Boards + residents struggle to understand Chappaqua Crossing traffic problems + mitigations

Town traffic expert leaves Boards with more questions than answers
With 89 comments since publication
May 30, 2014
by Christine Yeres

In a joint meeting of Town Board and Planning Board members both boards heard a presentation of the latest plan by Summit Greenfield for 120,000 square feet of retail (40,000 of it a Whole Foods grocery, 25,000 SF gym, a small bank building and “a series of smaller buildings that could be further subdivided”). “We believe,” said planning and engineering consultant for SG, Andy Tung, “that the traffic is the same, the program is the same and access to the site is the same.”  But without SG’s traffic consultant present, traffic questions from residents and board members remained close to the same degree of unanswered.

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In brief . . .

• Elise Mottel will un-recuse herself and be part of the Chappaqua Crossing review and decision

• SG introduced Whole Foods rep for northeast region, who spoke as part of SG’s presentation

• Supervisor Greenstein called the removal of limits on number of small retail spaces a “non-starter”

• TB counsel explained that SEQR does not preempt local zoning, but data from the SEQR environmental review cannot be ignored.  The info will guide the Board’s decision.  If the TB approves zoning and TDP (master plan) changes, the PB would begin its detailed review of the site plan.

• Town Board’s counsel has informed NCNOW that the public hearings on both zoning changes and changes to the town development plan to permit retail had both closed—though neither was voted on—in September 2013.  However, the zoning hearing will reopen on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

• The Planning Board’s 30-day review of the Preliminary Development Concept Plan for CC has begun; PB members will discuss the PDCP in a work session on Tuesday, June 3, toward the end of their meeting.

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SG rep gives overview of the new proposal

Originally, the retail use was to have replaced existing office space, but, as Tung explained, now that SG is proposing all 120,000 SF of retail as new construction, SG intends to close off enough basement space to equal (when added to the 39,000 SF of the 100 Building which is to be razed) the 120,000 SF total of new retail space, in a sort of trade. [Later in the meeting TB member Adam Brodsky took issue with the relative values of the retail (worth more) and basement office (worth less) space. See below.].

Whole Foods makes first appearance

Tung introduced Mark Mobley, Executive Coordinator of Design and Construction for the Northeast Region of Whole Foods, who addressed Board members. 

“We’ve been looking for a site in northern Westchester County for several years,” said Mobley, “and we were really excited when this opportunity came to us to provide a grocery store for Chappaqua.  We have signed a lease for 40,000 square feet.  We hope to open in early 2016.  We are the largest provider of natural and organic foods in the area so we think we’ll have a great opportunity to bring a lot of new products to the community, be involved in it.  We will probably hire about 200 people from the local community to be our team members in the store.  We’re really excited to be here and can’t wait for it to open.”

Following Tung’s overview of the proposal, the Town’s traffic consultant, Michael Galante of F.P. Clark, summarized the report he conducted for the Town on the SG traffic report by John Collins Engineers, P.C.

The recession lowered traffic

“Normally,” Galante explained, “2008 data would be considered old.”  But because of the distressed economy, he told board members, traffic has dropped and is only just now recovering to reach the same levels as those studied in 2008. However, he said, the base data for the 17 intersections studied “was grown by 1% per year.”

Peak hour patterns were studied for five times during the day—morning school traffic, morning commuter traffic, school dismissal, afternoon commuter traffic, and Saturday morning traffic.

At several points in the evening Board members and residents called for an appearance by the Collins engineer whose report is the basis of Galante’s review.  NCNOW asked that SG have its traffic consultant bring his traffic-modeling animation program, Synchro, to the next meeting. (It shows dots representing cars as traffic on the roadways, changing as inputs at intersections change.)

Galante’s study was a mini-study of the original Collins maxi-study of traffic which Summit Greenfield commissioned.  Galante’s poster board charts displayed at the front of a full assembly room were impossible to see; he had to read out much of the information. Both Town Board and Planning Board members asked questions of Galante, and in the resulting confusion it took a fair amount of time to finally understand from him, for example, that the “peak hour” traffic numbers he was comparing—previous approved plan to proposed grocery-retail plan—were to be counted in addition to the existing traffic.

Brodsky asked Galante to clarify what the traffic volume is today and what it would be in the future, fully occupied.  Afternoon commuter peak traffic, Galante explained—1,091 vehicles per hour—would be in addition to the current traffic volume.

