L to E: The TB can—and should—vote “No” to retail at Chappaqua Crossing
June 20, 2014
by Rita Tobin
Having attended the Town Board meeting on June 10th, I have a few comments to add to those made at the meeting.
First, I was offended that Summit Greenfield’s attorney began a public meeting by threatening the Town, in so many words, with a law suit. He referred to a letter sent to the Board by SG, dated June 9th; the public should see that letter.
Even more troubling is that the Town’s attorney appears to be willing to provide those members of the Board who favor granting the variance with the fig leaf of a supportive legal opinion. S-G claims that, because the former Board accepted the supplemental SEQRA findings and stated that the economic benefits of the SG outweighed its defects, the Board was obligated to grant SG its variance. SG is incorrect.
As many others have pointed out, including in correspondence sent to the Board after the June 10 meeting, the new Plan is markedly different from the old one. The new configuration of buildings on the site; planned additional construction, smaller; more numerous retail units; addition of a 25,000 square foot gym; lease to regional draw Whole Foods rather than a local supermarket; and – now – planned vegetable farm (what next? a petting zoo?) both separately and together require a supplemental SEQRA study.
S-G claims that the changes to the project are irrelevant because, according to S-G, the environmental impact of the new plan is the same. Its traffic expert, John Collins, agrees. Yet many residents challenged Mr. Collins traffic figures, and Mr. Collins is not neutral – he is an expert paid by S-G. Moreover, apart from examining whether the new plan would create even more additional traffic on Route 117 and Roaring Brook Road – hard to believe, for example, that only 36 people would visit a 25,000 square foot gym before heading to work in the morning, or that Whole Foods would not attract more traffic than an A&P or Deciccios the Board needs also to consider the potential impact on Chappaqua’s downtown area of many additional small businesses and the effect of a multi-acre vegetable garden on both the environment, and local farmers’ markets. (Yes, Whole Foods needs to obtain its vegetables from somewhere; but the attraction and competitive potential of locally grown produce is high, and a Whole Foods garden would directly compete with the local produce sold at the Chappaqua Farmers’ Market, an important economic and, increasingly, social and cultural component of our community.) A traffic expert, especially S-G’s own hired hand, cannot adequately assess the potential impact of these numerous, diverse changes. We’re certainly not required to take S-G’s word that all such impacts would be the same.
Nor does the former Board’s acceptance of the supplemental SEQRA findings seal the deal on the zoning variance. As others have pointed out, obtaining a variance is a two-step process. In taking the second step, deciding whether to grant the variance, the Board has no legal obligation to limit its analysis to the SEQRA findings: on the contrary, it has a fiduciary obligation to consider all factors affecting the community. The Board’s broad discretionary powers give it the right to accept an environmental study, but still deny a variance: for example, because the planned project, which would require major road construction and intrusion on the rights of property owners, is out of keeping with the character and goals of the town.
In addition, the former Board weighed environmental against economic interests, based on the assumption – the hypothesis – that the shopping center would be full rented. S-G has now revamped its proposal, including by asking for additional small-size stores. Those assumptions are out of date. For starters, the Board did not consider what now appears to be the very real possibility that S-G won’t be able to rent out all or some of the space. Of what economic benefit to the town would be a failed shopping center?
Moreover, in October 2013, there was no signed lease and no supermarket lessee had been identified. Now we know that the lessee is not a community supermarket, but Whole Foods.
When members of the public asked S-G last night to see a business plan and copy of the Whole Foods lease, S-G’s lawyer vehemently refused to provide such materials. By denying the Town materials that could support or undermine what had previously been a mere hypothesis that the project would be economically viable, S-G has entitled the Board to vacate both its acceptance of the supplemental findings and preliminary (i.e., based only on SEQRA) weighing of interests.
What was a bad idea in 2013 remains is a bad idea in 2014. Moving around the deck chairs does not patch the leaking hold. S-G’s plan would, at the very least, overwhelm the Roaring Brook Farms/Lawrence Farms/Cowdin Lane/117 area with traffic and new construction, devastate the property values and quiet enjoyment of those properties, and turn Chappaqua from a quiet, peaceful hamlet into a county-wide shopping destination.
This is good for Chappaqua? No – this is bad.
The Board can – and SHOULD—should –vote “no” on the variance.