While Town Bd makes plans to approve retail zoning, Planning Bd envisions another solution

Town Board will vote on the zoning legislation at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, December 18, at Chappaqua Library Theater
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Last night, Bob Kirkwood, chair of Planning Board, proposed a way forward with the Chappaqua Crossing application that could lessen the impacts of the proposed retail development.  In a letter shared with Town Board members, Kirkwood proposed that that the Town Board give the town and the developer more flexibility to plan the site as genuine mixed-use.  Instead of three disparate office, residential and retail zones, he suggested, maintain the overall cap for retail of 120,000 square feet (and office space of 500,000 square feet), but draw a boundary around the entire property designating it as “mixed use.”  The single “mixed use” zoning could permit uses to move or mingle and create “traditional neighborhood development” conditions as both county and town Planning Boards have consistently called for over the 2.5 years of reviewing the application.

So while the Town Board was in executive session discussing the terms of the retail zoning change it intends to approve Thursday, December 18, Planning Board members considered Kirkwood’s conversation-starter letter.  Below is a transcript of the Planning Board’s discussion.  Kirkwood began:

Chairman Bob Kirkwood: This is a fairly important piece of property to the town, and the applicant has gone through a long process of [environmental review] showing, in my view, that significant impacts can be avoided or mitigated to a great extent, though perhaps not completely. 

But when we last saw this [plan] and last met with the applicant it seemed to me we were all straining with the application and that it wasn’t really working the way the applicant as well as the town was looking at it, trying to get a TND [Traditional Neighborhood Development plan] in place. I came away thinking—and it was no one’s fault—that this has been a segmented review and we have this parcel mound that is partitioned arbitrarily and I think that’s providing challenges to coming up with an integrated plan that works for the piece of property, works for the applicant, and, frankly, works for the long-term interest of the town, which is that if something is to be done at this location, it should be successful over the long term.

So my thoughts on it were that it would be better for all parties that the mapping be a broad as possible, that the changes to the zoning laws more of an enabling legislation with appropriate controls in terms of maximum aggregate development for housing,  maximum aggregate development for retail, for maximum aggregate usage for office, etc.  This would assure that our local parking codes are is observed, that the property is planned in an integrated fashion.  It seemed to me that the constraints we have placed on the applicant and the property for purposes of study should not be the ones we place on the property for ultimate development.  so that was the reason the main reasons behind my memo I sent out to the Town Board and staff.  I don’t pretend this is a unanimous feeling or that this is ‘the answer,’ but I wanted to get some conversation going. 

Planning Board member Tom Curley: If I could just relate some history on this subject that must be on the record: When Dick [Brownell] was chairman and Sheila [Crespi] and I and Dick were looking at this plan, one of the things we said about the proposed retail overlay is that if we were really interested in doing a service—good planning in the town—was not to treat this as a single-use district—which it essentially is: retail—but to expand the overlay to include as much of the property—and I think someone said ‘Why not the whole property?’—to make it a multi-use district so that in the final planning of the mixture of residential, office and retail, and any public spaces that might be appropriate, I think we found there are some—that there be more flexibility in planning and, in the end, [acknowledging that] the developer is the owner of the property, a better development from the point of view of the town, a new retail-residential center for the town of New Castle.  And we thought that such zoning would deliver to us—I don’t want to say—‘more special’ than anybody else, but appropriate to our town rather than it being in our view a retail development next to an office development next to a residential development, which you pretty much see in every town everywhere.  We didn’t think that would necessarily be a penalty to the applicant. 

Again, I want to say the applicant worked with us under the terms of the proposed legislation for quite a period of time to try to get the best result.  But I think that if you don’t have the proper fundamental zoning underlay for maximum flexibility and the best outcome, then you’re always going to be hampered by it.

So the history is what it is.  I agree with your comments wholeheartedly and suspect there might be some sympathy from other Planning Board members for that point of view—I wonder what position we’re in now in order to influence this particular proposed legislation in order to potentially yield a re-look at the plan under a new zoning designation that would give more flexibility and achieve those ends.

Kirkwood:  That I leave that to the attorneys.  It seemed to me that we’re at a point, though, that if we’re going to make a statement this is the time to do it, because it’s getting very close to the time where the Town Board has to make some sort of decision. 

