIS_pdf_-_Adobe_Acrobat_Pro.pdf).
Trees and wetlands
This study found that the number of trees that would be removed from the Chappaqua Crossing project has increased from 219 to 872. Further, the loss of these trees will result in a significant increase in moisture (i.e., water run-off from the site). The Town’s study suggests that to replace the tree diameter of the 872 trees that are lost, 2,900 new trees would need to be planted. The proposed landscaping plan has 1,020 trees. Likewise, wetlands will be removed and relocated. While the developer proposes increasing the size of some of the wetlands, the Town’s study suggests that wetlands and wetland buffers will decrease by 50%! This could further disrupt and increase water patterns.
Similarly, the Town’s traffic study raises concerns. Firstly, the Town did not commission a traffic study. Instead, they commissioned a review of the traffic impact study that was prepared by the developer’s consultant. I believe that this was a mistake, as it appears to have relied on the traffic counts in that study. As I stated in my earlier open letter to the Town Board, the actual traffic counts will be much higher if the retail project is successful and if it actually meets the developer’s pro forma (a/k/a their underwriting).
As I suggested in my earlier open letter, I believe that these counts are too low. Secondly, the developer’s own study identified seven intersections that would be negatively impacted by the shopping center development, but, interestingly, did NOT identify the proposed 4-way interchange of Roaring Brook Road and Horace Greeley Access Road/Chappaqua Crossing Access Road as being an intersection that would be negatively impacted. The Town’s study at least identifies this as a concern. Further, under the developer’s plan, the Town study concluded that four of the seven problem intersections will not be able to avoid significant impact.
Reader’s Digest traffic comparison is not valid
To compare the impact of 7,000 jobs at Readers Digest to a retail center and its impacts is extremely dangerous in my opinion. Most of the trips that originated to Reader’s Digest were along the Saw Mill Parkway and the Metro North Railroad. Of the local trips that were generated, most were either buses from the train station or were from locals who lived in (or near) the community and worked at Reader’s Digest.
Even with those facts being true, most old-timers in town will tell you that Route 117 was a place to avoid at 4:30 in the afternoon, as all the Reader’s Digest employees were leaving at that time. I personally, know several people who lived in Chappaqua and worked at Reader’s Digest. Such jobs will not be generated from a retail center.
The vast majority of people working at the stores of Chappaqua Crossing will have no where near the means to live in our community. The proceeds of those stores will go away from our community to the shareholders of the chain stores that will dominate the center. Further, most of the trips that will be generated by Chappaqua Crossing will be borne by local service roads, not by Metro North and the Saw Mill Parkway. These are facts.
“Leakage” of consumer dollars will continue
Unfortunately, Mr. Chapin is correct in stating that we cannot easily replace Reader’s Digest; however, for him to state that a retail center will mitigate a substantial portion of the loss of Reader’s Digest is, at best, misguided in my opinion.
While it is true that there was retail leakage from the trade area prior to Chappaqua Crossing, such leakage will continue to exist post-Chappaqua Crossing. Most people who live in Chappaqua will continue to spend the majority of their dollars outside of the trade area. Competing supermarkets in Pleasantville, Armonk, Thornwood and Mt. Kisco will still attract a number of shoppers. While the leakage will decrease, many households will continue to buy their groceries outside of New Castle. Likewise, most families will continue to spend the vast majority of their non-food and service expenditures outside of Chappaqua and Millwood. With limited options for soft good (clothing, bedding, curtains, etc.) and hard goods (furniture, appliances, etc.), most of those dollars and any ancillary purchases associated with those trips will be spent outside of the trade area.
Finally, the analysis of the tax numbers that Mr. Chapin mentions in his letter is extremely questionable, in my opinion. (Note: This analysis was conducted by Hudson Property Advisors and was commissioned by Summit Greenfield). Firstly, that analysis looks at the project as having a 90% occupancy rate for the office property and a 95% occupancy rate for the retail center. Mr. Chapin’s own letter discusses the fact that much of the existing office space is likely to remain vacant.
Estimated rents are greatly exaggerated
Secondly, the rents that were used in the tax analysis are greatly inflated, in my opinion.
This analysis assumed that the supermarket anchor would lease space for a $30.00 per square foot triple-net rate (in a triple-net lease, the tenant pays for taxes, insurance and property maintenance). In my opinion, the highest likely achievable rate for space such as this would be in the $18.00 +/- per square foot range.
Similarly, the other rents appear to be highly inflated. The tax analysis assumes a drugstore paying $40.00 per-square-foot triple-net, the in-line spaces (along the parking lot) paying $28.00 per-square-foot triple-net and the 24,000 square foot junior anchor paying $25.00 per-square-foot triple-net. If the rents achieved are substantially less than these numbers—and I believe that they will be—then the tax revenues associated with the project would also be substantially less.
Retail at Chappaqua Crossing is a very bad idea, in my personal and professional opinion. For the record, I was somewhat in favor of the earlier proposal to build age-restricted housing on the site. I do believe that the site will largely need to be developed. However, I firmly believe that retail is not an appropriate use for the site or for the town, as I previously stated this in my open letter to the Town Board.
In conclusion, I’d like to state that I have never seen a wealthy Northeastern town so easily approve a retail project in a residential neighborhood. In my opinion, our Town Board has made a series of grievous mistakes. They should never have suggested a shopping center at Chappaqua Crossing. They still have the authority to deny the application and should do so.
97 Haights Cross Road
Letter to Town Board: TB members should never have suggested retail use at Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, May 10, 2013 by Steve Coyle
Follow up: Open Letter to the Town of New Castle and NCNOW.org on Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, by Steve Coyle
Letter to the Editor: Chappaqua Crossing Retail Proposal: Fiction and Fact, NCNOW.org, September 9, 2013, by Jason Chapin