Letter to the Editor: Should a lame duck administration decide the fate of our community?
With 108 comments since publication
Monday, June 24, 2013
by Rob Greenstein
With five months left on the terms of Supervisor Carpenter and Councilman Stout, the Town Board is steam-rolling ahead with the approval process for retail development at Chappaqua Crossing. The Town Board has appropriated the decision making process in the face of negative advice from their own appointed Planning Board. They have not listened to the Planning Board, residents, or even commonsense.
Town Administrator Penny Paderewski has publicly stated that the current Town Board will be voting on Chappaqua Crossing before their term ends. How can she possibly declare that the current Town Board will be voting on Chappaqua Crossing? How could anyone know when that vote will take place, since the review is supposedly still ongoing?
Has the current Town Board already made up their minds? Are they rushing to complete the process to vote before their term ends? And should a lame duck administration be making these important decisions?
Development at Chappaqua Crossing
We all know there has to be development at Chappaqua Crossing, and there will be. In 2011, I commended the prior administration when they approved 111 residential units. I stated that I believe the town board did everything possible to maximize the tax revenue while protecting the commercial viability of the property. I stated that they acted in good faith to balance the conflicting interests of the community. By giving Summit Greenfield 111 residential units—60 fee simple townhouses, 31 market rate condos and 20 affordable housing units—the Town Board may have blunted Summit Greenfield’s Berenson legal offense in its lawsuit against the town and proved wrong the specious accusation that our community is opposed to affordable housing.
One year later, on March 16, 2012, I wrote a letter stating that we should foster a working relationship with Summit Greenfield as we take each other’s interests into consideration. I suggested a high-end specialty grocery store – like Whole Foods - at Chappaqua Crossing.
I believe Whole Foods will be coming to Chappaqua Crossing. I also believe most residents – including my wife - would be excited about a Whole Foods at Chappaqua Crossing. However, even if a Whole Foods is coming to Chappaqua Crossing, as I stated Last March, we must still take into consideration each other’s interests. Does the Whole Foods come with strings attached? What else will come along with a Whole Foods? Are we willing to accept a lineup of fifteen chain stores that may not be so desirable? While we could accept a Whole Foods with the right conditions at Chappaqua Crossing, we cannot accept a third business district that will cannibalize our existing business districts.
The problem is that Summit Greenfield wants to turn Chappaqua Crossing into the next Kings Crossing. In 2003, Summit Greenfield bought a contaminated 11-acre piece of property for $8 million. In 2012, it was sold for $60 million.
The stores at Kings Crossing are a Whole Foods, Petco, CVS, Chipotle, Five Guys and a Chase Bank office. They’re located next to a vast Home Depot. On December 4, 2012, Engineer and Planner for Summit Greenfield, Andy Tung, walked Planning Board members through the proposal for a grocery and retail shopping center at Chappaqua Crossing. When discussing possible tenants, Tung stated “there would likely be a sit-down restaurant, probably two. Most likely national chains in the 5,000-SF-plus category. A Chipotle’s or a Five-Guys. There could be what we call a “junior anchor” a store of 15,000 SF that might e a Petco or Staples. Not a department store, but a store you might go to for daily or weekly needs. Then a smaller store something like a Sylvan Learning Center. As I’ve learned, each grocery store has a group of smaller tenants that kind of follow it around.”
The big difference is that Chappaqua Crossing is not a contaminated 11-acre piece of property. It would sit on the other side of a six-lane intersection, across from our high school. The problem is that this strip mall is being built in the middle of a residential area. The problem is that it will cannibalize our two existing hamlets, and be a traffic nightmare.
Town Board has compromised the decision-making process
The planning board has practically begged the town board to stop the race to change the zoning. Yet despite the negative input the Town Board is pressing ahead with Summit Greenfield’s application.
On October 2, 2012, when discussing rezoning for retail at Chappaqua Crossing at the Town Board’s request, Planning Board members asked right off the bat, “Why so big?” Planning Board members wanted more detail on the type of store, the amount of traffic, and the effect on the two existing commercial centers of the town. “I feel this is introducing a third commercial center into New Castle,” said planning board member Sheila Crespi, “which I feel the master plan did not anticipate. This is a significant change to the character of the town, a community that’s unfolded over years. This needs to be part of a much larger community discussion.”
“Once you move forward, there’s no going back,” continued Crespi,” and so it really behooves us to have a real community discussion, in forums that go out into the community to find out whether this is something the community really wants or whether it’s [the result of] dismay over losing D’Agostino’s.”
On October 16, 2012 planning board members revisited their concerns. Planning Board member Tom Curley stated “planning should precede zoning and the legislation should wait until the community has gone through the process of understanding what they really want to happen up there.”
“Yes. We’re rushing to put the zoning in place,” said Sheila Crespi, “but first should come the study to see if there’s something viable there and that it’s something the community wants. This is sort of leapfrogging to talk about putting the zoning in place.”
On May 7, 2013, Planning Board members discussed the negative impact to the surrounding residential area. If the hamlet areas are, in fact, harmed by the grocery-retail development at Chappaqua Crossing, said Crespi, the developer should address in the EIS (the “Environment Impact Statement”) the reduction of taxes from the hamlets as well as the reduction in value of residential properties surrounding Chappaqua Crossing. “Sometimes you see around retail areas that there is a degradation of the residential properties to the extent that it and can no longer be valuable as residential and begins to convert to non-residential uses. You see that around shopping areas. [The applicant should] discuss whether that is a possibility particularly along Roaring Brook Road, where some of those homes are going to be directly across from a shopping center. That is going to be their new vista, a shopping center as opposed to a parking lot that exists there, as well as the traffic impacts along Roaring Brook Road.”
The planning board was concerned about student safety, and the potential problems of locating a large shopping center across the street. Crespi stated “Kids will want to get there, they’ll have to cross six lanes of traffic to get there. Only seniors now are permitted to leave campus now (an enforcement issue for the school district), traffic—at certain times of day high volumes. That, plus safety are community character issues. Also signage potentially visible from the Saw Mill—certainly a visual impact and character of community issue.”
Retail rezoning is not consistent with the Master Plan
The retail rezoning at Chappaqua Crossing is clearly not consistent with the current Master Plan. The 1989 Town Development Plan, which reaffirmed the 1968 Town Plan of Development, set forth the position the all future local business development be confined to the Town’s existing two hamlet centers. It was determined that these areas would be able to adequately meet the needs of the Town’s growing population, and any expansion outside the hamlets would be contrary to the objective of maintaining the Town’s predominantly residential character.
This town board is responsible for delaying the master plan review and are making residents pay the consequences
As far as amending the Town Development Plan (TDP), Curley stated “maybe [the TDP] should be a lot more definitive with regard to policy intent than it currently is about retail on that piece of property, inasmuch as there are no statements in the TDP about retail on that piece of property.” “So much so that I think if we have a set of specific values we really want to apply to this piece of property we ought to use the TDP to be fairly specific about those. We do have an applicant before us now who is, in my estimation, working in good faith. We also however have no guarantees—nobody does—that this applicant is actually going to be the developer who is going to do this project. Things change. We have not put any cornerstones in the ground yet. And if we’re going to go ahead and go through the process of memorializing our desires on this piece of property through a TDP and then through a zoning [amendment], we ought to do it not without regard to the energy and the interest that are moving forward but also not without losing sight of the larger issues with respect to the property and potentially what it could be and the quality of life issues that we’re trying to address through this [EIS, environmental review] process. In a perfect world we would have gone through this [TDP review] a long time ago and we wouldn’t be going through it right now.”
The Town Development Plan recommended against “a third commercial center.”
“It seems to me,” said Crespi, “that the 1989 Town Development Plan didn’t so much remain silent on the issue of commercial retail development as recommend against it. So it seems to me what we should be talking about in the cover memo is a sort of change of priority. We’re stepping away from the policy recommended in 1989 and it’s now being proposed that the town development plan embrace a different priority, which is the creation of a third commercial center. That was something the 1989 plan specifically did not recommend. So rather than say that it was inadequate we really need to acknowledge that what the TDP said in 1989 is that we shouldn’t do it, and that now the town is rethinking that.” (The emphasis is mine.)
Why is the town conducting a Master Plan review if they’re not going to use it as a guide as they consider creating a third retail hamlet?
How can we know if the retail rezoning at Chappaqua Crossing will accomplish a legitimate public objective if those objectives are not clearly identified before the zoning change is considered?
Why would the Town spend valuable and limited resources reviewing an application for a shopping center that that might turn out to be totally inconsistent with the updated Master Plan?
Why is the town undertaking the review and updating of its Master Plan if they’re not going to use it as they consider a project that could forever change the character of New Castle?
Instead of making selective edits to the 1989 Master Plan to permit a shopping center of dubious composition at Chappaqua Crossing, elected town board members should let the Master Plan Review Steering Committee do what they were appointed to do: compile updated data, updated projections, an updated understanding of environmental and business concerns and, most importantly, invite meaningful participation from the community.
And should a lame duck administration be deciding these issues?
Too many unanswered questions
There are too many unanswered questions. Rather than negotiating the size and types of retail stores at Chappaqua Crossing behind closed doors by means of a rubber-stamp “study” by its new consultant, AKRF, the Town Board owes it to our community to issue a moratorium on new zoning ordinances until the Master Plan is updated and this November’s election behind us.
Before deciding unilaterally that this project will go forward, town board members should be held to prove – and they haven’t yet—that the New Castle community believes this permanent change to its character will benefit the town. The town board should defer final decisions on these projects until the entire town can be polled. Let the voters decide if they support this project. The Steering Committee can use the results of the poll, do the work they were appointed to do, and properly amend the Master Plan.