Op-Ed: Tracking Supervisor Greenstein’s thinking on retail in hamlet vs. Chappaqua Crossing

Thursday, July 17, 2014
by Christine Yeres

The public hearing on Summit Greenfield’s application for 120,000 square feet of grocery-with-retail at Chappaqua Crossing reopens next week, on Tuesday, July 22. In order to make some sense of the Chappaqua Crossing debate that has sprawled across so many years and applications, documents and studies, boards and experts, I thought I’d revisit the Greenstein of a little more than one year ago.  I’ve used his letter of May 2013 as an organizing tool.  I’ll say it up front: This is an argument for a genuine, professionally-handled Master Plan review not of two years’ duration, but for a fast-tracked feasibility study of the of the town’s existing hamlets and retail at Chappaqua Crossing, something the Planning Board has recently called for yet again.

Supervisor Rob Greenstein has knotted up the Chappaqua Crossing application with his ideas of Chappaqua hamlet revitalization, which, in reality, makes the Chappaqua Crossing application only half of a plan.  The other half is very scattered, and Greenstein seems to have realized recently (probably with the help of counsel) that he should keep the two in separate containers.  But he’s talked enough about both—together—to cause real confusion.  I believe that a master plan process is the only way to clear things up.

The urgent part of the Master Plan review could have been done twice over by now: a professional feasibility study of 1) the existing hamlets and a possible shopping center at Chappaqua Crossing along with 2) the redevelopment of downtown Chappaqua to somehow compensate for what some say will be the inevitable draw of a third hamlet at Chappaqua Crossing. Such a study could still be done by this September.

Below, I’ve reprinted Greenstein’s piece as it appeared 14 months ago in NCNOW, a statement made during one of the public hearings on the application.  According to what we’ve learned since about the changes to the application and about the Master Plan review (including the Pace outreach), I’ve interposed my own remarks.


Statement by Rob Greenstein at Second Public Hearing on Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, May 3, 2013

RG:  My name is Rob Greenstein. I may go slightly over my time – please bear with me. I’m here to speak on behalf of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce, and our 166 merchant members.  Many of who are here today.

NCNOW: This was a time when Greenstein was stating that a third retail center at Chappaqua Crossing would spell disaster for the existing hamlets.

RG: Unlike last Tuesday’s meeting, I won’t discuss illegal spot zoning, or boring subjects like amending our master plan.

NCNOW: Although Greenstein said after he was elected that he intended to bring Summit Greenfield to the Master Plan table, by January 2014, he was downplaying the importance of the Master Plan review.  Although he stated that he would bring Summit Greenfield into the Master Plan process, his conversations with the developer have taken place outside of that review and, for the most part, outside the hearing of fellow Town Board members.

RG: There are lots of business owners here.  Mr. Marwell [Summit Greenfield’s counsel], you are a business owner, as am I.  Let’s talk business.

All around us, Towns are moving forward with creative, smart and sustainable development.  And Summit Development has been involved in many of these successful projects….

Summit Development was involved in Maritime Yards project in South Norwalk, CT.  That project consists of 197 housing units, including affordable housing and 40,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.

Summit Development was also involved in another successful development in CT.  Kings Crossing is a great example of turning a negative into a positive.  In 2003, they bought a contaminated 11-acre piece of property for $8M.  In 2012, it was sold for $60M.  The new shopping center is located close to the Fairfield Metro train station.

NCNOW: The Kings Crossing site was a brownfield.  Purchased for $8 million, Summit Greenfield soldl it nine years later for close to $58 million (about the amount SG paid for Reader’s Digest in 2004).  It was a traditional strip retail model, with a Whole Foods, Chipotle’s, Petco, Five Guys, a Chase bank and a CVS pharmacy.

RG: Armonk Square is currently being developed.  It’s a 3.5 acre lot in downtown Armonk.  It includes a new supermarket and a pedestrian mall, and 10 second story apartments.

NCNOW:  Armonk Square is up-and-running, with a Decicco’s grocery of around 20,000 square feet.  Armonk is mentioned a good deal these days.  In “visioning sessions” Pace conducted in May (its report is due out within the next ten days), participants repeatedly wished for a downtown Chappaqua worth going to.  And they often added to that sentiment ”—like Armonk.” 

Meeting for the second time one month ago, Adam Brodsky’s Downtown Business Development Advisory Committee, a group of around 12 residents who are in commercial development or real estate, asked themselves, too, what Armonk is doing right and what prevents Chappaqua from following suit.  Asked by Brodsky for ideas on how to revitalize downtown Chappaqua, one developer on the committee responded, “Putting a grocery at Chappaqua Crossing is exactly how not to help revitalize downtown Chappaqua.”

RG: In Scarsdale, Christie Place has added an > 55 community, retail and commuter parking for their Metro-North station in the village of Scarsdale, just footsteps from the quaint shopping district.

NCNOW: Christie Place is a 42-unit four-story “high-end, luxury” condo building in the center of the village with retail at ground level.  Its three-bedroom units are priced at around $1.5 million.