Planning Board Counsel Les Steinman: It seems to be imminent on the major pieces of legislation, so this is the opportunity, if you want to use it, to make those comments.

Kirkwood:  I don’t think we’re offering these statements as a—quote, unquote—disapproval.  I think it’s one of recommendation or thought in terms of framing the zoning.  I thought these comments were very consistent with what I’ve heard over the years from you folks up here and some measure of frustration, frankly, even from the applicant, in trying to get the traditional neighborhood plan to work.  And I think we’ve heard the same thing from staff, this kind of frustration.  I’m not suggesting a ‘do-over.’  I’m saying the applicant and town have worked and done what they’re supposed to do under SEQR.  And I think the process has some way worked—as inefficient as it might seem to some observers—but at the same time, we’re at a point where it did work and we’re able to say ‘OK, you’ve shown X, Y and Z but we don’t want to limit the opportunities for this property any further and frankly to make this as broad as possible and, as you say, Tom, to make this ‘multi-district’ to the greatest extent possible, and I’d be willing to hear about carve-outs, but in my view it should be to the greatest extent possible [multi-use].

Curley:  I think if you look at the whole property, it’s being proposed as a ‘multi-use district’—there are multiple uses within the larger property boundary.  The distinction we’re looking for is called a ‘mixed-use district,’ where you can have these separate uses on the property and have them mix together.  So I’d rather see the term ‘mixed-use” rather than ‘multi-use’.

Planning Board member Sheila Crespi: Tom very accurately summed up—and I don’t know at what point the discussion took a different channel—but that was my recollection of initial discussions two and a half years ago on what we were first seeing with the retail overlay being proposed for the district.  So I don’t have a problem with including those kinds of thoughts in the memo if that is something we are able to do.

Kirkwood: What are the next steps?

Planning Board counsel Nick Ward-Willis: The next step is for the Planning Board to issue its report and recommendation in the form of a memorandum as you’ve done in the past with your comments on the law that’s proposed before you and any changes you would recommend that the Town Board consider.  If you want to get your thoughts to the Town Board before they vote on the 18th, tonight’s your opportunity.

Planning Board member Michael Allen: I am also more or less in agreement with everything you’ve put forth in the memo and as a relative newcomer I came with relatively fresh eyes, having not focused very intently on this issue prior to joining this Board, but as a resident.  I tend to agree.  I don’t know what’s to be gained by restricting [the retail zoning] to a certain portion of the site, but consistent with comments I made at a prior meeting, when we looked at the last iteration of the applicant’s ‘site plan’—for lack of a better word to describe what they gave us.  They’ve got a very large site here and they’ve chosen, for whatever reason, to concentrate the most intense uses right up against the existing residential areas, which seem to me just unnecessary to do so.  I’ll stand by that comment: You’ve got a large piece of land here.  I don’t see the need to concentrate the most intense and—what the residents would say—the most objectionable uses right up to their back yard.  So if we were able to widen the retail overlay to include larger portions of the site we would at least give the developer future opportunity to amend that plan.

Planning Board member Dick Brownell:  I remember we had discussions about this last year and even a little bit this year.  To a certain extent, mixing everything together and giving it free-form may create too much consternation as to what-all is going to happen.  However, I’ve said ‘Gee, in Building 200 [the cupola building], if housing makes sense there, that would be a good place to put it, because you could sell some great condominiums there—large ones—outsized, if you will, because of the view you’re going to get of the setting sun or maybe even the rising sun.  It’s up high enough.

I think that within limits there should be flexibility.  I don’t know what those limits should be, but I’d like to limit the gross retail, so that it doesn’t strike anyone to say, ‘Oh, we could put twice as much in!’  But I’d like to leave that where it is.  I think the Town is talking about a maximum of 120,000 square feet and if I understand what’s happened at other meetings perhaps the applicant is thinking of decommissioning 162,000 square feet of office space plus the basement to go with it or leave the basement for some low use, which would impact parking in a positive way in the long term, but in the short term, if too much is done in one area or the other the parking—I’m sorry, I mean the traffic—in the short term may be an issue.

Allen: You remind me of something else I meant to point out—that in meetings past a large part of the discussion was around the adaptive reuse of some of the office property.  And this overlay would seem to preclude any retail from entering those former office buildings.

Brownell: Exactly right. Excellent.  So with those two points—and the third one: what is the percentage of affordable housing that’s been approved?

