Letter to the Editor: Top-down decision-making not only fails; it’s against the law
February 28, 2014
by Chuck Napoli
Amending or altering the comprehensive plan—a/k/a Master Plan—to permit the Spa and Chappaqua Crossing cannot continue because rezoning any property must include proper citizen participation in the preparation of the amendment to the comprehensive plan and must result in substantial favorable impacts to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare of the community—the key factors that legitimize a comprehensive plan update.
Historically, a decision-making process of top-down governing without the citizens in the conversation fostered much civic discontent and provoked a change of leadership; yet amazingly more of the same governing continues. Attempting to solve the amendment process with the same process that created it—top-down decisions looking for buy-in only afterwards from the citizens.
April 2012, then-Supervisor Susan Carpenter came up with the idea of ” grocery with minor retail” at the Chappaqua Crossing office complex and drafted a Local Zoning Law amendment with town council members and the Chappaqua Crossing developer. We all know how not including citizens in the preparation of the amendment worked out.
“A New Approach” was born and much was made about bringing Chappaqua Crossing into the updating of our Master Plan—but to date that effort is still void of any public participation or collaboration—except the supervisor, a member of the planning board and the town planner negotiating with the developer.
Not Master Planning, not a “New Approach” Instead, the Town Board has preempted the master plan process by having the planning board refine the Local Law amendment for a comprehensive plan change without citizen participation in preparation of the plan or amendment. This is a violation of N.Y. Town Law.
It’s the Law
N.Y. Code-Section-272-A: Town comprehensive plan
6. Public hearings
(a) In the event the town board prepares a proposed town comprehensive plan or amendment thereto, the town board shall hold one or more public hearings and such other meetings as it deems necessary to assure full opportunity for citizen participation in the preparation of such proposed plan or amendment, and in addition, the town board shall hold one or more public hearings prior to adoption of such proposed plan or amendment.
(b) In the event the town board has directed the planning board or a special board to prepare a proposed comprehensive plan or amendment thereto, the board preparing the plan shall hold one or more public hearings and such other meetings as it deems necessary to assure full opportunity for citizen participation in the preparation of such proposed plan or amendment.
The town board shall, within ninety days of receiving the planning board or special board’s recommendations on such proposed plan or amendment, and prior to adoption of such proposed plan or amendment, hold a public hearing on such proposed plan or amendment.
Town Law 272-A assures early and public collaboration with the developer and concerned citizens, stakeholders and interested parties including all agency representatives to scope the goals and strategy of the project from which a zoning amendment is prepared for the comprehensive plan update.
To date, public participation has been mostly adversarial—separate camps with narrow fixed positions honed after much civic discontent—with developer against town, citizens against developer, citizens against town, citizens against citizens. So much public energy and time spent trying to STOP something seems a waste of civic capital.
Town law 242-A expects a community and all involved participants to work together, early and often, when comprehensive planning or updating is on the agenda.