Site Traffic Generation Trips Per-Hour at Peak Times

Peak Hour School Arrival
7:00 to 8:00 am

Previous Plan:  972 Retail Plan: 920 Net Difference: +52

Weekday Morning Commuter
8:00 to 9:00 am

Previous Plan:  491 Retail Plan: 467 Net Difference: -24

Weekday Afternoon School Dismissal
2:30 to 3:30 pm

Previous Plan:  917 Retail Plan: 724 Net Difference: -193

Weekday Afternoon Commuter
4:30 to 5:30 pm

Previous Plan: 1,245   Retail Plan: 1,091 Net Difference: -154

Saturday Midday
12:00 to 1:00 pm

Previous Plan:  942 Retail Plan: 807 Net Difference: -135

Traffic mitigation measures include a six-lane intersection on Roaring Brook Road at the Greeley entrance with signals and crosswalks for pedestrians (and a third lane added to Greeley’s entry drive) , a southbound slip lane on Route 117 at Roaring Brook Road, and a northbound left-turn lane on Route 117 at Roaring Brook Road—“an improvement needed anyway,” according to Galante, even without the project.

Asked how much office space is currently being leased, Tung estimated that—of the total 662,000 SF of office space—160,000 SF, or 25%, is now occupied.

Galante expressed confidence that traffic numbers—lower for the proposed grocery-retail-office-residential than for the approved office-residential—were accurately modeled, telling members of both boards that the Whole Foods in Darien, CT, for example, was required to measure traffic six months after its completion and found that traffic rates were lower than predicted.

Will Whole Foods draw more regional traffic?

Lisa Katz posited to Galante that a Whole Foods would draw more regional traffic than a standard A&P, for example.  But Galante maintained that a standard A&P or ShopRite grocery would require more like 65,000 or 75,000 SF of space and would therefore draw more traffic than the 40,000 Whole Foods.

PB member Tom Curley asked also “whether [trip] generation rates are the same for different supermarkets,” asking Galante whether Whole Foods has “a greater capture area for its clientele.”  Galante’s response was that 60% or 70% of that retail traffic would come from the Saw Mill Parkway.

Will more small stores generate more traffic than fewer large ones?

Katz asked about the new assumption in the latest Preliminary Development Concept Plan, for an “unlimited number of small stores,” and whether they would draw more traffic than fewer large stores such as a Petco or Staples.  She estimated that as many as 33 small stores might fit into the building footprints. 

Galante responded that according to the trip generation handbook that traffic engineers use, only supermarkets and drugstores are stand-outs for traffic generation.  Otherwise “shopping center” estimates show all other retail trip rates as comparable—whether from large or small stores.

Brodsky sees regional draw—not local density—as key to Whole Foods presence

Whole Foods “is coming here not because of the density in New Castle,” said Brodsky, “but because of the affluence of the regional area—so the shopping center proposed is more of a regional center than a shopping center.” It would be unfair to compare it, he said, to the Millwood shopping center, for example.  “This is a regional shopping center that would bigger-box stores.  Not just a Whole Foods, but very large retail establishments such as a Petco and a Staples, and that’s going to draw from a larger geographic area.” Brodsky was skeptical of Galante’s claim that smaller and bigger box stores would draw the same amount of traffic.

Brodsky suggests reverse orientation of shopping center

“In my view,” continued Brodsky, “the shopping center is completely reversed.  I think that the shopping center should be geared to the Saw Mill Parkway—because it’s a regional draw—and allow people to enter directly off the Saw Mill and not congest 117 and Roaring Brook Road. And in addition, the only reason [Whole Foods is] coming is because of [the site’s] proximity to the parkway, otherwise they would be coming downtown, which obviously would be the best scenario in my view.”

So the shopping center should be oriented toward the Saw Mill rather than towards Bedford Road, Brodsky concluded.

Galante responded as though Brodsky had suggested direct access from the Saw Mill into the shopping center, saying that DOT would be unlikely to approve “direct access from an interchange.”

Steering traffic to enter on Saw Mill side of Chappaqua Crossing

“The concept that people will come from the Saw Mill, as you’ve suggested,” said PB member Richard Brownell to Galante, “is going to lead to more issues [including a rise in the accident rate] which would help if we could direct that traffic more quickly toward Whole Foods, wherever it’s located, and keep it off Roaring Brook, for instance.”

“Oh, I agree with you,” said Galante.

“But I think you’ve put the mitigation for the school into your numbers,” said Brownell.  “That’s why the school traffic option drops [in number of cars per peak hour] when you talk about the current project with these improvements.”

“No, the mitigations,” explained Galante, “don’t reduce the volume of traffic; it reduces the impact and delay.”  The numbers Galante listed were Chappaqua Crossing traffic.  “These go on top of the traffic already on the roads,” he said.

TB member Jason Chapin asked Galante what volume of non-car—i.e., truck—traffic to expect from the project.  Five to ten percent, said Galante, according to Summit Greenfield’s traffic report, adding that the applicant’s traffic engineer would have to answer the question of how much truck traffic would increase with the proposed project.

Brodsky nudges SG to bring its traffic expert next time

“So you hear that traffic is high on the list of priorities,” Brodsky said to Galante.

“Yes,” said Galante. “It usually is.”

“So these are really questions we have to ask the applicant,” said Brodsky. “I’m a little displeased that we don’t have the applicant’s traffic consultant here tonight.  So how can you help us gear the questions toward the applicant so that the concerns of the community are addressed?”

“I don’t want to pass the buck,” said Galante, “but the applicant’s consultant should give you a full, detailed presentation of all the numbers.  That should be done at some point.  It’s not my traffic report, but [with additional study] I could [help you to understand it].”

Katz asked whether it was “an inherent conflict of interest” to rely on the SG’s traffic consultant.  Galante responded that the town had in fact had had a great deal of input into the SG’s traffic report. “We all use the same traffic handbook,” said Galante, which anyone can compare to DOT data. He told Katz that, for example, the developer had suggested the southbound right hand turn lane on 117 and Roaring Brook Road, but because traffic still showed serious delays, as a result of the town’s input the plan now proposed a northbound left hand turn lane as well.

Tung explained to Katz that the SEQR process works in this way:  the applicant conducts studies and the town’s experts review those studies and comment on them.  He explained that the reduction in the size of the grocery (66,000 SF to 40,000 SF) and no drugstore—eliminated since Chappaqua now has a Walgreens and a Rite Aid—accounted for the reduced traffic numbers in the current proposal.

120,000 SF of newly-constructed retail for same amount of basement office space eliminated may not be such a good deal

Andy Tung stated that Summit Greenfield intended to “decommission” 120,000 square feet of existing office space to compensate for the 120,000 square feet of retail that is now entirely new construction (in the original plan the grocery would have used two existing buildings, one of them the cupola building). The decommissioned space SG was proposing, said Tung, would be “basement” space across several buildings.

Adam Brodsky seemed disappointed with the basement trade.  “Removal of 120,000 that’s lower-level is really unleasable space,” he told Tung, “so what you’re removing it is not anything the developer is giving up.” He urged Tung to consider giving up “real, usable space.”

“All the office space is counted the same,” said Tung.  “Yes, some is less usable from a leasing point of view.”

“That makes it unleasable and unusable,” said Brodsky. “It’s like shell game—not really giving anything of value to the community, not a real ‘give’ on the part of the developer. So as food for thought, since they’re asking us to provide 120,000 square feet of retail, they should give 120,000 square feet of office in addition to [eliminating] the 100 Building.

Supervisor Rob Greenstein turned to counsel, Nick Ward-Willis, “Does the Town Board have the power to help the applicant decide which square footage could be removed?”

“At the end of the day it is the applicant’s project,” said Ward-Willis, but the Town Board can make suggestions as to which space would be preferable to decommission.

Back from recusal, Elise Mottel appeals to Galante to make the traffic report comprehensible

After his presentation, Mottel told Galante, “I’ve just come back [from recusal], but to sum up, I don’t really understand the traffic and the charts don’t really help me to understand.  Trucks, the high school traffic—we’re asking for information to be presented to us so that we can really understand the traffic.”

“We can do that,” said Tung, “but with all due respect, the environmental report was conducted in 2011 and 2013 and both of those sets of Findings analyzed the traffic.  Now we’re showing a decrease [in traffic].”

“But with all due respect,” responded Katz, “you did just ask for an unlimited number of smaller stores and the fact that it’s a Whole Foods rather than a regular supermarket has a significant impact and that is a material change.”

Greenstein asked Tung, “As far as having a gym, currently 26,000 SF, and maybe it would be bigger.  What’s the traffic impact of the gym?”

It would generate 90 trips in the afternoon peak hour of 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., said Galante.  “It may generate more traffic at 7:00 p.m. at night. And a lot at 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., after the kids are at school.  Gym traffic goes up and background traffic goes up at that hour.”

“How does traffic generated from a gym compare to the grocery?” asked PB member Sheila Crespi.  “A little less than the grocery,” said Galante.

Annandale traffic problems

PB member Richard Brownell asked how the traffic problem at Annandale and 117 would be addressed.

“There’s a sight line problem there,” said Galante. “There’s a sight line restriction unrelated to this project.  In order to improve it you would have to realign the road, move it or close it.  There are options the town could consider.”

“What we’re going to want you to do,” said Greenstein to Galante, “is to look at all the alternatives to try to mitigate as many intersections as possible, including Annandale.  At the end of the day, it might be something we ask the applicant to do as a condition of approval.”

Crespi noted to Galante that the Saw Mill intersection suffers a significant drop in “level of service,” with only some “signal timing” changes suggested.  With more traffic using the intersection, she suggested to Galante, more mitigation might be necessary.

Counsel cautions that boards must look at additional impacts of newest proposal, not reopen old traffic questions

In response, the Town Board’s counsel, Nick Ward-Willis, noted that the quandary the town finds itself in now is that the board must examine the additional impacts of the newest proposed plan, and not take this occasion to reopen previous traffic study questions.

With something like the Annandale traffic problem, the town can still study the traffic problem at the intersection of Annandale, suggested Greenstein.  “But at the town’s expense at this point, not the developer’s, added Ward-Willis.

Greenstein announces that the TB will not allow more smaller stores

When Crespi mentioned that Summit Greenfield’s request to lift the limit on the number of smaller stores allowed in the Chappaqua Crossing retail district would likely increase competition with the existing hamlet stores, Greenstein responded, “That’s why the Town Board is not going to lift that restriction.  I’ve had a lot to say about this application over the years—trying to advocate for the best possible outcome for the town and that’s what I’m continuing to do as supervisor—so when Summit Greenfield asked to lift restrictions on the number of smaller retail stores I said, ‘That’s a non-starter for us.’  They [SG] weren’t happy to hear this.  But the point is that this application will continue to be shaped over the upcoming months and I encourage all of our residents and merchants to step up and let the board know what you think about having a Whole Foods, a fitness center and some other stores at Chappaqua Crossing.”

Questioning opens to the public

More environmental review required?

Jessica Reinmann, a resident of Cowdin Lane, was accompanied by Michael G. Sterthous a land use attorney with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna of Albany, representing her and other residents of the Chappaqua Crossing neighborhood.  He argued that the latest changes to Summit Greenfield’s proposed development should require additional environmental impact studies.  “When an area of land is rezoned in a way that deviates from the current master plan,” the attorney told Board members, “and offers no planning reason other than the applicant’s own pecuniary gain”—this is “spot zoning.” He listed impacts on “visual resources less than 200 feet away,” traffic, stormwater, loading docks, noise from truck traffic, trash compactors, dumpsters, community character and “the transformation of the project from campus to Main Street strip mall.”

Moratorium urged

“The town,” Reinmann’s attorney continued, “is actively engaged in an update of the master plan that should include this property.  Consider a temporary moratorium on the zoning amendments for large properties. A full rezoning opens the door to over-development of the site,” perhaps, he said, to “future expanded retail.”  He concluded, “This project will affect the community for generations to come.”

Rob Fleisher remarked on the degree of confusion among board members, and asked how the previous board could have arrived at last year’s Findings.  Ward-Willis responded that Board members were not confused, but were simply asking questions.  “We tried to get Mr. Galante to come before the Findings were approved.”  The confusion would be addressed by Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultants at the June 10 public hearing on a change of zoning to permit retail.

Hedy Simpson noted that students walk to school. “I’d like to see more on safety concerns for kids, especially once we get more information on the amount of truck traffic using 117.”

Danny Gladstone asked, “Does the Town Board have a business plan? Do we understand the economics of their plan and does the board have a responsibility to assess the feasibility of that plan?  Probably Whole Foods pays zero rent, and the other stores pay it.  What if the project fails?  What do we do?”

