Letter to the Editor: Voters should consider traffic safety at Hunts Place

Monday, November 4, 2013
by Ed Frank

Many residents have voiced their concern that the proposal for a supermarket and retail at Chappaqua Crossing will create traffic congestion. But voters should be aware of the serious traffic safety hazards that will be created if Chappaqua Station, the Conifer project at Hunts Place, is constructed.

The proposal is for the construction of a 28-unit four and a half story high AFFH affordable residential rental building to be constructed alongside the vacant parcel located between the SMRP northbound exit off-ramp, the Metro North RR tracks, and the Route 120 Bridge.

Negative aspects of the project have been voiced both in the New York Times and by Mr. Craig Gurion (the plaintiff) who brought the lawsuit against Westchester County that resulted in the Housing Settlement that requires the County to produce 750 AFFH units; however, I feel it is important to bring to the attention of voters serious traffic safety issues that would be created if the Conifer building were constructed.

First, the $500,000 Vollmer Plan commissioned ten years ago by the New Castle Town Board concluded (page 50) that “Presently, the deceleration from the northbound exit off Saw Mill River Parkway to the Chappaqua exit is almost non-existent posing a significant safety hazard when vehicles exit immediately after the Bridge abutment.”

The proposed Conifer building is scheduled to have its vehicular entrance located at the very foot of the off-ramp—which will create an even more significant safety hazard, making accident-prone locations at both the foot of the off-ramp and the head of the off-ramp.

Conifer’s traffic engineer produced a study that in my opinion was based upon data that was not correct and was based upon erroneous beliefs. Conifer’s traffic engineer, for example, did not record a queue on the off-ramp of more than four vehicles. On two separate random days, I observed a queue of seven vehicles backed up almost to the parkway exit.

The bottom line is that the SMRP off-ramp was classified ten years ago by an independent company (Vollmer) as “a significant safety hazard” whereas the traffic safety report that the current Town Board relied upon was produced by Conifer’s traffic engineer. I repeatedly requested the Town Board to retain the services of an independent traffic engineer; unfortunately the Board declined to act on that advice.

Voters should carefully consider the traffic safety hazard that the Conifer building will create. Voters should consider the safety of their families and friends and others who utilize the Chappaqua exit. In a worst case condition, if NYSDOT has to permanently close the exit (to all but emergency vehicles) due to serious safety concerns, consider the effect upon motorists who utilize this exit, on additional traffic at the Roaring Brook Road and Pleasantville exits, and on our hamlet merchants.

CFRAH (Chappaqua For Responsible Affordable Housing) is financing an Article 78 Petition to overturn the Town Board’s wrongful decision to issue a Special Permit to Conifer. The petition is based, among other issues, upon CFRAH’s belief that the SEQRA review was unsatisfactory.

I believe that every voter should consider the above information when deciding whether to vote for Ms. Paderewski or Mr. Greenstein. Mr. Greenstein has taken the position that the Town Board’s issuance of the Special Permit for Conifer to construct the Hunts Place residential building was wrong;  Ms. Paderewski’s position is that she will not act to overturn legislation passed by the current Town Board. These are good reasons to vote for Mr. Greenstein.

There are better locations for AFFH housing in New Castle, CFRAH and I fully support the construction of AFFH housing on those sites; one such location was proposed long ago by resident Architect Wally Toscano: the town-owned property behind town hall, on Washington Avenue. In the Town Board’s rush to approve affordable housing at the inappropriate Hunts Place site, it did not give adequate consideration to Mr. Toscano’s proposal.

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Comments(16):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Thank you, Mr. Frank, for breaking this down so efficiently.  I have been stuck in the right hand lane of the northbound Saw Mill River Parkway with my hazard lights on while creeping toward the exit ramp.  It’s a pretty scary place to be.  I can only imagine how much more often this scenario will occur if an apartment building graces that unfortunate wedge of contaminated land. The potential for serious traffic accidents cannot be ignored.  It boggles the mind to think our current Town Board has allowed this project to continue to advance.

By Safety first! on 11/04/2013 at 9:41 am

Mr Frank has done an admirable job here illustrating the hazards of the northbound Exit 32 ramp from the Saw Mill River Parkway to Hunts Place. Conifer Realty, its consultants and enablers in Town Hall have an incredible capacity to ignore facts like these, and many others, that make the Hunts Place site wholly inappropriate for residential development, and especially for rentals where children may live.

By Will Wedge on 11/04/2013 at 9:43 am

I believe that every voter should consider the question and answer of both candidates from the CFRAH Voter Guide Questionnaire when deciding whether to vote for Ms. Paderewski or myself.

http://www.newcastlenow.org/index.php/article/new_ltr_to_ed_cfrah_voter_guide_questionnaire

I would consider repealing the Special Permit, as a last resort.  Paderewski gave a non-answer.

Greenstein: Yes, as a last resort, I would be in favor of repealing the amendment. I would prefer taking steps to find a way to relocate the building being proposed for Hunt’s Place and putting it on the Washington Avenue site instead. Because of the deliberate steps the Town Board has taken on this project to date, this should be done in a manner to minimize any potential liability for the town. However, outside of an outright repeal, there are still a number of ways to prevent this project. My understanding is that the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) must still approve the variance applications: the project requires variances for height & setback. [I am not sure this is true given the shady way they wrote changes. I think they may have given themselves the power to waive certain variances which could keep it away from the ZBA]. New Castle Building Inspector must still be satisfied with the Means of Fire Service and Access issues. The property is contaminated. If it cannot be cleaned up to the satisfaction of DEP, the Conifer people will not be able to move forward. The Conifer group must also get easement approvals from MTA and DOT before they can move forward. I think that each of these additional steps will be incrementally more difficult for Conifer to achieve if it is clear to outside agencies that the project does not have the support from the newly elected Town Board.  CONTINUED…..

By Rob Greenstein on 11/04/2013 at 9:46 am

CONTINUED

Paderewski’s non-answer…..

Paderewski: I have been told that we would be sued if we tried to do this by not only the developer but HUD. Lawsuits do not scare me. I have researched this quite a bit. I am not a lawyer but I have spoken to a few lawyers in the field who are not related to the Town in any way. I certainly am continuing my research on this but to be most frank I cannot say that I would go the route you want. I am more cautious with the Town’s liability risk. I have seen what lawsuits can do to Towns. As much as I think that this project is just too big, I think that the risk to our Town might be much bigger. I continue to do research. I cannot give you my word at this time and I don’t want to misrepresent anything to you.

By Rob Greenstein on 11/04/2013 at 9:46 am

I have devoted my life to New Castle and the safety of the children in it
It is hard for me to imagine the danger children will be up against if the town board and community keep ignoring the fact that this project will be hurtful to the town and the people in it.

By buscorwin on 11/04/2013 at 11:02 am

These photos make a shocking TB decision even more shocking.

By bob on 11/04/2013 at 11:25 am

Different legislators, including Mr. Kaplowitz, have stated that they take into account the actions and attitude of the local town board when deciding on whether or not to approve the funding for a specific affordable housing project which is being built using state and county funds.  Despite attempts to withhold the financials from the community, we are now all aware of the almost $2 million development fee for Conifer and a windfall profit for the current landowner.  This would destroy all credibility for this project on the best of sites, let alone one that is contaminated and situated as this one is.  Whether anyone likes it or not, this election is a referendum on this project and how New Castle wants to approach affordable housing.  Please send a strong and clear message at the polling booth by supporting the Team New Castle slate and sending a message to all legislators, the DOT, the DEP and the MTA that we do not approve of this project as a community and that the new town board will have a clear majority of members and a supervisor that support this message.  Standing up to a public fleecing of the taxpayers and the town and making this statement clearly to legislators, developers and all others that this is not how business will be done in our town going forward is a litmus test for how I will vote on Tuesday.  However someone might try to rationalize it, a vote for the other slate who has publicly stated that they have no stomach to stand with members of the community against this project sends exactly the opposite message.  This may not be the most important aspect to any individual voter, but please understand how your vote will be interpreted whether that is your intention or not.

By Robert Fleisher on 11/04/2013 at 1:13 pm

Ed, your photos remind me of the song “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie, which says, “They took twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used in evidence against us. They took picture’s of the approach,the getaway, the northwest corner the southwest corner and that’s not to mention the aerial photography.”

Your photos are as laughable as the ones in the song. A traffic study conducted by experts concluded that the Hunt’s Place project would not have a negative impact on traffic and safety. The dead horse you’ve been beating has been ground to a pulp.

By Michael Zuch on 11/04/2013 at 1:27 pm

Has any sober, intelligent person in New Castle Government looked at this project from a distance, perhaps with Google Earth or with some aerial photos? Has any such person seen the line of school busses leaving and returning to their parking depot and the traffic congestion they create?  Has any such person looked at the proximity of the SMRP and Metro North, not to mention the shortness of the exit ramp and lack of an exit lane on the SMRP Northbound? The approval of this project says quite a lot of about local politics.  No matter the validity of the argument or the seriousness of the long-term consequences of this project, it has been jammed down the Community’s throat. My observation: FOLLOW THE MONEY. Someone is profiting BIG TIME here and it is not the overall Community !

By Robert Wolff on 11/04/2013 at 3:13 pm

Mr. Zuch,
If they built me a 3 million dollar mansion on this site with everything anyone ever wanted - indoor swimming pool, elevator,
furnished beautifully, gorgeous appliances, heat and electric and water paid forever and most importantly, a free deed to the mansion - remember it’s on this site - I would say, sorry, not interested.  I would not want to live on this site for anything.  buses, trains, air pollution, cars, highways, no sidewalks, you name it - not interested.

By not living there on 11/04/2013 at 3:59 pm

I don’t believe anyone is more informed and can speak more intelligently on this topic than Ed Frank. Thank you Ed for being so diligent, dedicated, and caring about the safety and well being of all involved. Wait, also Joan Corwin! There are many other people as well, especially the members of CFRAH, but Ed and Joan have given so much of themselves, it is hard not to single them out. And when in the near future we have a more suitably located residence, all the occupants will be extremely grateful, too!

By Eileen Gallagher on 11/04/2013 at 7:51 pm

I do not have credentials that qualify me as a traffic engineer or a traffic expert. But I have constantly exited the SMP North at Exit 32 for decades.

Frankly, I am dumbstruck that a four car length allowance on this exit ramp has been deemed as sufficient and realistic. Is the data that determined the four car length allowance available for public scrutiny? Would it be unreasonable to insist on obtaining a second opinion from an independent traffic engineer? Is there a clear explanation as to why a second opinion was not sought and obtained prior to now?

I commend you, Mr. Frank, for your public service in preparing your thorough and well-reasoned presentation.

By William McHale on 11/04/2013 at 9:39 pm

Good job Ed Frank. I have always thought that the Chappaqua exit going north was a dangerous exit. It appears to me that the town board actually violated their own traffic study from Vollmer. Is the town board saying that traffic at the exit is not as dangerous as it was ten years ago? I beg to differ with that. Has the town board accepted a traffic study from Conifer, the very company that wants to build on a dangerous site? That does not seem rational to me. If the present town board was unaware of the findings of the Vollmer study that was authorized by a previous town board and paid for with taxpayer money, then shouldn’t the current board reverse their decision to permit the construction of this Conifer building before leaving office.

By Ken on 11/05/2013 at 9:39 am

Ed,
Your photos are illustrative of the problems this development will face and will cause.  Also helpful are the photo simulations of what this project will look like.  In his comment Mr. Zuck seems to represent the Democratic Party Town Board’s explanation of how they could approve it.  To me, he and they show a complete lack of understanding, placing ideology above reality. 

Perhaps a traffic signal should be placed at the intersection of Hunts Place/Hunts Lane/Off Ramp/Conifer Entrance to improve safety, and a warning signal be added on the SMRP northbound approach to the exit. Still, it will be quite a mess.

By Thanks on 11/05/2013 at 6:30 pm

The people who will live there don’t care about your manufactured issue. They will take it period .  The solution is having the project next to your house.

By Sheesh on 11/05/2013 at 6:47 pm

@Thanks - A traffic light would actually make the backup on the exit ramp even worse because cars on the exit ramp waiting to enter the intersection would have a longer wait time. Agree that the town board has a complete lack of understanding.

By Driving on the parkway on 11/06/2013 at 10:20 am


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