With little detail provided on proposal, public reaction is harsh on retail at Chappaqua Xing
Find video of the 80-minute meeting in “Read more…”
September 28, 2012
by Christine Yeres
Monday’s continuation of the public hearing on rezoning to allow a grocery plus additional retail stores at Chappaqua Crossing took place with no visuals and no details beyond the 13-page draft legislation summarized by the town’s attorney, Les Steinman, who read from the draft legislation, a legal document with scant narrative. Around 25 residents attended the hearing, and those who spoke were quick to fill in the blanks, with the term “strip mall” recurring frequently.
[Find public comments below.]
Representatives of Chappaqua Crossing and Summit Greenfield were present, and midway through the hearing their counsel, John Marwell, read a statement making clear that his client had been invited by the Town Board to submit an application for the retail overlay zone permitting a grocery.
Steinman read portions of the text, describing a footprint for the retail overlay district of no more than 20%—but which may be increased by the Town Board to as much as 25%—of the existing 256,100 square foot foot print, and also of the existing 662,000 square foot floor area.
Floor area: 20% of the existing 662,000 square foot floor area is a retail overlay district of 132,400 square feet in floor area.
Footprint: 20% of the existing 256,100 square foot footprint is a retail overlay district of 51,220 square feet in footprint.
Possible types of retail proposed by the zoning change
Steinman read out the following acceptable uses suggested by the draft legislation (those marked with an asterisk carry additional approval requirements):
#1. Retail stores and shops, but not including a public garage.
#2. Post office, package center, copy center, and the like, but not personal service.
#3. Financial institutions.
*4. Restaurant, subject to the issuance of a special permit by the Planning Board, in accordance with the standards set forth in § 60-430, but only 1 per 150,000 square feet of floor area in any on Office Park Retail Overlay District.
*5. Health clubs and fitness centers, tutoring services, and the like, but not personal service.
*6. Carry-out restaurant, subject to the issuance of a special permit by the Planning Board, in accordance with the standards set forth in § 60-430.
#7. Structurally mounted wireless telecommunication services facility (minor). (See § 60-437.9E.).
#8. Utility structures for the transmission, storage and/or treatment of water and sewage. For aboveground structures, the minimum setback from all property lines shall be 50 feet. The Planning Board may increase or decrease such setback requirements on individual properties by up to 50% based upon consideration of topographic conditions, the nature of adjoining land uses, existing vegetation and other screening. Buffer screening shall be provided in accordance with § 60-424.2.
Town Board has preliminary OK on concept from County Planning Board
Before public comment began, Supervisor Susan Carpenter announced that the Town Board had checked with the County’s Planning Board, as required in any zoning change, for comment. The County, she reported, commended the rezoning concept for its “adaptive reuse” of the former Reader’s Digest space into an “attractive mixed use environment.”
The zoning change under consideration describes retail use of the property that “will facilitate provision of daily needs products and services such as groceries and basic retail in an otherwise underserved market area.” The draft amendment reads, in part,
“This Office Park Retail Overlay District zoning is intended to provide the opportunity for the development of a retail zoning district on a planned basis in the Town’s only mapped Research and Office Business District (“Office Park District”)to be anchored by a full service grocery store and provide for other retail uses that will provide a complementary and mutually sustaining tenant mix, that are appropriate for the comfort and convenience of occupants in the underlying Office Park District and occupants and residents in the community, that will facilitate provision of daily needs products and services such as groceries and basic retail in an otherwise underserved market area, and that will support and enhance the Town’s commercial real estate tax base. To further this intent with proper protection for existing development in the community, Office Park Retail Overlay Districts shall be established within Office Park Districts on a floating zone basis, subject to approval by the Town Board in each case, and in accordance with an approved preliminary development concept plan, as described and defined herein.” ~ Section 1, 60-360
Comments from the public
Victor Siber, Cowdin Lane
Victor Siber “I don’t think we have an ‘underserved’ market area. If we did, why did D’Agostino’s go out of business?” [For reference purposes, Siber asked Town Board members the square footage of D’Agostino’s; they did not respond, but previous estimates have put it at around 15,000 square feet.]
