Hamlet property owners urge TB to look at end game; Greenstein commits to fix hamlets
August 22, 2014
by Christine Yeres
In its August 12 public hearing on zoning changes to permit a grocery and retail at Chappaqua Crossing totaling 120,000 square feet of new building space, Town Board members heard from several property owners in downtown Chappaqua including Bill Holmes, who urged Board members, as “caretakers of the town” to first develop a Master Plan. “Listen to everything,” he said, “and have a moratorium if you have to.” Supervisor Greenstein reiterated his commitment to revitalize the hamlets, “whatever happens at Chappaqua Crossing.” Town Board members asked Summit Greenfield to supply “a sliding scale” of traffic figures associated with retail space of as much as 50% less than the 120,000 square feet studied in the environmental review.
Still trying to figure out traffic
Lynne Lambert, a resident who asked in previous public hearings for user-friendly traffic graphics, was relieved, she told Board members, that her own calculations were very close—within 0.10%—to those that Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultant, John Collins, had supplied that night. She read from Collins’ table some existing traffic figures (number of vehicles), the projected figures (number of vehicles) for the proposed grocery and retail, and the percent increase each signified:
Weekday a.m. school arrival:
Existing traffic 160
Projected traffic 479
Weekday peak a.m. highway hour:
Weekday school exit hour:
Weekday peak a.m. highway hour:
“We know mitigations proposed,” said Lambert, “were a couple of turn lanes and a widening of Roaring Brook Road in that area, but knowing 117 it’s hard to believe that that degree of mitigation could possibly take care of this huge increase in traffic.”
“This is not NIMBY. This is not my neighborhood,” said Lambert, who lives, she said, near Grafflin, “but I do think it’s going to impact a whole big section of town if this amount of traffic were to be laid down on that side of town.
Thank you all for the diligent work you’ve done now. I don’t know if these [traffic] questions were asked before or asked in this way, but I hope it will now be part of your consideration.”
“There’s going to be something there,” said Greenstein, ”—whether office or retail—no question that the property is underutilized now.
“I’m certainly concerned about those intersections that cannot be mitigated—there are four of them— and I think the Town Board would like Summit Greenfield’s consultants to talk about seeing how much we can reduce the delay [in traffic] if we were to reduce the retail by 25%.”
“—Not just 25%,” said Town Board member Adam Brodsky. “I’d like to see a sliding scale of relationship of square footage vis a vis traffic.”
“—50%,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz. To Town Planner Sabrina Charney, Katz added, “So per Mr. Marwell’s suggestion, can you put that [request] in writing, Sabrina?”
Later in the hearing, a resident approached Town Board members with his smart phone, suggesting that they visit the Whole Foods in White Plains on Google Earth and see that it is serviced by an eight-lane road, as compared to Route 117.
Bill Holmes tells Board members, as caretakers of the town, to “look at the end game”
Bill Holmes, of the former Holmes & Kennedy and still a commercial property owner in town, was next to speak. Greenstein asked to make some remarks himself first.
“When the prior Town Board passed a Findings statement,” said Greenstein, “I asked ‘What are you going to do to shore up the downtown if this passes?’
“I’m still 100% committed to that philosophy; and at the start of this meeting I rattled off three things that are going on for downtown Chappaqua. I will tell you that in the meeting here with Pace [a report on the results of the community outreach]—you can watch the meeting [embedded below]— Tiffany [Zezula] said that the common theme throughout the public outreach was that was people want us to focus on downtown Chappaqua. That was the one theme people focused on throughout the public outreach meetings. So for the merchants here: Don’t think for a second we’re going to neglect downtown Chappaqua. And if something does happen at Chappaqua Crossing, hopefully that will just encourage more people to realize we have to do something for downtown Chappaqua. Downtown Chappaqua is not acceptable right now. So whatever happens at Chappaqua Crossing, things have to change for downtown Chappaqua. That was very clear at the public outreach meetings, and I’m committed to revitalizing downtown Chappaqua—and even more committed now that we have the public outreach meetings to support it.”
Holmes then spoke.
“I think the most important thing is that you’re here as caretakers of the town and the people of the town,” said Holmes. “And I think the most important thing is to have a master plan and think things through thoroughly, without acting on the Digest. I know full well they want to develop it, whether it’s residential, commercial. They’re entitled to develop it. They bought the property. But we don’t have to change the zoning to accomplish that.
“The first thing to do is to understand what we have. I was here for the Pace report, listening to it. It was very interesting. A survey is going to be done. The next thing the town needs to do is to develop a Master Plan. You need to decide what is best for the town—not what’s best for the Digest, or even, for that matter, what’s best for the downtown. But listen to everything and have a moratorium if you have to. Stop development. Carry through and get something that’s going to be good for the next 50 years, because there are a lot of people who’ve invested a lot of money downtown Millwood and Chappaqua, counting on what the zoning was—that there wouldn’t be another hamlet in town. [in New Castle].