RG: The Village of Harrison is working with the MTA on a transit oriented development. 

NCNOW:  “Transit-oriented” means fairly dense housing (apartments) development near public transportation—putting more development in centers with public transportation options.

RG: The goal is a vibrant downtown development with potential residential, retail, municipal uses, pedestrian plazas and a new parking structure.

NCNOW: Harrison has come up recently in another connection.  Greenstein said three weeks ago that the new 209,000 square foot Lifetime Fitness facility in Harrison was “interested” in having a satellite facility where town hall is now located.  He has not said who has expressed interest to whom, but a 25,000-square-foot gym at Chappaqua Crossing is one of the ways Greenstein has sought to make the 120,000 square foot total of grocery-plus-retail (40,000 and 80,000, respectively) at Chappaqua Crossing seem smaller, claiming that no one could rightly consider gym space as actual “retail.”  He may be thinking that a gym where town hall sits would knock out the 25,000-square-foot gym from the Chappaqua Crossing site plan all together, bringing the total down to 95,000 square feet; or he may envision gyms in both places, Chappaqua Crossing and town hall. He hasn’t explained his thinking.

RG:  All are great examples of smart growth and sustainable development in DOWNTOWN BUSINESS DISTRICTS!

NCNOW:  As the Pace report on the community visioning sessions of May and June will show, there was very little mention, on people’s wish-lists, of Chappaqua Crossing in any regard.  On the topic of commercial development, over and over across the different sessions, people asked for a downtown that would draw them to visit it.

Next Greenstein pitches his idea to Summit Greenfield: Instead of a grocery and retail at Chappaqua Crossing, he’s about to ask Summit Greenfield to switch properties—let town hall move to Chappaqua Crossing’s cupola building and Summit Greenfield can develop the property around town hall with a grocery, retail and housing.  Here he spells it out:

RG:  We all realize that we will have development.  And there is no doubt that people want a supermarket.  And it should be abundantly clear, at this point, that people care very much about preserving our historic downtown business districts.  After all, a downtown is the heart and soul of a community.  So, let’s be smart like other communities – let’s develop our downtown.

NCNOW: Summit Greenfield seems not to have liked this suggestion, because once he took office in January Greenstein began stating that “retail is coming to Chappaqua Crossing.” And by that he means “grocery and retail.”  And why would Summit Greenfield want to do develop downtown Chappaqua instead?  It’s highly likely (and natural) that Summit Greenfield is more interested in developing a discrete parcel of its office- and residential-zoned property for use as a retail shopping center and subsequently sell it off. 

If its sale of Kings Crossing for $58 million is any measure of what a retail shopping center at Chappaqua Crossing could bring, selling off the one parcel rezoned for retail could alone recoup the $59 million Summit Greenfield paid for the entire Reader’s Digest property ten years ago.  And Summit Greenfield would still have the office and residential parcels to sell off.

RG:  Our downtown is limited by a challenging topography.  Greeley Avenue and North Bedford Road are separated by a steep hill on King Street.  On Greeley Avenue,  we have a VERY inefficient 10 acre commuter parking lot. 

NCNOW: After our “high-performance school district,” that inefficient commuter lot is apparently extremely attractive to prospective home buyers.  The commuter lot is the biggest on the train line.  People in some otherwise-desirable towns have to wait several years to procure parking permits.  Chappaqua is famous for our parking-permit-availability.

But here Greenstein is suggesting a different use of a portion of the on-grade parking lot—by Summit Greenfield—for grocery, retail and housing.  A parking structure is one of his solutions for the lost on-grade parking spaces.

RG:  Some describe our downtown as quaint.  There is nothing quaint about a 10 acre parking lot.  There is nothing quaint about a dying downtown.  And there would certainly be nothing quaint about a ghost town, if this project is approved.

NCNOW:  And here, to save the downtown from becoming a “ghost town,” Greenstein explicitly invites Summit Greenfield to trade town hall for the cupola—

RG: Let Summit Greenfield develop our 10-acre parking lot – build a parking structure – like they have in Scarsdale and will have in Harrison.  Let’s develop where our police station / Town Hall is. 

NCNOW:  In fact, the current Town Board determined early this year to engage an appraiser/surveyor to assess town-owned property around town hall, to learn its value and physical characteristics.  The Board revealed last week that they have only just now begun to conduct that assessment.  Town Board members weren’t even sure what they had agreed to in a February 4, 2014 work session.

RG: We can even develop where our library is. 

NCNOW: This can’t happen.  The land on which the Chappaqua Library sits is a forever-deal, governed by a covenant.  But it was an idea.

RG: This would be good for Summit Greenfield.  Downtown Chappaqua is valuable real estate. 

NCNOW:  After agreeing in February 2014 to find out just how valuable, the Town Board is only now having that appraisal/assessment get underway.

RG:  We can have a supermarket – like Trader Joe’s, senior living and some affordable housing.  This would add critical mass to our downtown.

