Letter to Town Board: TB members should never have suggested retail use at Chappaqua Crossing
May 10, 2013
by Steve Coyle
Editor’s Note: Steve Coyle, who has worked for 25 years in real estate investment, sent the following letter to Town Board members on May 6, 2013 After receiving a response from Supervisor Susan Carpenter, he added a Post Script to his letter, also included below.
May 6, 2013
To:Supervisor Susan Carpenter
Deputy Supervisor Elise Mottel
Board Member Jason Chapin
Board Member Robin Stout
Board Member John Buckley
cc: Editor NewCastleNow.org
Dear New Castle Town Board:
As you are aware, one of your Planning Board members approached me and
suggested that I apply for the currently vacant position on the Town
Planning Board. Given my 25+ years of real estate investment
experience, the fact that my wife grew up in Chappaqua and having a
genuine desire to help the town, I applied for the vacant position and
interviewed on March 12, 2013. As you are likely aware, I have not
heard from you, and according to the town website, this position is
not yet filled. I hereby remove my name from consideration for this
I would also like to publicly comment on the proposed retail
development at Chappaqua Crossing. While I did not feel that it was
proper to do so as a potential candidate for the New Castle Planning
Board, now that I have withdrawn my candidacy, I believe that I can
(and should) comment on this proposed project. As you are aware, I
have worked for the past 25 years as an investor in commercial real
estate. I am currently the chief investment officer heading private
real estate investments for a large, global owner of properties. I
have spent my entire career analyzing real estate investments,
performing due diligence studies, and investing in, and managing such
real estate investments. I have invested in real estate throughout
the United States and much of the world.
In my professional experience, I have never seen an unzoned retail
project in the United States move along as quickly as has the proposed
retail at Chappaqua Crossing. The Northeast is a notoriously
difficult market from a zoning perspective, and retail zoning is among
the most coveted of the property uses. The reason why retail zoning
is typically so difficult to obtain is that virtually no other
property type creates as much burden on the surrounding uses, as does
retail. Retail stresses roadways more than other commercial and
residential uses, utilizes higher parking ratios, generates trash and
noise, and is typically riskier, as the U.S. market is highly
over-retailed. (Just look at the plethora of vacant strip centers and
malls that dot our highways and byways).
I have reviewed the current Town Development Plan, which is dated
November 1989. As you are aware, Chappaqua Crossing’s current B-RO-20
(office business, research and industrial development) zoning “does
not allow for the mixture of commercial uses as currently presented in
the Consolidated Proposed Action.” Chappaqua Crossing has already
received numerous and significant zoning reviews. First, the site was
rezoned from allowing for a singular office tenant to later allowing
for up to four tenants and to today allowing for an unlimited number
of office tenants. Later, a 30.6 acre portion of the site was rezoned
to be a Multifamily Planned Development district, which was approved
for 111 units. I support these uses and these changes; however, I do
not support the current proposal for retail zoning.
The owner/developer of Chappaqua Crossing, Summit Greenfield, has
sought alternate uses for the property, because the existing site is
challenged from a current development standpoint. Many of the
improvements on the site are antiquated (some of the buildings date to
1939, and many of the buildings have not been renovated in decades).
Further, Westchester County has struggled to attract office users, due
to New York State’s high corporate, individual and property tax rates.
None of these facts surprise me, as a real estate investor. Nor
should they have been surprising to Summit Greenfield when they
purchased the site. The downsizing and eventual departure of Reader’s
Digest from the site should have been a consideration of the owner
prior to their having made the initial investment.
I am shocked that the Town Board of New Castle introduced the concept
of retail at Chappaqua Crossing prior to Summit Greenfield requesting
retail use on a portion of the site. In my opinion, this was a
reckless decision by the Town Board. The Town Board’s February 2,
2013 draft of New Castle/Reader Digest Rezoning III – Retail Uses –
Revised Draft Local Law report, states that “the commercial real
estate market is not supporting large scale office and research
facilities and that to retain those existing facilities as part of a
viable community and real estate tax base, those existing facilities
may need to be adaptively reused and/or augmented by retail uses,
which support the continuing office and research uses …” In my
professional experience, I have never witnessed an office or research
use that necessitates or even supports a supermarket/grocery. Such a
use is highly inconsistent with commercial office and research uses.
The two uses tend to compete against each other as it pertains to
parking and other issues. Instead, the only retail uses that
typically benefit office development are restaurants, sundry shops and
I am also amazed at the lack of due diligence that the town of New
Castle has apparently done as it pertains to the proposed retail use.
As far as I am aware, no traffic study has yet been released publicly
as it pertains to current (and anticipated) traffic along the
surrounding roadways. Typically, traffic surveys would be first
performed on all of the adjacent roadways. If this has been done, it
has not been publicly released. [* See Post Script, below] Following such a study, the town
planning and zoning boards would review this data as it pertains to
the current (and anticipated) infrastructure. Finally, the town (and
the developer) would hire consultants to determine what the future
impacts on traffic would be from the proposed use(s).
I have done some simple analysis to show the impact that a 120,000
square foot (sf) retail center would have on our current roadways.
Successful neighborhood centers typically have a 1:1 ratio of anchor
space to in-line shop space. Thus, this would suggest that the
proposed center would have a 60,000 sf supermarket anchor and 60,000
sf of in-line space. A supermarket anchor in an affluent submarket
the Northeast would typically underwrite a store doing $650 per square
foot in annual sales. Thus, such a store would gross $39MM in annual
sales. If we assume that the center will be active 360 days per year
and that the average grocery bill per trip is $75, then the
supermarket anchor would generate 1,444 additional car round trips per
day. Additionally, if we estimate that the in-line stores generate
$350 per square foot in annual sales and that the average shopping
bill at those stores average $35, then those stores would generate
1,667 round trips daily. Of course, some of the inline sales will be
tied to sales at the supermarket anchor and to the other in-line
tenants. If we estimate that half of the in-line sales are
independent, then the proposed center would generate more than 2,275
additional round trips daily. This will severely tax the existing
infrastructure of our already crowded roadways and will result in
severe gridlock from 2:35, when Greeley High School ends until well
In my professional opinion, the proposed site at Chappaqua Crossing is
not well suited for retail development. Proposed tenants typically
require excellent visibility from highways and thoroughfares and seek
high-profile signage. Chappaqua Crossing is on a sloped site that is
problematic for retail development. Poor sight lines will not only
limit tenant interest in the site, but they will likely result in
changes to the proposed site design if this proposed development
progresses. The result will likely be that the retail development
will eventually move closer to the intersection of Roaring Brook and
Bedford roads. Also, the proposed parking ratio for the current
project is 5 spaces per 1,000 sf. Most successful shopping centers
utilize parking ratios of 6/1,000 sf or greater. Since the site has
no existing pedestrian access, I would anticipate that the site would
need at least 6 spaces per 1,000 sf. Also, with single-family
residential uses abutting the site on three of the four sides, the
impacts from the proposed center would be disproportionately faced by
the neighboring homes.
Finally, I believe that the town board has not properly considered
whether Summit Greenfield has the means to complete this proposed
project. With a loan that is soon coming due, a project that has
failed to reach its net operating income projections from early on,
and a muddled future as it pertains to potential new tenants and uses,
the Town of New Castle risks setting a dangerous precedent as it
pertains to rezoning the site. If Summit Greenfield were to prove
unable to complete, fully lease and operate the site as retail, then
New Castle would not only lose the potential tax revenues associated
with the site, but they would also put themselves at risk of having
the next owner request even more zoning changes.