“And is one of the classes you’ve proposed ‘take-out food’? Are we going to have MacDonalds and Pizza Hut and will we have signage all over the town?” Siber argued that although the town board could specify uses in the zoning, they cannot control the types of uses that may materialize. “You can zone it, but then the tenants become the subject of negotiations.”
“In my view,” said Siber, “this is spot-zoning, another ad hoc way of developing the tax base. There is a development plan and it doesn’t call for commercial in the middle of residential that is quite nice. There’s a big difference between ‘office’ [the current zoning] and ‘commercial’ in terms of stores—unknown stores.”
“You have the busiest part of town in terms of traffic,” said Siber. “We went through this in ad nauseum in the last proposal. We can’t tolerate that kind of traffic; it’s a fragile area and we already have so many trucks on [Route] 117.”
Lee Bowen, Roaring Brook Road
“I live next to the property in question,” said Bowen. “So you know I’m not here applauding this proposal. I have great problems with allowing unlimited commercial and larger residential base at this campus. [The town board has allowed Summit Greenfield to construct 111 units of housing on the property]—and this hasn’t happened yet. So, do we even have permission to use the Yonkers [sewage treatment plant]? We don’t know the effects of what has already been granted, and now you’re proposing something that changes the zoning again. Children walk to bus stops, high school kids run track all around here.”
“And now,” Bowen continued, “we appear to be creating a third hamlet. The existing hamlet will be neglected, or the vision [for it] will be lost. I don’t know where to go from here. Do we get to continue to rally the troops for those of us who aren’t happy with this? I don’t know how to compare this kind of plan. Is there anything like it in Westchester that has all three types of uses in one? I’m a visual person. I can’t understand all that’s been read. I’d like to see what it’s going to be, to see what it means to have retail mixed in with residential and commercial [office]. So I hope you proceed with terrific caution. And thank you for hopefully having another public meeting after this.” [The continuation of the hearing is set for October 30 at town hall.]
Tina Fine, Cowdin Circle
“I moved to Chappaqua in 1987 to enjoy the beauty of the town,” said Fine. “I grew up on Long Island, and I do know something about strip malls and supermarkets being very close to residential areas. Chappaqua is very beautiful. I shop here. I have felt no ill effects of D’Agostino’s being gone. People are now buying food online. I don’t understand why the town wants to take a beautiful campus and turn it into a strip mall. Traffic on 117 is horrendous. We’re going to have non-stop traffic. We’re going to have residential traffic to and from the high school and train station. Trucks deliver. With the [not yet build 111 condos] being built there and those people going in and out, and then the office space people.”
“I don’t know how badly the town needs money, but we seem to be doing fine, and the schools are great,” said Fine. “I know there’s a recession, tax rolls have been hit, but I think we should remain calm. Allow some development but not retail. The Village Market is open on Sundays now. This is where commercial should be. This idea [of a supermarket at Chappaqua Crossing] completely insane.”
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce,” said Greenstein, “but I am speaking as someone who’s worked closely with the merchants over the past four or five months and have gotten to know them and care about them. I’m very concerned about having a third hamlet—especially when we have a downtown that needs a lot of work. And you know, we’re making a lot of small steps forward. And suddenly, here’s a project that’s definitely going to have a negative effect on the downtown. It’s almost as though this project is a concession because we’re being sued [Chappaqua Crossing has lawsuits pending in state and federal courts against the town, challenging the town board’s review process.]. First of all, I’m not sure why we’d be making any concessions at all, but it’s coming across as though, ‘OK, we didn’t give you [as much residential as you wanted], so we’re going to give you a strip mall.’”
