Chappaqua Xing public hearing of November 18 adjourned to continue Tuesday, December 2
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
by Christine Yeres
Editor’s Note: The following is an account of November 18 public hearing on changes to the town’s zoning that would permit retail at Chappaqua Crossing. The hearing continues tonight at 8:45 p.m.
At the start of the November 18 public hearing, town counsel Nick Ward-Willis set the record straight on claims made by Summit Greenfield’s litigation counsel, Howard Stahl on October 28.
Contrary to Stahl’s assertion, said Ward-Willis, that “approving retail development at Chappaqua Crossing” was how the town had “agreed to resolve” lawsuits Summit Greenfield had brought, Ward-Willis explained that the town had simply agreed to a settlement that “required the town to process the retail zoning petition in a timely fashion.”
Second, said Ward-Willis, it was not the case that “Summit Greenfield had been trying for ten years to get this property rezoned.” The town approved residential use in 2011, and in 2013 the developer resubmitted an application for retail, “which the town has reviewed in an efficient manner, with seven public hearings and due diligence by the town.” It was “simply not the case that Summit Greenfield had to ‘start from scratch’ on the retail proposal submitted in 2013.”
“I’m not a not-in-my-backyard kind of guy,” said Devaney. “I’m pro-development. I’ve spent 40 years as a professional in development. We want to see development that enhances the surrounding neighborhood. I’ve never seen such a beautiful suburban campus. I just can’t believe that the best we can do is a Whole Foods and retail. Is this the highest and best use of the site?”
“Anyone in this business—and, Adam, you should know,” said Devaney to Town Board member Adam Brodsky, “it’s a challenge to get this across the finish line.”
Devaney suggested the Board ask for “a performance bond from this developer” to ensure the project “is finished to the satisfaction of the residents of New Castle.”
“This is a very large-scale project, and I don’t think the Building Department has the person power to oversee this project.” He asked Ward-Willis, “Should we consider [a performance bond]?”
“We can handle that in site plan review [after approving the zoning],” said Ward-Willis. “Make sure the Planning Board is directed [to do it].”
Town Board member Lisa Katz suggested such language be part of the rezoning legislation, “not the site plan.”
“I’m extremely concerned that there is a well-known problem with the existing hamlets,” said Blockinger, a property owner in downtown Chappaqua. “I still don’t see a plan [for those]—and we’re now opening up a third hamlet.”
Blockinger pointed out that the AKRF report was “quite circular” in saying that “the downtown has been abandoned by the community, so [the development at Chappaqua Crossing] won’t hurt it because already nobody is shopping there. But the right question is Does the town of New Castle have the appetite to do a major [construction project at 117 and Roaring Brook Road and come down here [to the hamlet] and do it all over again?”
Blockinger reminded Town Board members that “residents were extremely upset” during the years’ long construction of the Quaker Road bridge. Now, he said, the Town Board was considering “engaging in a massive third hamlet of 120,000 square feet, versus 150,000 square feet of existing retail in New Castle.”
The $6.5 million the Town Board has allocated for improvements to the Chappaqua hamlet, Blockinger said, would quickly disappear below-ground, with the likelihood very low “that it will have any meaningful impact on the aesthetic of the town.”
Blockinger observed that Board members seemed “deep[ly] concern[ed] that Whole Foods is going to skip town if we don’t approve the zoning change], but they don’t get emotional about this. If they think the zip code is good, it’s good.” He added that a Whole Foods at Chappaqua Crossing would be “the fifth within 30 minutes of here.”
As to the developer’s list of proposed retail tenants, said Blockinger, “none is committed. There a very good chance we will not get high-end retail. We may not get a Del Frisco [Steakhouse], but Bob’s Furniture. Once [retail zoning is] approved, the town loses the ability to choose the retail. There will be a certain amount of Planning Board [site plan] approval, but the Planning Board will not be able to pick Del Frisco instead of Applebee’s” or “more like Lexington Avenue in Mt. Kisco.”
“They will ask for more,” Blockinger added. “Prepare for a long relationship with them.”
The town is committed to improving downtown Chappaqua, Town Board member Jason Chapin said to Blockinger, and intended to “create a capital project for the town budget” that very evening. “The infrastructure is very old and in need of repair,” said Chapin, and, as to “pedestrian safety improvements,” he added, “that work will be done.”
“I do think that $6.5 million is unrealistic, and maybe foolish,” responded Blockinger.
“$6.5 million is not going to put boots on the ground,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein. “That won’t fix it. The reality is that half the downtown is being used for municipal purposes, like the six- or seven-acre parking lot next to the train station.”
“I have the will to do [fix the downtown],” said Greenstein. “And I hope the Chappaqua Crossing project will force others to realize that it’s time to do it—more nighttime activities, more recreation space—it’s time to do it. Chappaqua Crossing should encourage us to do it.”
“Again,” said Blockinger, “the AKRF report is very aspirational about Whole Foods and the success of [the Chappaqua Crossing retail] project. They do not say it will be a success.” All they say, he noted, is “that 120,000 square feet has a better chance [than less].”
“You need to ask about population density and its ability to support retail development after retail development,” Blockinger advised Board members. “People come here because they don’t want houses on top of each other. That results in disparate retail development. This is not a project that needs to be a priority for this town when there is so much else [to do].”
“I didn’t run [for office] to spend a year on Chappaqua Crossing,” said Greenstein, adding that once the Board makes a decision, “then we can turn all our attention to downtown Chappaqua.”
“People in this town do not like to be bothered,” said Blockinger, “or to have commuter lot headaches for a significant amount of time. And a regional shopping center near unprotected railroad tracks?—AKRF doesn’t address any of these issues. AKRF asked only one simple question: If you have a place where people are not shopping already [downtown Chappaqua], will a new one poach from that?”
Katz concurred that AKRF was, in effect, saying that “our downtown is deficient so Chappaqua Crossing will not impact it. But it’s the other way around.”
“It also said,” Greenstein interjected, “that regardless of what happens at Chappaqua Crossing we have to do downtown development.”
“The question is whether people have the appetite for more development,” Blockinger repeated. “This is a very complicated town.”
“It’s gonna happen,” said Greenstein, referring to hamlet development.”
“Jeff is dealing with the Big Picture,” said Lewis, whose issue, he told the Board, was “whether there is a retail vehicular entrance on Roaring Brook Road. This is a residential street. If you accept our premise that placing an entrance on that street is going to threaten the residential houses on that street, it doesn’t mean that we have the right to stay there in perpetuity, but we have an investment there. We are the existing development. And in your draft law there is nothing concrete abut how you are protecting us, nothing about how you will respond to [the idea of] taking the entrance off of Roaring Brook Road or to our properties if they lose value.”
“We don’t want to have multifamily and retail on our street or Whole Foods backed up to our homes,” said Lewis, “but that’s what the PDCP [preliminary development concept plan] shows—exactly that: that our homes are in jeopardy.”
“Are you prepared,” asked Lewis, “to tell us that you will rezone our property to be compatible with what you are proposing to do across the street?” By this Lewis meant rezoning the residential strip of houses along the south side of Roaring Brook Road to permit multifamily housing or retail development, an option he has previously mentioned in public hearings.
“We can’t talk right now about what we’re going to do,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz, “but it’s at the top of my list. I know your homes are going to be impacted.
“Whether or not to rezone [your residential to multifamily and retail]? That is a huge slippery slope. But it is absolutely on the table to close that entrance, given that all the traffic is going to be coming from either 117 or the Saw Mill. [The Town Board is] talking about [Roaring Brook Road], the median, and what we can do to enhance the neighborhood. Just because it’s not in the [draft zoning] law doesn’t mean we’re not talking about it. All the mitgation suggestions in your letter—we are spending a lot of time addressing your mitigations.”
The Town Board’s “top five our six topics revolve around the residents surrounding the project,” added Town Board member Adam Brodsky.
“People did not move here to live in White Plains,” said Katz. “They liked that there wasn’t such huge development [in New Castle] and didn’t want to live in a city setting. So to start rezoning neighborhoods worries me. Large developments worry me. And not having a sufficient downtown worries me. One of the resounding comments yesterday [in her talks with residents at Lange’s] was ‘We didn’t move here to live in Mt. Kisco, Yonkers or White Planins. That’s really important to protect.”
“The Board has only been considering retail rezoning for less than two years,” said Lewis. “Sometimes it takes a while—particularly when nobody’s interested at looking at options—and you could come up with dozens of ideas in a few weeks and get insight into what works and what doesn’t.”
“We’ve looked at your suggestions,” said Town Board member Jason Chapin. [See Letter from Roaring Brook Road residents to Town Board.] “And I’m struggling with the traffic expert’s [assertions] that if there were a Whole Foods that 80% of traffic would come off the Saw Mill and I know the lower entrance is currently in use and I don’t know why that wouldn’t be the main entrance to the property.”
“Doesn’t it look to you quite circuitous?” asked Lewis.
“People are coming in [from that lower entrance] for office, residential and retail,” said Katz. “It’s a nice, quick drive around.”
“It would be more convincing to me,” said Lewis, “if you didn’t put the entrance on my street.”
“There used to be a limit on the number of stores under 5,000 square feet,” said Fleisher.
“Yes, we’ve heard a lot of evidence,” said Greenstein, “from the AKRF report and the Planning Board about why there shouldn’t be a small store restriction.”
“The Board is still deciding?” asked Fleisher.
“Yes,” said Greenstein. “We’re working on the retail mix still.”
“When I look at the options of the community [on whether to permit retail zoning] I’m guessing that it’s split,” said Fleisher. “The only mandate is that people want you to protect us. The timeline is such that some of you won’t be here anymore. Those protections are really built in and are obvious to everyone—including Summit Greenfield—several levels to deal with unexpected things that are going to happen.”
Fleisher suggested that the Town Board should ensure that if or when something goes wrong, “Summit Greenfield ]must fix them] in a certain way. Summit Greenfield may not like some of those things. If there are problems I think the community is crying out to you to give us those protections, in years to follow also.”
“I don’t know about the traffic,” said Fleisher, “or whether they will pull from downtown, but they don’t know either.”
“The AKRF report is very valuable,” said Chapin. “It identifies leakage very clearly and—regardless of what happens at Chappaqua Crossing—it’s good information.”
“I think you’re right,” Katz told Fleisher. “Whatever protections we want should be written into the local law—restrictions that we want to protect the rest of the town. If you [identify] restrictions that should go into the local law, that’s what we want.”
“The more that’s written in,” said Fleisher, “where the residents of our town can see in black and white on a page, you can create a lot more comfort. The ‘Findings’ could have done more to lay out some of these things. Here’s another opportunity now.”
“There is talk of memorializing everything into an agreement,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein, “and we are looking out for the community’s best interest. We’re not leaving anything to chance.”
Right now, said Fleisher, the design of the project seems “made to be split up” and sold separately as a retail zone, a residential zone and an office zone. “If they want to do that, they should pay a premium.” He noted that “there’s not any TND [traditional neighborhood development characteristics] at all” such as residential above the retail.”
“We’re well aware of the Planning Board’s and the County’s preference for that,” said Greenstein, “and we’re taking that into account.”
Fleisher suggested that Summit Greenfield offer a performance bond against, for example, the 20 affordable housing units. “If those don’t get done first,” said Fleisher, “I’ll be very disappointed.”
Katz said that whatever conditions the Town Board decides to impose should be binding to any next owner or developer and if the conditions are not met the zoning should be able to be rescinded.
