A peek into the community outreach sessions gathering input for the Master Plan

There will be an outdoor session at Gedney on Wednesday, June 4 from 10:00 to 11:00 (child-minding provided).
Saturday, May 24, 2014
by Brett Klein

For the third of the May community outreach sessions in the town’s review of its 25-year-old Master Plan, a group of about 55 New Castle residents gathered at Westorchard Elementary School on Thursday, May 15, to voice their opinions. The group included slightly more females than males and most seemed around 50 and over.

The group divided into three parts, each with a facilitator who elicited input on what residents do like about New Castle, what they do not like, and strategies for how those things can be fixed or improved. Participants covered five different topics:

1. Environment & Habitat
2. Public Services & Recreation
3. Commercial Development & Town Centers
4. Housing
5. Public Works & Infrastructure

What we like

As participants brainstormed, it was clear that they did not want New Castle to lose its small town, charming, rural feel.  They worried about the impacts of too much residential and too much commercial development.

In terms of New Castle’s habitat, residents thoroughly enjoy the town’s natural setting—its trees and wetlands, and the town’s walking paths, bike paths, and public parks.

What we don’t like

The list of dislikes, though, was a bit more extensive, mostly due to concerns over the impact of development on the environment. For example, one resident said she was unhappy that a permit had been given, she believed, to build a cell phone tower in a residential area. Some also expressed the feeling that decisions regarding town development are often made without considering the ramifications on the environment and on nearby property owners.

Additionally, concerns were raised over several drainage problems. Water runoff that begins near Route 117 is apparently creating wetlands by flooding certain land. Also, participants said that the athletic fields next to Robert E. Bell Middle School, behind Villarina’s, and the Rec Field across the street were frequently unusable because of poor drainage. Improving the drainage system, they felt, would allow increased use for children’s sports and activities.

Town services and recreation

The town’s public services and recreation facilities were not, residents said, in need of a complete makeover. Residents said that they enjoy all that the Chappaqua Library has to offer, New Castle services for senior citizens, camps for young children as well as our schools and sports programs. The only thing missing, in the opinion of many, is a recreational basketball or sports facility for teens as an alternative to public parks or to fitness clubs that require a membership. 

Desire for a town pool

When it came to recreation facilities, each resident at the meeting clamored for a public town pool, in spite of the various pool clubs in New Castle. The land formerly known as Reader’s Digest, and more recently Chappaqua Crossing, was suggested as a possible spot for the pool.

Chappaqua would also benefit, some said, from a town playground, despite the fairly new Bell school playground. This, along with more community gardens, residents felt, would help to build an inviting town.

Walkability appreciated

As for commercial development and town centers, people gave high marks to the walkability of downtown Chappaqua, with places like the post office, community center and library as favorite destinations that are walkable.  Participants agreed that the Chappaqua Farmer’s Market, which takes place on the weekends at the Chappaqua train station, was one of best aspects of New Castle that could be open on additional days of the week.

No supermarket, too many nail salons

Some concerns expressed during the evening were ones that have been consistently heard over the years, such as the lack of a supermarket in Chappaqua and the overabundance of pizza parlors and nail salons. Also, people identified New Castle’s infamous high taxes as a problem that both prevents new residents from moving in and also pushes current residents out.

Town should get more input from residents

Some at the meeting suggested a town survey that could be used for town officials to gauge what changes the residents of New Castle desire, in addition to the community outreach meetings.  When discussing strategies for improving New Castle, on all five subjects residents believed that more communication between residents and town officials would result in more solutions.

Housing

Finally, in terms of housing, residents prefer New Castle’s current residential feel, free of high-rise apartment buildings that would obstruct New Castle’s natural views. The town’s neighborhoods have houses that are not on top of each other and more interesting in their variety than “cookie-cutter” houses that are identical to one another.

Preferred changes to New Castle’s housing included more affordable housing for young people with lower incomes as well as people who are just starting to work in the town. The need for affordable housing coincides with the belief that New Castle lacks diversity in its residents – the town is predominantly white – and diversity could be increased with the addition of affordable living options in the town.

Two more meetings you can participate in

Two more meeting opportunities have been created for residents to participate in the outreach:

Next Wednesday, May 28, is a session at the Chappaqua Library Theater, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., sponsored by the League of Women Voters of New Castle, and

On Thursday, June 4 – outdoors – at Gedney Park, from 10:00 till 11:00 or 11:30, a.m.  The Town will provide child-minding at Gedney, so don’t let lack-of-a-babysitter keep you from attending.  In case of rain, meet instead at the Community Center downtown (same deal: kids will be watched by Town staff).

Next steps in the process

The next step in the process will be the analysis and synthesis of these community outreach meetings by Pace Land Use Law Center staff, who have been acting as facilitators. Pace will produce a comprehensive report of all the likes, not-likes and strategies that residents came up with throughout all the sessions.  From May to September the Master Plan Steering Committee will study the 1989 Master Plan in view of the Pace report, then in a fall round of community outreach sessions will ask for feedback on the goals, objectives and implementation strategies the Committee will have identified.

Curious about the Master Plan review process? 

Visit NCNOW’s Master Plan page by clicking HERE.

To download the 1989 Master Plan text in a Word doc, click HERE.

Brett Klein graduated in 2012 from Horace Greeley and is a rising junior at Villanova University.

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