“And the scary part,” Greenstein continued, “is that the town is doing it on their own initiative. [Chappaqua Crossing] hasn’t even asked for it. And this part that there’s five other stores [actually up to 80,000 or 90,000 square feet of retail space made of stores of not less than 5,000 square feet each]—we’re talking about a strip mall. Maybe a year ago I said the grocery would be a good idea there, but that was also before I heard there would be five other stores around it. That’s very, very troubling. And we don’t even know whether we’re going to get a supermarket up there. It’s not like a Whole Foods is saying ‘OK, great!” We have no idea who comes and [Chappaqua Crossing] will have exclusive control over this.”
Greenstein went on to reiterate a concept he had written about when running for office last year, in which town hall would move its operations to Chappaqua Crossing [“Maybe conditions at Chappaqua Crossing aren’t great, but for town hall you don’t need the space to be 100% modern,” he noted], and leave the town hall property to be developed into a grocery, with residential uses as well.
Christine Yeres, NewCastleNOW
NCNOW pointed out that Rob Greenstein’s mention of “five” additional retail stores to accompany a grocery described in the zoning was, according to the square footage numbers in the draft zoning, actually more like 16 or 18 additional stores.
NCNOW asked whether Summit Greenfield had supplied any more information since the Town Board first solicited public input in March 2012 on the draft legislation to rezone. Carpenter responded that the board had not yet recieved an application from the property owners. “The town board can propose rezoning, but we don’t own the property so we’re not the ones who can make it work. If Summit Greenfield in interested in pursuing this, they’ll have to indicate interest and put in an application showing much more detail about what it will look like. In addition, it will require some supplemental environmental work to determine traffic mitigation and that sort of thing.”
Lisa Katz, Annendale Road
“This is freaking me out,” said Katz. “I feel this [rezoning plan] is so much worse than I thought it was! I’ve spoken to a ton of residents of Chappaqua and Millwood who don’t know what is going on here. The fact that you want a 60,000 square foot supermarket here, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is mind-boggling—and that you’ve already gone to the county planning board on this before soliciting comments from the town at all is completely mind-boggling—I’m going to report back to people. We collected 100 signatures in a weekend and 20 just tonight. I feel you’re trying to steamroll the citizens of this town and not give them honest information and an honest dialogue and have them weigh in—and you’re not telling them that you’re trying to change the whole structure of the town.”
“Rezoning to allow a large grocery, and then once rezoned and the supermarket decided not to go in—or failed—you’re transforming a beautiful property into a retail strip mall. This isn’t like a downtown. This is someone’s back yard. We’re going to have rats, cars, traffic coming through neigborhoods. People cross through our street. [Even now] I can’t have my puppy or my children out in the yard without complete supervision because people speed through our area. I used to work at Reader’s Digest. There were rush hours: nine o’clock, five o’clock, and lunch. Not people coming all day and all night. [There’ll be] truck deliveries at all hours. Not at nine in the morning, but at four in the morning. It’s mind-boggling to me. And the high school is right across the street—and they’re not great drivers.”
“People have thought of moving Bell [school] to Chappaqua Crossing and taking the Bell [school] property and develop a supermarket and condos. I feel the town board is jumping on this idea with not a lot of forethought. We have an A&P, Mrs. Green’s, Shoprite, Key Food, the Village Market. We have enough conveniences, all within a ten-minute drive. We don’t really need this. We have new stores in our downtown. Even now, it’s more vibrant. Why are we doing this?”
Katz read people’s comments from some of the petitions sheets: Safety of our students, traffic, the residential character of the neighborhood, rats, noise, 24-hour truck traffic. “It will be like living at Home Depot,” wrote one petition signer. [Since Monday’s meeting, Katz has drawn up a new petition.]
“And if a grocery at Chappaqua Crossing fails,” Katz said, the zoning change would “allow other commercial tenants to succeed the grocery store.” She read other comments: “Why attempt to expand the existing commercial footprint before developing what we have? Can you comprehend what will happen traffic on [Route] 117 at all hours? If one delivery truck gets a flat tire, traffic will be lined up to Owen’s [Mobile station] and Mt. Kisco. And there’s still no turning lane. The impact of commercial traffic on the [Roaring Brook Road and Route 117] intersection—absent a huge and costly re-engineering, no commercial development will succeed. Don’t shove this down residents’ throats. This is a really horrible idea.”