NCNOW:  Pretty much everyone agrees that a critical mass of retail—and, along with it, foot-traffic—is missing in downtown Chappaqua.  Some of Adam Brodsky’s Business Development Advisory Committee members said it too, and cited a grocery in the downtown as preferable to one at Chappaqua Crossing.  But none of the participants had any magic bullet on how to pump life into the languishing hamlet.  And they all ruminated on the secret of Armonk’s success.

RG: And, YES, let’s add traffic lights to deal with any increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  Put safety first!

NCNOW: The Town Board has commissioned the firm that will manage the infrastructure fixes of the water mains and sidewalks (and, most recently the appraisal/assessment of town hall property) to study the traffic light possibilities at the Starbucks corner, the bridge and the Pizza Station intersection.  The wires across the roads last month around the downtown have been measuring flow for the traffic-light study.

RG: At Chappaqua Crossing, we could have our Town Hall and police department in the historic main cupola building.  We can use another building for our library. 

NCNOW:  Well, perhaps a satellite library.  The covenant assures that the Chappaqua Library itself will remain on its present site.

RC: We can build a Town pool there.  This is something residents would rally around.  Wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace? 

NCNOW:  A town pool is something that came up fairly frequently during the Pace visioning sessions, though as a “wish,” in the abstract, often with the observation that “other towns have them.”  It was not mentioned particularly in connection with Chappaqua Crossing.  The town and school district are discussing how to make use of the Twin Oaks property recently purchased by a resident with the idea of making it into a recreational area for residents.

RG: This is not a crazy idea.  Mr. Chapin said he is open to moving Town Hall and the police department to Chappaqua Crossing down the road if the costs aren’t prohibitive, [if] a fair transaction could be worked out and [if] it created better opportunities for the hamlet.  This would!

NCNOW: Greenstein has a feeling that it would.  And it may not be a crazy idea if, as Chapin suggested, Greenstein were engaging a firm to do a feasibility study on these very questions—costs, fair transaction, creation of better opportunities for the hamlet.  What’s been done to learn the answers?  The Master Plan review could have focused on this as well, but six months have passed and the Town Board has still not committed to it.

RG: Just the other day, a Westchester County Legislator proposed swapping properties with a developer to build a home for developmentally disabled residents.  These swaps happen.

NCNOW: I bet these swaps don’t happen, though, without serious analysis.  There’s been none by the Town Board—not in November 2013, when Tom Curley recommended it (and, by the way, it would have been finished three months ago), and not since.  This should have been folded into the Master Plan review.  Asked last week whether the Town Board would now properly fund a Master Plan review with professional help (rather than the in-house job it has been so far), Greenstein said that the Master Plan Steering Committee hadn’t asked the Town Board for any money.  He said the Town Board would consider spending money on the Master Plan review if the Steering Committee asked for it.

RG:  This would be a win-win—a win for Summit Greenfield and a win for our community.  You can recoup your investment, and it would not involve a bail-out.

We just need to be smart about it!

NCNOW: Again, it would be entirely natural for Summit Greenfield to have no interest in the town hall / cupola swap, especially if the sale of a rezoned retail shopping center parcel at Chappaqua Crossing would enable Summit Greenfield to recoup the greater part of its original $59 million purchase price for the Reader’s Digest property.

RG:  Work with our residents, like you did with Kings Crossing.

NCNOW: The Kings Crossing site was in a more industrial area, a brownfield situated near a Home Depot and several highways, so it’s unclear how Summit Greenfield worked with residents in that situation.

RG: Work with the community and an economic development committee.  Many of our residents are developers and real estate investors themselves.  We have an incredible pool of talent.  We can create an advisory board made up of people in town that have relevant professional expertise in retail and commercial real estate, public relations and advertising.  There is a lot of experience in town – people who love our town and our community – and willing to help to preserve it.

NCNOW: We also have a Planning Board with planning knowledge.  Their advice was pretty much ignored by the previous Town Board.  The Planning Board is now going over the revised site plan from Summit Greenfield and is questioning the layout, the store size, the traffic, the economic benefits to the town, and whether there should be retail at Chappaqua Crossing at all.  See Stores big or small—or none at all? Planning Board balks at retail zoning for Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, 7/17/14.

And as to putting together a committee of residents who are developers and real estate investors themselves, Greenstein and Brodsky have done that.  But rather than have that committee figure out how to relocated town hall at Chappaqua Crossing and develop the Town Hall property with grocery, retail and housing—as Greenstein envisions in this May 2014 letter—Brodsky’s committee is being asked to look more at how to revitalize downtown Chappaqua assuming Summit Greenfield will be granted the zoning to allow a 40,000-square-foot grocery and up to 80,000 square feet of additional retail at Chappaqua Crossing.

RG:  Let’s work together.

Thank you!

________________________

Related:  Near to public hearing, Boards’ thinking on Chappaqua Crossing is all over the map, NCNOW.org, 6/20/14

And for collected articles on Chappaqua Crossing click HERE.

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