TB approves professional phone survey of 300 residents, randomly sampled, for Master Plan review
August 22, 2014
by Christine Yeres
On the afternoon of the August 12 public hearing on Chappaqua Crossing, Town Board, Planning Board, and Master Plan Steering Committee members met to speak with Tiffany Zezula of Pace Land Use Center about the recently released report on the community outreach sessions conducted as part of the Town Master Plan review. Zezula confirmed that residents love where they live but also want downtowns with a greater diversity of businesses and housing, better walkability, traffic conditions, and looks.
Board and Committee members discussed how to take what they learned from the Pace report to the next stage in the Master Plan review—20-minute telephone interviews of 300 residents by a professional survey firm over a couple of weeks in September. An account of their conversation is below. In the Town Board meeting that followed their round-table talk, the public hearing on Chappaqua Crossing was continued to Tuesday, September 23, and Town Board members voted to move ahead with the survey. The Board will use the firm of Penn Schoen Berland, whose clients have included CCSD and the Clintons.
See also Pace’s “Master Planning Public Engagement Report” is released, NCNOW.org, 8/5/14.
The idea now is for the Master Plan Steering Committee to take the analysis from the Pace report, glean from it the larger goals of the community, and compare it against the 1989 Master Plan. For example, said Zezula, “maybe your old Master Plan never talked about a diversity of shops in the downtown. This report gives you, I hope, some type of outline to see what needs to be updated in your Master Plan.”
“You see repeated attention” in the report, Zezula noted, “to your downtown Chappaqua hamlet, locating commercial development there, near the train station, with walkability, and building affordable and high-density housing down there.”
“Under ‘Commercial Development,’” said Zezula, is often mentioned “the diversity of retail in food and services to meet your community’s needs, restaurants, and a bookstore.”
Participants expressed interest in “a supermarket being built somewhere and prioritizing local over chain stores.” Commercial development should be mainly in downtown Chappaqua, with some residents in favor of having some at Chappaqua Crossing, and others in favor of having some in Millwood.
“Some people were interested in improving the development process for Chappaqua Crossing and in improving communication with residents about it,” said Zezula.
Residents suggested updating storefronts and beautifying empty lots.
Under “Environment & Habitat,” people liked the quaint, small-town, rural feel of the town. They wanted to maintain green spaces and public open space, continuing to protect them and to strengthen environmental regulations and also update the environmental review process, taking into consideration night-time light, pollution, noise.
In considering “Public Works & Infrastructure,” many participants were in favor of constructing more sidewalks and bike lanes, installing traffic-calming measures, improving pedestrian safety with crosswalks, having sidewalks connect to other sidewalks, enhancing streetscapes, improving access to commercial development and alleviating congestion through better traffic patterns, dealing with stormwater runoff, fixing the town’s water problems, expanding sewer lines and burying power lines. To that last wish, Zezula said, people added, “But we do know how expensive burying lines can be.”
People wanted more parks, year-round indoor and outdoor recreation facilities, a community pool and rec center, more outdoor seating and gathering places.
Many suggested that the town complete its Master Plan process to determine what’s needed, said Zezula. “They want to have more public input, more studies, more professionals.” However, “in the same breath,” she said, “they want the project review process streamlined.”
People desired an increase in the number of town festivals and concerts in order to bolster community spirit, and better communication between town government and the community.
As to housing, people felt the existing stock is good as mainly low-density, single-family homes. Many wanted more housing for seniors and young people, and favored creating more mixed-use—retail-with-housing—for downtown Chappaqua.
“These are goals,” said Zezula, ”—large-scale goals. This is what your community’s vision is for itself for the next years.”
Besides guiding the Master Plan Steering Committee, the Pace report, Zezula explained, should serve also to guide the continuing public engagement process. She suggested that once the Committee updates the Master Plan, it should return to the public—“at the high school, or someplace else”—to show residents “what connections are being made between the Master Plan and this [Pace] report.”
“We’re going to look into doing a survey, calling 200 to 300 residents,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein. “What else are good next steps for us?” he asked Zezula.
“A survey is needed,” Zezula confirmed. “A lot of residents talked about it. Maybe after that survey—or at the launch of the survey—you should do some sort of outreach talking about what that survey is going to encompass. After the survey, that’s the time the Master Plan Steering Committee should come back to the public and say, ‘This is what we’ve been working on.’ The public needs to see that this [feedback] was somehow incorporated into the Master Plan. A survey is a brilliant next step.”
“The survey can be general in nature—generic questions, which will complement this [Pace] report result, or the survey can get more specific, into specific ideas. So [then] you [will have] gone back to your public saying, ‘Here are some overall goals [from the report], this is what we think needs updating, but now we want to get more specific.’ “
“If people have said, ‘We want a diversity of housing,’ well, what does that mean?,” asked Zezula. “Where do they want it? That leads the Master Plan to have not only goals [more diversity of housing] but specific strategies, because now you’ve seen what your public is considering.”
“You don’t have an endless amount of money, either,” Zezula added.
Master Plan Steering Committee members Maud Bailey asked Zezula how to structure those return-to-the-public meetings “so they’re productive.”
“Break out into smaller groups, with topics stationed in different rooms,” Zezula suggested. “You might walk into ‘Environment & Natural Resources’ and have specific questions on that topic for the public that night.” She explained that Committee members might tell participants, “Here’s what we did. Here are the suggestions we heard from you. Are we right with this? What don’t you like about this?”
“So continue with our subgroups working toward what’s good, bad and ugly,” said Steering Committee member Dick Brownell to Zezuala, “then crank up that final draft and put it together based on this initial suite of information [in the Pace report]? And as we go forward with consultants our subgroups build up actual words for the Master Plan, then do another outreach.”
“I think the survey can go on independently,” Brownell continued. “This [work of the subgroups] will be more free-thinking than a survey. I think we have enough to go forward.”
“But it would be useful to leverage what we have in this [Pace] report,” said Steering Committee member Bob Kirkwood, “to make the survey more useful to us. Now that we have this information, let’s start to drill down. And with consultants we can do this.”
“We have a clear goal as to what we want to achieve with this survey,” said Kirkwood. “This is a 40,000-foot view of it. This is tremendously helpful. But now, when we talk about sidewalks we can say ‘This is what it involves, these are the next districts [for which to consider them].’”
“Whoever you have for the survey,” said Zezula, “they should take this [Pace report] and use this as the basis for the survey.” For example, she explained, “on the subject of sidewalks or housing—[people can] become specific about where they wanted the sidewalks or housing. Now it’s [an easy matter] for people to prioritize where these things can or should go. But there’s also the financial reality.”
Planning Board member Tom Curley suggested that the group might want “to be sure what the real objective should be. If it’s to pose the same questions [as in the Pace community outreach sessions] to 200 more people… What specifically is the objective?” And, he added, might it be wise to keep the survey for a later point in the process?
“What we’re hopoing to do,” said Greenstein, “is to send the summary from Pace to the survey company and let them take the general themes and make them into specific questions, to home in on some of the general thoughts.”
“Instead of drilling down,” suggested new Planning Board member Michael Allen, “by doing a random survey you could validate the direction and opinions that certain people have made through the outreach process. You absolutely get ‘selection bias’ [in the outreach sessions]. We don’t know whether the rest of the community cares about sidewalks.”
”—as much,” said Brownell.
Town Board member Adam Brodsky turned to Zezula, asking, “What’s been your experience?”
“I will say that because of the expense that [surveys] are not always done,” said Zezula. “Many communities can’t afford to do them. Instead, they mail out general questions or have online surveys.”
“If we want the best result from the Master Plan process,” asked Brodsky, “expense aside, what’s best?”
“One thing this [Pace] report did show,” said Zezula, “is that overall people want a focus on the downtown. Many of the comments on the issues or strategies people brought to the table were about downtown.” She noted that she saw that other issues such as housing and improved sidewalks, walkability and bikes—all point back to the downtown. “So you can begin to focus in on your downtown revitalization efforts, because many people spoke about it. I’ve been to many meetings and as far as Chappaqua Crossing versus the downtown goes, overall people saw them as complementing one another. People wanted to know, ‘How can we unlock the value of our downtown? Maybe the survey can begin to home in on that, where all of these things come into play.”
“Overall,” said Zezula, “my suggestion is to take what we’ve done here, the survey firm will see this and drive down to more specifics. It would be interesting if you began to survey people about where they would like to see this or that, where do they want to see the next sidewalk? You want to know where to invest the money—downtown? or one that links one area to another?”
“I’m not certain you’ll learn that much more than you’ve learned here [in the Pace report],” said Curley. “Rather than go back to the public again, maybe we owe the community something. Instead of asking questions maybe we should put out a vision for the town—a comprehensive view of ‘This is what we’ve heard [from the public] and this is what we want to work toward for ten years from now.”
Master Plan Steering Committee member Chris Roberta noted that some of the Pace report data “seemed to be at odds” with other data. “A lot of this stuff balanced out on the other side.” For example, said Roberta, some people liked the quaint feel of the downtown while others felt it looked needed a facelift.
“The overall comment,” said Zezula, “is that they like the town. It’s quaint. ‘We love it here. We live here. But here are the improvements we want.’ When asked ‘What’s good now?’ Yes, they liked certain things. Hall of Scoops, the Healthy Choice juice bar, Rocky’s, Susan Lawrence, said Zezula, “but then they say, ‘But we need more than just the things we’ve listed here. We need much more. A bookstore, this, that…’.”
“Back to Tom’s vision,” said Brownell. “If the subgroups get the information you’ve provided—which is good, it’s very useful—and then adapt it to our areas of interest and come back with what we think the vision is ... I think that’s exactly the right thing to do next, and then use that for anything else—to continue with the Master Plan process, and then the follow up survey, figure out whether you want to drill down.”
“Then a followup survey to see whether you want to drill down and validate the information from the open outreach?”
“So we’re looking for a vision,” said Town Board members Jason Chapin. “Is that [vision] the consensus of what the community wants? And how do we define it? By a majority? A super-majority? How do we get to the point of saying ‘This is what we want’?”
“Sooner or later,” offered Curley, “you stand up and be a leader. Stand up and say ‘We realize there’s some disagreement, but this is the way it comes together. If you get push-back, then maybe the vision wasn’t quite right.”
“The intention of the Master Plan,” said Town Planner Sabrina Charney, “is to be approved by the Town Board. The Town Board would hold public hearings. The public would have the opportunity to respond to the draft by the Steering Committee. The information in the outreach is one component. [At the same time,] the work groups have been working to look at the 1989 Master Plan to determine what’s good, bad and ugly in that plan, what has changed and what’s missing.” A synthesis of the information by the Steering Committee would follow.
Where do we go from here? asked Curley.
“Is this consensus?” asked Zezula about the Pace report. “This is what we heard. And this is a goal. Commercial development in the executive summary [of the Pace report] talks about creating ‘destinations.’ If you take that and the analysis [in the same Pace report] and walk through that analysis, I think you could start to see what’s missing from that Master Plan. And maybe your Master Plan goal needs stating differently.” She suggested, as an example, stating in a Master Plan draft, “We want to see improvements to downtown Chappaqua,” then asking the public, “Are we still right on that? Are we wrong on that?”
“This report is great and gives us these overarching themes and concepts,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz. “But it’s very difficult to take those and make them into definitive recommendations as to what we want the town to look like going forward. Unless we delve into them, I don’t know how anyone here will be able to synthesize [the information] and come up with a real [Master Plan] blueprint.”
“I’m curious to know,” said Bailey, “whether a better time for a survey might be a step or two down the road. My concern is that we met a lot of people [during the Pace outreach sessions], but it was a small sampling of our community. But after listening to a lot of the sessions, honestly another 500 people would have produced a lot of similar comments. So maybe the idea of producing a document that then triggers a survey to see how people feel about it might be good.”
“This is a process that goes from general to specific,” said Curley. “So as you work more with your subgroups and go back to the public you’re going to drill down more and more and course-correction will happen during the process.”
“The other thing to be mindful of,” said Kirkwood, “is that [a Master Plan] is a general guideline. This is not a site plan. This is policy, the tenets of what we believe in, to give guidance to residents and developers. We shouldn’t be planning in this document exactly where the sidewalks or stop signs should go. Later on the Town Board will address what has to be changed or the changes that might take place, the leave it to the marketplace to have them happen.”
Brownell noted that the 1989 Master Plan contained a “Table 76,” eight pages long, of “To-Do Things.” Of that list, he asked, “how many have been done? Twenty-five percent? Forty percent? Most? [Tree protection] was mentioned early. It got done six years ago. And that’s OK, because they get prioritized along with the budgeting process over the course of time. But as Tom said, you’re starting with a big picture, then drilling down to end up with a new ‘Table 76’ when you’re all done.”