Ward-Willis: 20%.  Town code requires 10%, the MFPD [multifamily (residential) planned development] approval by the Town Board required 20%.

Brownell:  And is it workforce and something else?

Steinman:  No. It’s all “affirmatively further fair housing” [as per the County settlement, not workforce].

Brownell:  Good.  There should be flexibility allowed, but in no way go beyond the gross retail that’s going to be set.

Kirkwood: Absolutely.

Curley:  And if I can put an exclamation point on that: In nothing we discussed were any of us contemplating, in turning it into a mixed-use overlay, that the number of retail would go up.  It was just the distribution of those numbers. And if the numbers could go down for purposes of maybe mitigating some of the impacts that the community is unhappy with or would be easier to do, that would be potentially a good thing if the applicant were willing to do that.

Brownell: And if it turns out that if 162,000 square feet of office space is going to be decommissioned, or turned into something else that makes sense—but not retail—then I can agree.  The limitations have to be modest as to where the mixing [of uses] occurs.  I wouldn’t allow more than 15% of one in another zone.

Steinman:  I think you have to keep in mind that those types of specifics are in the law that is not before you tonight.  It’s in the law that’s already on the Town Board’s agenda.  And I think what the chairman [Kirkwood] has done is basically outlined some comments on the overall process, which he has put before you, which is fine, but this is a very specific piece of legislation, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any overriding objection to the use of retail on a portion of the property but the concerns go to a macro-approach to the development of the entire property.

Kirkwood: Yes, and I’m glad Michael brought up the adaptive reuse of the buildings. That really seems largely to have fallen off from what we saw before this latest plan.  And as that starts to fall off the plan, we have these gyrations about abandoning basements and abandoning parts of buildings.  We clearly have now a plan that’s straining against itself. And, again, to give an applicant the most flexibility to make this the most successful possible location, it seems to me perhaps those buildings should be freed up—even demolished if they’re not going to be used—and used for something else in terms of the overall mix.  I couldn’t agree more with Dick’s comment, and I’m glad he brought it up because I think it’s critically important:  In no way should the aggregate uses exceed anything we’ve been talking about over the years. I’m not even sure I would go with the 15% change, but that’s very important. That’s an excellent point.

Brownell: It’s not a 15% change on gross retail; it’s a 15% move out of one of the districts and the overall aggregate has to stay the same. And I would say that given Michael’s thought of adaptive reuse, with adaptive reuse I could support, personally, going to 120,000 [square feet of retail].  If not, [the amount of retail] should be a lower number, if [the retail is] free-standing and also not ‘TND’.  There’s a whole bunch of things that are maybe too specific, but I think that if the applicant listens to the tape and is here taking notes, then you get a sense of where I stand on how far you can go with these things.  But I think that to make it better and to do something along the lines of TND—which, in the last set of drawings I saw, it was called a ‘hybrid’—but I think they forgot the batteries. It’s only running on gas.  The adaptive reuse I think has to be an incentive in a way.  It needs to take the concepts you espouse and make them have the clarity that won’t create a whole bunch of hassles down the road.  If it’s going to create hassles, then leave it the way it is.  But I think we should go forward with that set of caveats.

Crespi:  The point that Michael raised about the current drawing of the retail overlay district excluding any adaptive reuse—particularly of Building 200 [cupola building]—but any of the buildings—is actually a very good point whether we’re talking about overall use of the property or even just the retail overlay district, because as it’s being conceived of now—as three separate zoning districts—that Building 200 is not slated for any use whatsoever, not for retail, or housing or office.  So it leaves this huge hole in the picture of what’s being done with the centerpiece building, this landmark-eligible building that is the centerpiece of this property.  It’s being made into a white elephant.  We should maybe address that in addition to whatever thoughts we might have about true mixed use of the property.

Brownell: And along those lines, I wouldn’t have have a problem if we drew a box and we included the 200 Building and say it’s a candidate for multiple uses. It would be a mixed-use building.  And let everybody use their imagination and creativity the best way they can, and get us something that’s better.

Allen: I think that part of our obligation is that this isn’t really for the applicant—it’s for the town.  And this legislation will stand on the books a long time and it will be a long, long time before anybody decides that they’d like to open this can-of-worms again. 

