Op-Ed: Questions on how Master Plan review interfaces with Chappaqua Crossing and Spa proposals

With 50 comments since publication
March 28, 2014
by Christine Yeres

When Supervisor Rob Greenstein read a statement last Tuesday setting out his thinking on two current development proposals—to rezone for grocery-retail at Chappaqua Crossing and for a Spa on the Legionaries property—and explained why he doesn’t favor declaring a moratorium for either, Deputy Supervisor Lisa Katz responded, “Moratorium aside, I do think we have to make sure we plan before we develop.”  The week before, Town Board members seemed genuinely relieved that independent professionals from Pace’s Land Use Center had come to umpire, but several inconsistencies still plague the long-delayed Master Plan process.

In Supervisor’s view, a green light for retail at Chappaqua Crossing

As Greenstein sees it, the previous Town Board took the Chappaqua Crossing application too far to withhold approval now.  And besides, he views the chance to move town hall to Chappaqua Crossing and develop the town hall property as one of the only ways to budge conditions in a languishing Chappaqua hamlet. 

Greenstein is convinced that implementing both—grocery-retail with town hall at Chappaqua Crossing, and town hall property developed—is the key to boosting commercial tax revenues for New Castle. “That’s why,” read Greenstein on Tuesday, “the Town Board is forming a business development advisory committee and moving ahead with our master plan update.”  To see his entire statement, click HERE.

How the Chappaqua Crossing-and-Town Hall swap fit into the Master Plan update is unclear, although Greenstein has said before that while retail rezoning is a given (the total of 120,000 square feet of retail space seems to be a given as well), residents may have some input during the Master Plan process on what other types of retail should join the anchor store, a Whole Foods grocery.  However, since we have learned too that anchors have very specific desires when it come to their sidekicks, it’s unclear how much that input from residents will count. 

The Spa

As to the Spa proposal, Greenstein met with residents surrounding the Legionaries property on Wednesday night, and believes that the developer will likely abandon the spa-restaurant-hotel-condo concept and return to a proposal for all-residential development, most likely condos. 

Greenstein explained in his statement that he is not inclined in any case to consider imposing a moratorium.

Lisa Katz for planning before developing

When Katz said, “I do think we have to make sure we plan before we develop. So I do hope that our Master Plan process will be completed before any decisions are brought before this board,” it was unclear what she meant by “completion,” since she knows that the entire Master Plan process is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.

Katz might instead mean that she hopes that the two most urgent development matters—Chappaqua Crossing and the Legionaries property—will have their Master-Plan planning done up front in the process, while Pace is conducting its community outreach over the next three or four months.  However, even that may be longer than Greenstein has in mind for approval of retail at Chappaqua Crossing. He has made clear that retail zoning, in his opinion, is already assured.

Presumably, the Town Board has only to refer a preliminary development concept plan to the Planning Board for approval—the exact place where the previous Town Board left off in November 2013—but the plan is now the new “Main Street” version.  What would remain for the Master Plan review is perhaps figuring out—once retail is approved at Chappaqua Crossing—whether to move town hall there and how to develop the town hall site downtown.

Chapin weighs in

Jason Chapin demonstrated again that tax revenues are very much on his mind. “I believe limited retail at Chappaqua Crossing can benefit the entire town and some development at the Legionnaires property should be pursued.” He did not specify what he meant by “limited retail” or “some development.”

As to the idea of trading Town Hall property for the cupola building, “I’m open to exploring the feasibility of moving Town Hall to Chappaqua Crossing,” said Chapin, “if it does not negatively impact our hamlets, if it makes financial sense and if there is public support to do so. I have serious concerns about replacing Town Hall and adjacent properties with anything that would exacerbate our traffic and parking problems or change the character of our hamlets in a negative way.” 

Where Board Members stand—in pretty difficult spots

• Katz wants to “plan first, then develop.” She gave no indication as to whether accelerated Master Plan treatment for Chappaqua Crossing is planning enough, and whether suggesting what other types of retail residents might want along with Whole Foods is what she means by “planning first.”

• Greenstein is promoting his development plan—retail and town hall at Chappaqua Crossing, residential development on the town hall site—and has said that the retail zoning at Chappaqua Crossing is assured.

• In the meantime, Greenstein, as a member of the Master Plan Steering Committee, is head of the very subgroup into which the Chappaqua Crossing and town hall development fall, “Commercial Development and the Hamlets.”  Although he actively promotes his plan within the committee, he has also passed the “speakership” of that committee to another member, Dan Googel. 

• Chapin is open to Greenstein’s plan, but wants to rule out resulting harm to existing hamlets and see where the public stands.

• Adam Brodsky, meanwhile, is putting together the business development advisory team that will meet for the first time in the second half of April.  Presumably that committee of residents—some of whom are themselves developers and small-business owners (some with shops in town)—will advise the Town Board on 1) how to “revitalize” the existing hamlets; and 2) the feasibility of Greenstein’s plan for retail and town hall at Chappaqua Crossing, and development of town hall property. 

What’s missing?

Missing from the picture, however, is any sort of independent assessment and analysis of how the numbers work—questions of return-on-investment, tax revenues generated, financing (if the town must make a purchase), the future of medium-box retail—and whether the town will (or can) make decisions based on the advice of volunteer-resident-advisors.  Will the town hire an independent consultant who can run the scenarios and the numbers, and give the Town Board answers to questions like these:

• Is the “swap” of town hall property for space in the cupola building the “win-win” that Greenstein and the Summit Greenfield believe it is?

• What revenues are projected from each—1) Chappaqua Crossing retail and 2) town hall residential (with first-floor retail)?

• Who will pay for what?  How the town would finance a purchase? What would it cost taxpayers?

• How much is the town hall property worth? (The Town Board has engaged an appraiser to learn the answer to this.)

• How much of the town hall property is Greenstein considering freeing for development? (So far, he has said he is considering only the two or three acres where town hall sits, and has excluded the rec field.)

• How much is the cupola building worth?  Are Summit Greenfield’s own estimates sufficient?

• Would the town own or lease the cupola building?  What are the financials for each scenario?  Run scenarios for town hall and police on floors 1 and 2, residential on floors 3 and 4, described by Greenstein as possibilities.

• Who would pay for the “build out” (renovation) of the cupola building?

• Who will decide the balance between the 120,000 square feet of retail and the amount of office space Summit Greenfield says it will de-commission (actually close down) to make traffic and parking work? (The latest plan shows Building 100 eliminated entirely, and part of Building 300 as well.)

• Will developing the town hall property with residential “revitalize” the downtown?

• How much residential at town hall does Greenstein have in mind?  How many stories, what kind of residential? (Greenstein has stated that the town is most in need of market-rate units for young families and seniors, and the required number of affordable units.)  What will the proposed residential development cost taxpayers in services to new residents? 

• Does the plan for residential include first-floor retail?

Town Planner Sabrina Charney is acting as facilitator/coordinator for the Master Plan Steering Committee. But as Greenstein learned in November, Charney was obliged by the then-Town Board to carry out its directives (Chappaqua Crossing had been declared “off the table” when it came to Master Planning, Greenstein subsequently put it “back on the table,” and now it’s back off-the-table).  Charney has been working closely with Greenstein, Planning Board member Tom Curley, and Summit Greenfield to craft the latest site plan, a third hamlet. See PB has a latest look at Chappaqua Crossing “Main Street” of retail and residential, NCNOW.org. 3/2114. 

But is Charney now obliged to carry out Greenstein’s directives? How does that comport with facilitating the town’s Master Plan process—or the fast-tracked Chappaqua Crossing and Spa parts of it—and input from New Castle’s residents? 

How, in fact, do anyone’s “directives” comport with “Master Plan process”?  This will be a question for Pace consultants, who return Tuesday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m. to hear Steering Committee members’ “problem statements” and to help plan their outreach to the community. 

See what advice Pace had to give the week before: Pace Land Use experts discuss primacy of public outreach with Steering Committee and TB members, NCNOW.org, 3/25/14.

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