“But when you start broadly,” said Brodsky, “what the survey allows you to do is to bring in as many additional opinions as possible. Then the drilling down starts. Maybe that’s what the survey does.”
Some communities, said Zezula, use the themes from a Pace report and then ask residents to rank the to-do items in order of priority.
“If we do a survey,” said Greenstein, “not only can we focus on the general themes, but we can also focus on some specific things. I certainly don’t think that anyone’s in a position right now to come up with any ‘grand vision’ for New Castle based just on this. There were people who came in order to get specific messages across. And with a random survey, that’s information that’s going to be equally important—especially when you have professionals using this [Pace report] document to help them, formulate questions.”
“The survey helps steer the Steering Committee,” offered Kirkwood.
“Who prepares the survey?” asked newest Master Plan Steering Committee member Bob Lewis. “A number of members of the Steering Committee say it would be great to have to frame the questions for the survey. What I’m hearing from others is, ‘Let the survey company do that.’ I’d like to see the Steering Committee and Planning Board and Town Board members all have ideas. There is a vision we could put together and the survey could help us prioritize the goals.”
“Prioritize and/or change—or add to,” said Brownell.
“I don’t believe we’re ready to just turn it over to [the survey firm],” said Lewis.
“We don’t want the biases of anyone at this table to infuse the survey questions,” explained Katz. “So we should take this document, which is objective, and then give it over to a survey company that asks objective questions based on the overarching themes in this report. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for framing these questions. We can then take them and look at them and see if anything is missing, or see if there’s something they want us to delve into more, or less.”
“And the job of the Steering Committee,” said Greenstein, “is not to come up with a vision per se, but reach out to the public and see what their vision is. Pace did a great job as a starting point, now we can focus in and hit some random people. I don’t think any of us want to interject our own vision into it, and then ask people for theirs. We want to listen to their opinions and then come up with the vision.”
“But as planners,” said Curley, “we can take this report and craft a vision from that. To take the information and organize it in a way that’s meaningful to the public and productive for the next step.”
Kirkwood outlined a process by which the Steering Committee members would begin with the Pace report, then frame some information to give the survey firm, while remaining connected to the public for feedback.
Greenstein agreed. “If we turn this Pace document over to the survey firm, they have no idea what Chappaqua Crossing is, what major issues the community is facing. But if we give the surveyors this document and explain some of the issues, some of the divisiveness, then they can use the information and come up with the questions.”
“So you’re thinking there would be more targeted questions,” said Curley.
“In my opinion,” said Greenstein, “it would be both general and specific.”
“How do we do that without putting some bias into it?” asked Roberta.
“We present the issues factually without our opinions,” said Greenstein.
“Maybe you describe the two competing views for the survey company,” said Roberta.
“And maybe each work group can come up with what they think are the important issues,” said Brownell.
“It would be good to get a broader view from a broader group,” said Bailey. “But the issues are clear. There are no surprises. I do think there’s value in having checks and balances, and the survey could be a good check on the Pace outreach information. It’s an organic process and it’s important to constantly find ways to check back with the public to see that we’re on track.”
“One way of doing that,” said Kirkwood, “is to have a presentation or two on different subjects.”
In discussing how many residents the survey company, Penn Schoen Berland, should interview—whether 200, 250 or 300—all agreed to go with the 300, at a cost of around $33,000. Only completed surveys will be counted as part of the end result, and the firm will continue its phoning until it completes 300 surveys. The thinking was that the survey should last no more than 20 minutes, and that it might be wise to publicize to residents that they could be phoned, and encourage them to take the call. “Pre-advertising is so important,” said Bailey. The goal is to conduct the survey in mid-September, and make the calls over one or two weeks.
To a question by Betty Weitz, asking whether the public would have access to the survey questions before they go out, and the questions could be counted on to be complex and logical, Greenstein responded, “That’s why we’re going with a reputable survey company—as opposed to killing each other. And it did work out well with Pace.”
Chapin noted that there would be a great deal of information flowing between different groups and boards. “I would ask Sabrina that any documents produced by one board be shared with the other boards, so we all know what’s going on because we’re reaching a critical point in this process and we want to have great communication.”
To see NCNOW’s collected articles on the Master Plan review, click HERE.