Answers to NCNOW’s Questions for December 9 public hearing on Chappaqua Crossing retail zoning

Design-wise, Summit Greenfield’s plan is a Whole Foods 50,000 square foot strip center within a fake-traditional neighborhood development
Tuesday, December 9, 2014—UPDATED December 13, 2014—with answers
by Christine Yeres

Ignoring Planning Board and County Planning Board objections to the proposed retail “mixed use” development of Chappaqua Crossing, the Town Board is fine-tuning its draft zoning—and seems to be giving Summit Greenfield everything it asks for.  The draft zoning has bypassed the original “adaptive reuse” concept advanced by Susan Carpenter: a grocery special enough to draw customers even though relatively hidden away in existing buildings, plus some accompanying retail.

1. When will the Town Board announce what kind of deal they are striking with Summit Greenfield?

Step by step, the proposed retail development project seems to be tipping in the direction of a “win” for Summit Greenfield and an undisclosed no-one-knows-what for New Castle.  The plan for retail has 1) has marched outside into new construction, 2) pays lip service to the Planning Board’s traditional neighborhood development “main street” requirements, but 3) positions the 40,000 square foot Whole Foods and its 10,000 square foot attached building with its service-back to Roaring Brook Road and a vast parking lot between its storefront and the “main street”—in effect, a 50,000 square foot strip center within a fake-traditional neighborhood development.  Is this what the Summit Greenfield and the Town Board means by “a hybrid”?

ANSWER: The Town Board will announce the details of its arrangement with Summit Greenfield when Board members vote on the application, presumably next Thursday, December 18.

2.  Mothballing office space in exchange for newly added retail

Using the words “adaptive reuse” to characterize the retail proposal for the Reader’s Digest site is not the same as genuine adaptive reuse of its existing buildings.  What Susan Carpenter and Westchester County mean by “adaptive reuse” is the latter.

According to the thinking of the Town Board and developer any different use of the site—say for a car dealership, since 100% of New Castle’s automotive dollars are ‘leaking’ outside the town—is something they might call “adaptive reuse” of the site.  But the proposed retail plan does not adaptively reuse the hard-to-lease existing office space—it adds new retail space and permits Summit Greenfield to “mothball” an equivalent amount of space.

ANSWER: The Town Board intends to require Summit Greenfield to “decommission” 162,000 square feet of existing office space.  According to Greenstein’s Supervisor’s Report of this week,“162,000 SF will be either decommissioned (i.e. taken out of use) or demolished” and “No lower level/basement space can be counted towards this 162,000 SF.” 

3. “Mothball”?

How will it work to “mothball” 120,000 square feet of office space in exchange for the new retail use when the retail, office and residential zones are sold—as Summit Greenfield has said they will be—to different developers, as many as three different ones? 

How can the developer-owner of the office space be expected to be guardian of the “mothballed” sections of its space for the benefit of the developer-owner of the retail?  What will a purchase agreement between Summit Greenfield and the would-be office park owner look like?  How would the “integrated operating plan” among the three entities handle “mothballed” square footage? 

ANSWER: An owner would have to make application to the Town Board to make use of the “mothballed” space. 

4. Summit Greenfield can add 300,000 square feet of additional office space “as of right”

Neither the Town Board nor its counsel have answered the question of how to ensure that Summit Greenfield (if indeed SG remains the owner of the property or any part of it) will not build out another 300,000 square feet of office space—up to 1,000,000 square feet, as Summit Greenfield has described is its “right” to do?

Town counsel has suggested the Town Board has the authority to “cap” that number, but he has not explained which developer-owner—the retail, the office or the residential—in splitting up the property, inherits the “as of right” to build another 300,000 square feet of office space?  Can this “as of right” be sold separately to a developer?

ANSWER: According to Town Board counsel Nick Ward-Willis, the new “retail overlay” zoning amendment would cap office space at 500,000 square feet, period.  The 1 million “as of right” square footage will disappear.

5. Where is a model of the proposed development?

What will the retail development and the roadways bordering it look like?  Any client or buyer in the development world might rightly expect to see a three-dimensional model of the proposed development. But neither the applicant nor the Town Board has presented the town with a model of the proposed development and the roadways and entrances that serve it.  The draft zoning says the Town Board can ask for one.  Residents have asked to see one. None has been produced.

ANSWER:  Ward-Willis noted that Summit Greenfield had fashioned a model of the original residential proposal, but “they have not done a model of this one.”  The Town Board does not intend to require one.

6. Where has such a retail/office development worked?

There have been no examples of success for this type of retail development: one with established residential neighborhoods and a high school on three sides of it; and on the fourth side, a parkway closed to commercial vehicles—and with an on-grade railroad crossing.

Another key claim by both the Town Board and Summit Greenfield is that the addition of retail to the office-zoned property will aid in attracting tenants to the antiquated, hard-to-lease office space. Where has this worked?  Where has this occurred before in a configuration such as the proposed development?  Neither the Town Board nor Summit Greenfield has provided successful examples.

ANSWER: No successful models—or comparables—have been offered. [To my question of whether the retail development proposed by Summit Greenfield can be successful, Greenstein responded that I should consider the bright side:  If it’s not successful, then there won’t be traffic to worry about.] 

7. Two intersections that are “unmitigatable”—the Town will “encourage” drivers to use the Chappaqua Crossing entrance rather than the Greeley intersection

Michael Galante told School Board members in August of 2013 that no more than 5% of the traffic entering Chappaqua Crossing could be counted on to enter the property from the Saw Mill by bearing left into Chappaqua Crossing’s back entrance.  The vast majority of vehicles, he told them, would use the Roaring Brook Road and Bedford Road entrances.

How does this comport with Town Board members’ belief that 80% of vehicles will come to Chappaqua Crossing by means of the Saw Mill?  Does the Town Board believe that 80% of vehicles drawn to Chappaqua Crossing will come from the Saw Mill, or that 80% of those vehicles will use the “back door” into Chappaqua Crossing?

If Town Board members believe that only 5% of traffic into Chappaqua Crossing will enter by bearing left into the Chappaqua Crossing property (rather than right onto Roaring Brook Road), do Town Board members also believe that this 5% can be changed by “directing” traffic to the left?  Will there be a traffic signal there, where the two roads split?

ANSWER: I still have no definitive answer to this “5%” question, which I included in my own comments to the Town Board and Board of Education members and submitted to the Town Board yesterday as written comment on Chappaqua Crossing.  See Op-Ed: A six-lane intersection between Greeley and CC shopping center is a monstrosity, NCNOW, 12/12/14.

By email from Town Board counsel Ed Phillips responded to the 5% question on December 6, 2014:  “I’ve seen 5% associated only with the amount of traffic expected to approach by traversing across RBR (eg, via 120, and then crossing over the SMRP) - not as the ratio (5/95) that could be expected to use the back entrance vs proposed RBR entrance.”

And by email—in response to my Town Board/Board of Ed comments—from Supervisor Greenstein on December 12, 2014: “I was not present to hear what Galante said, but I don’t think the 5% statement attributed to him is accurate.  Unfortunately, Galante is not available due to medical reasons.  I would request that you confirm this figure before possibly spreading misinformation.” 

8.  “We made the changes your Planning Board suggested, and our anchor stores aren’t so interested.  Now we need small stores too.”

Since Summit Greenfield reported that its short list of “junior anchor” stores preferred the strip center layout to the redesigned “main street” of Chappaqua Crossing, six months ago Summit Greenfield pleaded to be allowed to divide the buildings of 25,000, 18,000, 15,500 and 10,000 square feet into any number of smaller stores it wants.  (Summit Greenfield has provided an extensive list of “high-end” small stores as potential tenants.)  Supervisor Greenstein at first called no-limits-on-smaller-stores a “non-starter,” but now the zoning includes the ability by Summit Greenfield to have an unlimited number of smaller retail stores 1,500 square feet or larger.

Can the Town Board and counsel confirm that the zoning intends to permit small stores to lease retail space at Chappaqua Crossing in addition to—not instead of—Summit Greenfield’s ability to lease to “junior anchor” chain stores such as Petco and Staples, and that Summit Greenfield may lease to any combination of large or small stores it wishes?

So apart from the discussion of whether or not the Town Board should allow “chain” restaurants, the current proposed draft zoning does not prevent Summit Greenfield from leasing to “chains” such as those frequently found accompanying Whole Foods—Petco, Staples and CVS—and perhaps to chain restaurants often found alongside Whole Foods such as Chipotle and Five Guys (depending on how you decide the “chain restaurant” matter).  Is this correct? 

ANSWER: The retail zoning would allow Summit Greenfield to choose its tenants, whether “junior anchor” or “high-end” small stores. See Town Board members debate whether to allow chain restaurants, NCNOW.org, 12/6/14.
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Here’s what the Planning Board and County Planning Board don’t like:

~ from “Near to public hearing, Boards’ thinking on Chappaqua Crossing is all over the map,” NCNOW.org, 6/20/14

Redesign rollercoaster

Since to the Planning Board it looked as though both the previous and present Town Boards fully intended to approve retail at Chappaqua Crossing despite Planning Board reservations, the Planning Board sent its architect member, Tom Curley, to work to redesign Summit Greenfield’s original plan for a strip center along a single parking lot into a less objectionable, more neighborhood-y design oriented along a “main street.”  The Planning Board has said that Curley’s efforts should not be taken as an endorsement of the project.  In fact, Planning Board members are still questioning whether there should be retail development at Chappaqua Crossing at all.

But now a complication has developed from the redesign of the site along a main street.  According to Summit Greenfield, Curley’s re-working of the “strip center” plan into more of a village main street has had the effect of alienating the interest of “junior anchor” stores which are accustomed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other stores, all facing a parking lot.

Consequently, the newest version of the grocery-retail plan shows the larger spaces divided into spaces for smaller stores. While Planning Board members were conflicted over whether large stores or small stores at Chappaqua Crossing will harm the hamlets more—Curley calls the large ones “category killers,” stores that overlap with, and overtake, multiple smaller single businesses—Greenstein, seeking perhaps to approve the retail at Chappaqua Crossing yet show that he also intends to protect the downtown merchants, has called the unlimited-number-of-smaller-stores idea a “non-starter.”

So back to the bigger-box stores, which, according to a June 16 letter from the County Planning Department, is a less desirable layout, and contrary to “a more pedestrian-friendly, village-type street with buildings close to the street and parking in the rear.” The County is critical also of the strip-center-style parking lot for the grocery, noting “the placement of the Whole Foods building behind its own large parking lot would further erode the functionality of a ‘main street’ environment and significantly discourage walking between uses on the site.”

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