Such conditions would be binding upon next owners, explained Ward-Willis, and if Summit Greenfield were not to apply for and receive site plan approval within 12 months, “the PDCP and the remapping of the retail onto the property would expire and would go back to non-retail.”
Siber challenged Greenstein’s assertion at the previous public hearing that the intersection at Roaring Brook Road and 117 could operate as well as the intersection at 128 and 117. Greenstein responded that his point had been more a matter of traffic counts.
Ward-Willis explained that if State Department of Transportation does not approve the alterations Summit Greenfield has proposed for Route 117 and Roaring Brook Road, “the the project doesn’t proceed.”
Question about downtown rents
To a written question read by Greenstein, “Do rents in downtown Chappaqua affect the vitality of the hamlet?” —rephrased by Katz as “You mean: Are the rents too high?” Blockinger returned to tell Board members that the price-per-square-foot in Chappaqua is “down 18% in the last five years for purchases,” and that retail tenants “are expecting further reductions going forward” if retail is permitted at Chappaqua Crossing, “and the expectation of the landlords is that it will result in further tax [grievances] and further erosion of the tax base downtown.”
“Which is more reason why we need to revitalize downtown Chappaqua,” said Greenstein.
The sustainability of the retail proposal by Summit Greenfield “is based on a wish, a hope and a prayer,” said Ehrlich. “How different is Whole Foods from Mrs. Green’s, which is a hop, skip and a jump away?”
Ehrlich suggested attracting genetics and research operations to the site, or a hotel, or medical facilities—“all far better and more acceptable uses for this site.”
“Whole Foods is the anchor that’s going to attract the other retail,” said Greenstein.
From the examples of other developments Summit Greenfield has provided, NCNOW noted, the Town Board doesn’t really know how a retail development in an office park works. Summit Greenfield’s examples are shopping centers along heavy commercial corridors, not an office campus-style space set in a residential neighborhood.
To this, Chapin responded, “we need to be open to trends—that a lot of these suburban office parks are looking at adaptive reuse.”
“I’d still like to see an example of adaptive reuse like this one that’s proposed for Chappaqua Crossing,” said NCNOW. “There isn’t one yet.”
“To rent retail space is a lot more than renting office space,” said Greenstein.
“We also realize,” said Katz, “that the current trend [in shopping] is toward online. We are looking to see whether the proposed size will be viable.”
“Personally, I think there’s a certain attraction to living in a place [like Chappaqua Crossing] where you can walk to work,” said Greenstein. “They’re successful all over the country.”
“Like in a town,” said NCNOW.
NCNOW asked whether the Town Board intended to require that newly-constructed buildings match the Georgian architecture of the cupola building, as the 2013 Findings suggest.
“These are elements discussed during site plan review,” explained Ward-Willis, even though the ARB has, for now, approved a sterotypical Whole Foods supermarket design in the PDCP stage.
Last, NCNOW reminded Town Board members that Summit Greenfield has stated that it can—“as of right”—construct another 300,000 square feet of office space on its property, to make close to 1,000,000 square feet of office space. If the Town Board requires Summit Greenfield to “trade” office space for new retail, how would the town enforce a new, reduced amount of square footage on the site. Could Summit Greenfield return to construct up to 1,000,000 square feet in the future?
“It depends on the final version of the local [retail rezoning] law could come up with a lower number,” said town counsel Ed Phillips.
“If we change the zoning law,” said Katz.
“We are looking at that number,” said Greenstein. “There will be a number in that local retail law and we are also exploring demolishing buildings.”
Town Administrator Jill Shapiro read a letter from the Westchester County Planning Board in which the County reiterated that in its opinion the proposed plan for Chappaqua Crossing is not true mixed use.
“It’s a three-humped camel,” said Napoli. “The County has asked over and over for a traditional neighborhood, mixed-use design. “You can’t possibly approve this concept plan, knowing that the County’s [wishes have not been met]. You haven’t done that.”