Ward-Willis responded that the town has as little control over the economic feasibility of Summit Greenfield’s plan as it would have over the plan of a private developer of a subdivision.

“Are we entitled to know what the deal is with Whole Foods?” asked Gladstone.

“No, we’re not,” said Ward-Willis.

Tie size of retail or office space to acceptable traffic levels?

“Why not remove whatever amount of office space necessary to make the traffic totals acceptable?” asked NCNOW.  Does the Board have the power to ask Summit Greenfield to decommission enough space to bring traffic to acceptable levels?

The Town Board may make suggestions, said Ward-Willis.

Examination of feasibility of changes to State roadways by DOT

NCNOW asked whether SG would begin the review process by DOT of its proposed mitigation measures on Route 117 (southbound right hand slip lane onto Roaring Brook Road and northbound left hand turn lane onto Roaring Brook Road).

Ward-Willis explained that DOT will require Summit Greenfield to do so.

“He will have to do it,” said Galante.

“When?” asked NCNOW.  “After project approval or before?”

Chapin responded, “We’ve seen many different versions of the proposal.  I think it would be unproductive if we went through the expense of the DOT process before settling on a final plan.”

“But certainly not wait until it’s approved?” asked NCNOW.

“If we were to approve the proposal in its current form, it would be conditioned on the mitigations,” said Chapin.

Rezoning is not dependent on the mitigations being assured, explained Ward-Willis, but site plan approval [the Planning Board’s bailiwick] is dependent on it.

A call to return to the original plan

Chuck Napoli suggested that everyone recall that the original proposal by Summit Greenfield was for “adaptive reuse” of existing building space as retail.  Now that only the 100 Building—floor space of around 40,000 SF—is slated to be removed, allow Summit Greenfield to construct only a new grocery space of that size.  “Give them 40,000 square feet of retail,” said Napoli, “and call it quits.  Making 120,000 SF the number—and turning out some lights [of the basement space, in trade]—is now arbitrary.”

Will an improving economy increase traffic numbers?

Mary Weiss noted that if the traffic numbers were lower than expected because of the slowdown in the economy, and consequently the mitigations were still thought to be effective, would an increase in traffic in an improved economy be taken into account?

“DOT now requires a ten-year-out traffic study,” said Galante.

Brodsky suggests it’s time to ask DOT

“Since maybe ten people have come up and our traffic consultant has come up here and said, ‘Well, it’s up to DOT,’ and ‘We have to ask DOT’—why don’t we just ask DOT?” Brodsky asked Tung.

“We have made preliminary contact with DOT,” said Tung, “but generally they don’t like to be involved—because of their resources and availability—until the the project is at a point where the town or lead agency is comfortable with what the project is going to be.”

Since the Saw Mill and 117 are both State roads, Brodsky said to Tung, “and Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultant is not present, DOT is the other elephant in the room not present.”

“Since you’re getting closer, in your estimation, to what you might want to do with the site,” said Brodsky, “it might be a good time to engage DOT, if that’s possible,” said Brodsky, “so that we can look at all the facts and the whole picture.”

Adam Reinmann asked, “Exactly what happens if the approval is granted for the rezoning, even if contingent on DOT approval, where are we if the DOT decides the proposal is not acceptable?”

Ward-Willis responded that it was possible that Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultant will be present at the public hearing on June 10 to answer questions.  Katz asked Tung to produce Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultant for the June 10 meeting.  (Galante, however, is not free to attend on June 10, Greenstein announced.)

Greenstein’s plan to move town hall to Chappaqua Crossing—where does it fit into the process?

NCNOW asked, “How does the idea of moving Town Hall to the cupola building of Chappaqua Crossing—whether by buying, leasing or being given the cupola building—fit into all this?

“That’s not part of this project,” said Ward-Willis.

“Does this not affect your thought process about the project? NCNOW asked Greenstein.

“The way it affects me personally,” said Greenstein, “is that I’m also looking at downtown Chappaqua—which needs help now.  That’s one possible thing we can do and we should explore all of the options.  As I’ve said before [the same day the Findings were approved by the previous Town Board], we can’t just hope for the best for downtown Chappaqua; we have to shore it up.”


Tuesday, June 10 a public hearing on the change in zoning re-opens and continues.

A video of the three-hour meeting with Galante (reported above) is embedded below:

 

Town of New Castle Joint Town & Planning Board Meeting 5/20/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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