“There’s a character to this town and a lot of people like it the way it is and that came out in the [Pace] study. I can’t sit and argue about [traffic] percentages and all that, but it’s way off base. You’re wasting your time. Let’s focus on what we want and what the people in town want. Let’s forget whether you have 2% [traffic] at an intersection—you’ll never solve that. I think it’s much more important to look at the end game. Do that and then say ‘OK, we’re going to develop this as commercial, we’re going to move the supermarket downtown’—or whatever we’re going to do.”
“I called for a moratorium well over a year ago,” responded Greenstein. “And that might have been a good time to do that, but for every action there’s a reaction and there’s legal consequences to making certain decisions. So while it might be nice to issue a moratorium and just say, ‘SG, you’ve waited this long, you’ll wait another two years’ that would be nice if we thought we’d have a reasonably good chance of staying out of court by saying that. These are things that come into our decision making process.
“We are doing the public outreach process, we are going to do the survey. [See TB approves professional phone survey of 300 residents, randomly sampled, for Master Plan review, NCNOW.org. 8/22/14.] And this is all incredible information that’s going to help us make a good decision about Chappaqua Crossing. We’ve had traffic consultants here—this is Dr. Collins’ fourth time here. We’ve had Michael Galante [the town’s traffic consultant] here. We’ve had joint meetings with the Planning Board. So we’re gathering a lot of really useful information that’s going to help guide our decision.”
Town Board member Lisa Katz told Bill Holmes that she had asked at the last public hearing that the Town Board consider a moratorium. She and Board members have discussed their options with legal counsel, she said, but had yet to discuss the moratorium option in public, and she intended to bring it up with Board members in the future.
Concentrate on the two hamlets before creating a third
Jeff Blockinger, the owner of a commercial building in Chappaqua, pointed out to Board members that he and other owners of downtown Chappaqua buildings were present—and concerned.
“These are not The Gap or Victoria’s Secret,” said Blockinger. “These are people who have committed substantial resources to this town who, I believe, have a right to continue to be heard as significant decisions that are being made that are going to impact the investments that we’ve made to improve this community.
“This town has two existing hamlets, each of which have substantial problems that have existed for years and years and years. Those problems have not been solved yet, and we are now going to open a third hamlet. We have all sorts of studies and statistics and efforts to determine what’s going to happen in the future with that third hamlet. Regardless of what happens with that hamlet, it is without question: we have not solved the traffic and planning problems with the existing hamlets. The infrastructure is a disaster. Quite frankly, it’s an embarrassment for the members of this community and it impacts the residential real estate value in this town as well as the commercial real estate value in this town—I have to echo Bill [Holmes]‘s sentiment.
“You’re doing a great job and you’re working really hard, but you have an obligation to safe-keep this town for the residents and the future residents of this town. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Summit Greenfield. I don’t know how they put up with this. I would be extremely frustrated if I were them, but I don’t think that that is the point. I don’t care about being sued. I don’t think you should care about being sued. I think Bill’s right [Holmes commented earlier that neighbors of Chappaqua Crossing would surely sue as well]: You are going to get sued no matter what you do. So I think it behooves you to just make the right decision. I think the right decision is to solve the existing hamlets’ problems, then move on to the third hamlet or whatever’s going to happen at Chappaqua Crossing.
“We pay a substantial amount of tax in this town. Many of us are both residents and commercial property owners—that’s double-taxed. That’s why I pointed out we’re not The Gap. We’re real members of this community. We’ve invested substantial sums in this community and all we’re asking you to do is to be fully informed, thoughtful and careful when you’re making extremely important decisions for the future of this town.
“And take a look at the history of this town. I don’t if it’s the Quakers’ fault or whose fault it is, but this town is not laid out well. The traffic patterns are terrible. And it’s not been solved and people have been talking about it for years and years and years. So the idea that we’re going to bring in a consultant to tell us ‘This is what’s going to happen at lunchtime at Greeley, and here’s what a Whole Foods is as opposed to a Seven-Eleven,’ it’s not believable that it’s going to get solved.”
“Whatever happens at Chappaqua Crossing,” Greenstein said to Blockinger, “downtown Chappaqua needs improvement. It’s unacceptable needs improvements.” He encouraged Blockinger to join Brodsky’s Downtown Business Development Advisory Committee “and help shape how we want to revitalize downtown Chappaqua.”
Fear of litigation and whether the Board’s hands are tied
“The most important question I have for you,” said Betty Weitz, “is ‘How can we move ahead with applications if we all agree that we need to know what the consensus of the town is on what kind of commercial development they want, where they want it, how much they want of it?’”
“Is it true,” asked Weitz, “that you feel that having the prior board issue the SEQR Findings now ties your hands in moving forward?” She cited a letter from another resident who pointed out that the Town Board “is not limited to consideration only of the Findings, but has an obligation to consider what is out of keeping with the goals and character of the town.”
Weitz quoted Greenstein himself as describing, before he was elected to office, the SEQR study as “just an informational tool.”
“I notice all kinds of statements about legalities,” said Betty Weitz. “I can’t help but feel you’re playing three-card-Monte with the law. It’s a matter of credibility.” After Greenstein’s talk of the Board’s “hands being tied”—when she believed that they are not—the Board needed, Weitz said, to rebuild trust with the community.
Responding to Weitz, there were gradations, Greenstein implied, of the ‘hands-tied’ doctrine, ranging from outright retail denial, or granting something less than the 120,000 square feet of retail. “Just saying ‘hands-tied’,” he said to Weitz, “doesn’t have much meaning.”
“Another issue, somewhat related to litigation,” said Jason Chapin, “is something very important to me and to other Town Board members. We’re very sensitive to the cost associated with everything we do or don’t do. We’re obligated to try to keep taxes as low as possible, and we currently have a tax cap we’re trying very hard to stay under. We take that all very seriously and factor that into our decisions—and it won’t be long before we start working on our 2015 budget.”
“I’m a board member [with another organization],” said Lynne Lambert, “and we’ve been sued. It goes with the territory—but we have insurance.” Doesn’t the town have insurance, she asked.
“At the end of the day,” said the Board’s counsel, Nick Ward-Willis, “the Board will make a defensible decision based on the record.” He declined to engage in any specific legal discussion.
Pressed further by Lambert, he added, “Yes, the town has liability insurance to cover itself and the Board as well—depending on the nature of the claim.”
“It’s important for us to understand potential litigation landscape,” said Katz, a lawyer herself, “no matter what course of action we take—which is not to say that that will completely shape our decision. I intend to make decision in the best interest of the town.” Wanting to understand the litigation landscape, she said, “does not mean I will decide based solely on litigation. My decision will be based on integrity and the trust the citizens of this town have placed in me to make the right decision.”
“Other towns aren’t like ours”
Angela Carrozza, a partner in Donna’s Hair Design on North Greeley, addressed Board members.
“It’s just so hard being an owner and businessperson who’s been here for so long,” “Other towns aren’t like ours,” she said. “They have sidewalks you can walk on. Everything here is always patched. It’s unbelievable and it’s just not pretty. And as little as that sounds, this is a big new venture you’re trying to put up there [at Chappaqua Crossing]. We have a beautiful new overpass [the bridge] with sidewalks, but you can’t walk in town.” She was grateful, she told Town Board members, for the new three-hour parking [changed over the summer from two-hour). But over the years, throughout many “regimes,” nothing seems to get done, she said.
In response, Greenstein stated that much of the infrastructure improvement project—an effort “started by the prior Town Board”—is “coming to fruition now.” He referred to a new button on the town’s website, “Downtown Revitalization,” where the $6 million of improvements to be made next year are described. “You have a town administration committed to improving the downtown.”
“You guys are working really hard,” said Blockinger, “but these improvements aren’t done yet. And now you’re opening up a third front [Chappaqua Crossing], a third hamlet with problems of its own. As the safe-keepers of this town the Board has an obligation to be thoughtful and not put big-box in a place where it may just not work. Especially when the town has a long, well-documented history of not making these kinds of decisions well. You three [new Board members] ran because it was obvious to you that it wasn’t getting done. I don’t believe Summit Greenfield has a right to get this zoning change. Keep that in mind when you’re making this decision.”
The previous Town Board, Greenstein explained, started the ball rolling on the infrastructure improvements that will now move forward. “You haven’t seen the results yet, but there’s no question,” he said. It’s moving forward and it started last year.”
Katz returns to “plan before developing” and a moratorium
“So let me get this clear,” said Katz to the downtown property owners who had just spoken. “You’re asking us to plan before we develop? What that means to me is to look at all the issues facing the town and see what we can fix before moving forward.”
“As a merchant in town,” Blockinger responded, “what you hear is that the residents of New Castle do not come into town because they don’t like the traffic, they don’t like the parking problems, they don’t like the sidewalks, they think it looks like crap. So they don’t come into town.” He advised the Town Board to “get solutions for Chappaqua, get solutions for Millwood, and then figure out whether it’s a good idea to have big box up at Chappaqua Crossing. But the idea that we’re going to throw that up there, stir the pot, and get a whole bunch more traffic in an area that has it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“I agree with you,” said Katz. “That’s why I’ve proposed a moratorium that I think we have to discuss.”
The last speaker, Steven Meyler, a 16-year resident, told Town Board members, “I would like to commend Summit Greenfield for the traffic study, because, if anything, it is statistical evidence of why this site should not be developed in that manner—because of the dramatic increase in traffic” and the accompanying “hazards to the children who go to Greeley and the residents in the area.”
The public hearing will continue on Tuesday, September 23.
August 12 Public Hearing on Chappaqua Crossing:
The hearing runs from the 22-minute mark to the 1-hour, 24-minute mark
August 12 Discussion of Pace Report with Town Board, Planning Board, Master Plan Steering Committee, a meeting that preceded the public hearing: