Letter to Town Board: Spa “floating zone” has the potential to land in other residential areas

February 20, 2014
by Sharon Greene, Ph.D.

Dear Members of the Town Board:  I would like to add a couple of comments and questions in addition to my prior comments. Since the proposed zoning amendment has been made available to the public, I’m concerned about an issue that was raised in the last public scoping session—that of “scope creep.”

A question had been raised regarding proposed site usage, and what controls will be in place to ensure only approved uses and site improvements will occur.  It would appear to the lay person that only uses and site improvements that are studied in the SEQR process, and judged not to have a significant negative impact, could ever have a possibility of occurring (although how this limitation in use could and would be monitored, needs to be in the scoping document and addressed in the EIS).  The potential impacts must be examined first before being permitted.

Yet here we are—in the very infancy of this approval process—and already the scope of activities mentioned in the zoning amendment has expanded beyond that proposed in the scoping document for review.  The zoning amendment—written by the applicant—says this floating zone would allow (under D. Permitted uses) “(6) Meeting and conference facilities.” And (7) Incidental and accessory uses….including, but not limited to, retail sales, office space, and any other use permitted by the Town Board.” The recreational use of the open space is similarly vague and open-ended.

I would suggest the applicant be more transparent. Is their ultimate goal to include these facilities and uses? If so, they must be examined in the SEQR process.

It seems to me this exposes one of the severe flaws of permitting the zoning change proposed here.  If the zoning were to be changed from 2-acre residential to the floating zone, new uses and site ‘improvements’ that have never been studied, would then be permitted without ever having been examined for impacts.  Once such a zone has floated down onto this property, what protects us from other uses permitted in this zone from occurring?

The proposed zoning amendment should be included in the scoping document and the proposed uses need to be clearly specified and examined for all the impacts (e.g., water usage, septic demand, noise, traffic, visual impacts).

An additional, potentially horrific implication of a floating zone is that it could in theory float down to many other residential districts, not just ones that currently have properties of 75+ acres fronting on a major road.  All it would take would be for a developer to buy up a couple of contiguous properties along rte. 117 or rte. 120 or residential areas of rte. 133, for example, and make them into such commercial zones. As to the SEQR process providing protection, I find it hard to believe that any of those locations could have more associated negative impacts than those that will be revealed for the current proposed location which has no infrastructure to support such density of use, which puts all the development right next to, and in sight of many neighbors, etc., etc..  Is such a zoning change really beneficial to residents?  Do we really want commercial zones distributed throughout New Castle, ruining our bucolic residential districts?  I think not.

The scoping document should include a realistic analysis of the financial impact of this proposal if they are allowed to claim this as a mitigating factor of development. It needs to compare tax revenue on condominiums vs. private homes,  discuss the taxes and revenue that will go to other districts (e.g., school taxes go to Bedford, shopping revenue will go to Armonk or Mount Kisco, not New Castle) and the likely loss of tax revenue as neighboring property values sink and properties get re-assessed.  Additionally, as other residents new to the town have attested, the town itself will become less attractive to potential buyers looking for a beautiful, residential neighborhood that provides the security that it will remain residential.  In all likelihood, if New Castle becomes known as a town that destroys existing residential districts to commercialize residential properties in this way, many more property values beyond those of immediate neighbors to this site will sink.  This potential loss in tax revenue must also be examined and factored into the overall financial impact of this project.

I have one further question—I understood Mr. Ward-Willis to state at the last public scoping session (at 2.02 into the recording of the meeting, viewable at nccmc.com) that a request for a zoning change can come from the town board, or from a property owner. Mr. Oder is neither, so by what right can he apply for a zoning amendment?

Thank you.
Sharon L. Greene, Ph.D

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