And just because this configuration is what the applicant feels is most viable at this very moment, that very well may change over time and we shouldn’t… if no one ca make the case that making these restrictions has a benefit, then I don’t understand why we would make them.

Curley:  That’s very well said, because the observation that no one has made the case that these particular restrictions drawn on the map in this particular way has any planning benefit other than putting restrictions or a cap on the number of square feet that’s allowed and, through the process of the PDCP, locating these buildings in a way which then runs through the EIS process and identifies the impacts.  That seems to be more of a reactive than a proactive approach to the design problem.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding as though I’m casting aspersions on somebody, but these things take on a life of their own and sometimes it ends up that we’re in a defensive posture and we’re trying to do the least harm to the town rather than the best for the town.  That’s the way these things go sometimes in history and then it lands on the public sector desk and we respond accordingly.  If this is an opportunity to look at what the best is that could happen by opening this up again, then I’m all for it.  To me, that means a multi-use district, and the distinction—if we’re talking about 15% here [Brownell’s idea], and a larger bubble over here [Allen’s idea], and your points of view and my point of view, which might differ—that’s a discussion that hopefully we’ll be able to have one day in order to sort that out. 

Brownell: I totally agree.  I just don’t want to start at 85,000 [square feet of retail].

Curley:  No, I understand.  And in the end it’s the Town Board that makes those decisions, advised by us.  And if there’s a way to get back on the more proactive side rather than a reactive side, then this would perhaps be a device to do so.

Brownell:  This is helpful.  And it should be allowed to go forward in parallel with such things as, for example, supermarket construction.  As long as we’re not proposing that everything stop in order to re-do this—but I don’t think anyone is—I want to make sure that’s clear from my personal perspective.  We don’t want to stop it, we just want to give people reasonable flexibility where we would be rewarded as a town with a better project.

Kirkwood: That’s well stated.  I think that’s the key. My thinking on it was really to make this ‘enabling’ legislation, to enable the applicant—who I sense, the last time we heard from them, was frustrated also.  The word ‘hybrid’ was used by the applicant, not by us. It was Andy [Tung] who kept saying it was ‘a hybrid,’ and sort of reluctantly saying, ‘It’s a hybrid; it’s not what we want.’ 

Brownell:  I don’t remember myself, personally, saying ‘hybrid’ in kind terms.

Kirkwood: So that would be my take on it. I don’t know how it would be interpreted by the applicant, but from my perspective it would be that if the Town Board were so inclined, and if they approve these kinds of changes, to make it as broad as possible so that when [the applicant] came for actual site plan development we would hopefully see a really true traditional neighborhood development plan—or the opportunity for such—and perhaps some ideas regarding the better usage of some of the older buildings.  And where some of them can’t be used at all—where they’re dysfunctional—I can’t see why, if we can’t figure out a use for them, we would make the applicant keep them there.

Brownell:  I think the applicant is always able to knock the buildings down.

Allen:  Right, but [the proposed three-zone proposal] would require them to put them back as office.

Brownell: And that’s why mixed use makes sense.

Kirkwood: So where do go from here?  Should we try to offer some thoughts to the Town Board?  Some guidance, some recommendations or thoughts, clearly the ball’s in their court.  They make the decision on this.

Planning Board members decided to use Kirkwood’s memo as a base, marking up the memo and send it to the Town Board.  Ward-Willis cautioned them that they might want to get the memo to the Town Board before they consider the retail local law on Thursday, December 18, in a meeting at which the Town Board intends to vote on the retail zoning change, the Town Development Plan amendments and some amendments to the Supplemental Findings Statement. 

Once the zoning is approved, Summit Greenfield “can go interface with the DOT” on its plans for roadway “mitigations.”  Also on December 18 the Town Board will reveal the results of its negotiations with Summit Greenfield, the town’s side of the purported “win” in the “win-win” for both developer and town. 

In the Town Board meeting following the Planning Board’s, Town Board counsel Ed Phillips explained that because Summit Greenfield wished to further refine changes to the Preliminary Development Concept Plan for the project, votes on approval of the PDCP and the mapping of the “floating” retail zoning to a specific place on the property would take place in January or February of 2015. 

In the video below, the discussion on a single mixed-use zone for Chappaqua Crossing runs from the 40-minute mark to the 1-hour and 17-minute mark:

 

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