Judy Siber, Cowdin Lane
“Everyone agrees that the town is in need of additional tax revenue,” said Siber. “But the proposed zoning change is a short-sighted attempt. What guarantee do you have that the developer will follow the recommendations? What if the developer planned to sell the property and included the new zoning as an incentive for the future purchaser? Would the town have any control over what could be built?
“As many people have suggested, this is the time for the town to develop a master plan. A supermarket in tis location seems like This is a band-aide approach to a serious problem. As a former real estate person myself, I’d say that the town is in need of a town center. In a previous meeting I suggested the Moving the downtown rec field, town hall and the police station to Chappaqua Crossing, the downtown would be a perfect place. for shops, restaurants and a gathering place for young and old. Shops would benefit from the proximity. The entire area would become a destination. [The Chappaqua hamlet] is not so charming anymore. Having a destination area would benefit not only residents but would bring in outsiders to stroll around and sample the benefits and pleasures of the town. This is the time to explore new and better ways to make Chappaqua more attractive and increase commercial revenue. There have been other suggestions from Chuck [Napoli] and others. This is the time to look at other options that would improve and enhance Chappaqua.”
John Marwell, legal counsel to Summit Greenfield INDENT:
Marwell read the following statement:
“Summit/Greenfield has followed the Town Board’s discussion of its stated desire to increase the Town’s commercial tax base and simultaneously provide a much needed amenity for the community—a full service grocery store – as reflected in the proposed
amendment of the Town’s Zoning Code.
We have reviewed the proposed local law for an Office Park Retail Overlay District and believe that it provides a thoughtful framework for the creation of limited retail uses at the Chappaqua Crossing site which would be complementary to on-site office, research and residential uses, as well as to the broader Chappaqua community.
Summit/Greenfield has supported in the past, and continues to support, efforts to increase the Town’s commercial tax base, as well as the financial viability of the property, and we welcome the Town Board’s stated desire to expand the potential uses at the site.
We plan to make a submission concerning the potential development of retail uses at Chappaqua Crossing and will offer our comments on the proposed Office Park Retail Overlay District.”
Carpenter asked Marwell whether his client had any time frame in mind. He responded that Summit Greenfield was working on its proposal and would submit it “as soon as possible.”
“I’m happy the town is thinking outside the box trying to address the issue of our lacking a decent commercial tax base, but I agree with most of the people here that it’s not the right solution for the challenges we’re facing. After the last election there was talk about the master plan. Isn’t this something that would be addressed by a master plan? Why would we be trying to shove this through…”
Supervisor Susan Carpenter: “Yes, and I believe that the whole master planning process is going on internal town studies are currently being done so that we can actually begin a more public master planning process. This [possible application] will require looking at part of the master plan.”
Murphy: “So why shove this through before that? This feels like this is being sped-through while the master plan is taking its time.”
“There’s no guarantee you’ll get a supermarket there,” cautioned Greenstein. “First of all, Walmart Express qualifies as a supermarket. So you could very well get a Walmart. But if this is a project initiated by the town board, I think if you took a plan like Chuck Napoli’s and asked residents for their opinion—You should put the two plans side-by-side and ask residents ‘Which direction should we go? More residential and affordable housing and retail [at Chappaqua Crossing]? Or a plan like Chuck’s, which is building up [the current downtown hamlet].’ You should ask residents.” To see an early version of Napoli’s plan, click HERE.
“I see 150,000 square feet being built. A ‘strip mall,’ as someone called, probably twice the size of our downtown hamlets. I know we’d like to generate more tax revenues—and we could do that by expanding the commercial base downtown, like Chuck’s plan. But here’s the crux: there’s been commitment by retailers and landlords to this town for years and years and years. And by building this new center with 150,000 square feet of retail, you’re gonna hang them out to dry, slowly but surely, by creating another retail area so nearby.”