In my personal and professional opinion, Chappaqua Crossing is ill
equipped for neighborhood or strip retail zoning. The site is less
than ideal from an anchor tenant’s perspective, the existing uses of
the site will be negatively impacted by such a use, and the
surrounding infrastructure cannot support the additional traffic,
signage or environmental impacts associated with such a development.
I am not anti-development, nor do I believe that Chappaqua Crossing
could not be rezoned to other, less intrusive uses. However, I
believe that the Town Board has done a disservice to its residents by
advancing the concept of retail at Chappaqua Crossing. I would highly
encourage the Board to carefully reconsider this use and to ultimately
reject it. Further, the Town Board should delay any further rezoning
requests at Chappaqua Crossing until it has completed the update of
the Town’s Master Plan.
Steve Coyle* P.S. On March 8, 2013, I received the following response from the Town of New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter:
“Mr. Coyle, I will forward your comment to the applicant for their consideration as required by SEQRA. However, both the applicant and the Town did hire traffic consultants very early on in the process, as you suggest we should have done. I will have someone check to make sure the traffic studies are on the web site. If for some reason those studies were not scanned to the web site I will make sure they are. Susan Carpenter”
Based on the response from Supervisor Carpenter, I would like to redact paragraph 7 of my letter. However, I stand by all of the other statements in my original letter to the Town Board, and would like to add a few concluding thoughts:
Subsequent to receiving Supervisor Carpenter’s response, I have fully reviewed the traffic studies that were dated November 25, 2012 and the DSEIS study dated April 13, 2013. After reviewing these documents, I would like to state that I believe that the current traffic study fails to properly account for the traffic increase that will be generated by the proposed retail at Chappaqua Crossing. As my analysis shows, there will be an increase of more than 2,275 ROUND TRIPS PER DAY.
The traffic study, which was commissioned by Summit Greenfield and performed by John Collins Engineers P.C. does not give a per day count of traffic related from retail zoning, rather it only gives the increases for five different periods of time. These are: (1) Weekdays from 7-8am, (2) Weekdays from 8-9am, (3) Weekdays from 2:30 to 3:30pm, (4) Weekdays from 4:30-5:30pm, and (5) Saturdays from 12-1pm. The Summit Greenfield/Collins study estimates that weekday trips during periods (1) through (4) will increase by an average of 1,641 total entries and exits (i.e., one-way trips). My analysis suggests that daily volume will increase by more than 4,550 trips over the shopping day. Further, my analysis does not examine the resulting truck and employee traffic, which will further stress our roadways. Thus, I think our roadways will become very overburdened by the proposed center.
I would also like to note that currently Town Zoning Ordinances require 6.67 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space. In my analysis, I used a 6 per 1,000 sf ratio. Summit Greenfield and the Town are suggesting a parking ratio of 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet in a DRAFT Local Law. (One that would require yet another zoning change). The Summit Greenfield/Collins parking study is based on a 5/1,000 sf ratio. My professional experience suggests that 6 spaces per 1,000 sf is the minimum amount that would be viably necessary, and I would argue that 6.67 is an even better ratio for most shopping center owner/operators.
Finally, no developer in his right mind would have ever underwritten getting retail zoning as his base case on this site. Why our Town leaders suggested this as a use is beyond me.
UPDATE 5:30 a.m. Friday, May 10, 2013
Editor’s Note: Steve Coyle received the following email from Town Board member Jason Chapin:
From: Jason Chapin
Date: May 9, 2013, 9:20:07 PM EDT
To: Steve Coyle
Subject: RE: Chappaqua Crossing Proposed Retail Use
Dear Mr. Coyle,
I’m sorry you did not hear back from the Town about the Planning Board position. We are still considering candidates.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Chappaqua Crossing proposal. As I have stated, I’m most interested in issues related to the neighborhood, traffic and the hamlets. The project requires and will follow a comprehensive review process. Input from citizens, the town planner, town counsel, the Planning Board, the developer and other interested and involved agencies are core elements of the review process.
I will consider all of the input, issues and available information before voting on the proposal.