“Instead of following [advice from a 1998 study] and enhancing the critical mass of our downtown, you’re not doing that. You’re covering your due diligence, but you should look at the impacts to our town in traffic and not only in tax revenues but in the future—what kind of hamlet we want, what kind of town we want. That should happen before this spot zoning [you’re proposing].”
Chuck Napoli, architect
“Let’s decide what we’re talking about—a grocery store or a supermarket?” said Napoli. “This town has a zoning map. It clearly says ‘This is a zoning district and this is what is allowed on that piece of property, illustrated on a zoning map. Visuals would help people to understand the scale and magnitude of what could be. I want to see the map; we all want to see the map. That will help people to understand the size.”
“And then the ownership,” Napoli continued. “It’s very possible that there will be five, six, seven owners of this property. It’s not a Summit Greenfield thing, but several different owners. It’s not like a shopping center, where one person controls it all. And different owners will do their own thing. [The draft zoning says the retail space “may be owned by one or more persons, organizations, or entities.”] What’s missing is a collaborative, well-considered plan, which is part of how you change any zoning. We need a lot of conversation—not just you [board members] making the decision.”
“[This plan] has gone very far down the road to almost creating a project,” said Napoli. “Now that you’ve proposed a zoning change, the developer is going to come back and tell us what he wants? This has been a great step toward telling them what we don’t want. And now they’re going to come back and match what you’ve said you wanted, but before that I want to see the zoning map.”
An application is yet to come
Carpenter explained that the board had invited Chappaqua Crossing representatives to put in an application for a zoning change to allow retail if they are interested. “if they don’t have a tenant, they won’t put in an application,” said Carpenter.
“You’re inviting them to put in an application,” said Katz, “but we feel that they bought the property with the zoning it has. Some of it was changed, and they’re lucky that some of it was changed. But why should we bend over backwards to please them? Let’s call it a Walmart because that’s what it’s going to be. We won’t have any control over it. Let’s make something there that we do have control over. They don’t give a damn about anyone here. They care about making money. Talk to the citizens and be concerned about them and the people who wanted you in office—as opposed to Summit Greenfield.”
“I’m getting angrier and angrier,” said Wonkaman. We voted for you and you need to let us know what’s going on here. I have three daughters and there are car accidents getting out of Annendale. My husband got in a traffic accident. The traffic is bad now. You’ve got Northern Westchester Hospital buses coming in and out. It really concerns me. We need to analyze this. We need a master plan. We need to know what direction the town of New Castle is going.”
“How many stores did we not have filled in downtown? Thank god for the Chamber of Commerce, that is working hard and making the town of New Castle proud. We’ve got to work together. This [plan for retail at Chappaqua Crossing] isn’t the answer. We have a problem. Let’s work together.”
The 80-minute hearing concluded with a recap of the application and approval process by Steinman. “It’s a two-phase review process,” he explained. “Phase One, by the town board, involves: first, approval of a preliminary development concept plan including details of the proposed development; second, rezoning part of the property based on that concept plan. Phase Two involves Planning Board approval of final site development plan, subdivision approval and issuance of environmental permits, and approval of integrated operations for the retail district.”
“Before the board tonight, however,” added town counsel Clinton Smith, “is a law that would put that framework of review [described above, by Steinman] in place, allowing for an application that would be put through that two-stage review. What we’re looking at now is not a part of either of those stages. Tonight’s question is whether that type of law should be passed which would allow that sort of program to be implemented.”
The Town Board has referred the draft legislation to the Planning Board, which will discuss in its October 2 work session whether the proposed use is appropriate for the site.
The Town Board’s public hearing will continue on October 30 at town hall.
To view the 13-page draft of the proposed amendment in PDF, click HERE.
Related: Town Board will hold public hearing on grocery plus limited retail at Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, 9/24/12
See the 80-minute video of the public hearing below: