PB examines issues of traffic, big-store v. small-store, and questions retail use at CC

At 7:00 pm on Monday, June 9, a special PB meeting to discuss CC new PDCP; on Tuesday, June 10 a public hearing on zoning change to permit grocery-retail
Saturday, June 7, 2014
by Christine Yeres

On Tuesday the Planning Board reviewed the changes the town and Summit Greenfield are proposing to the town’s zoning that would allow a portion of the Chappaqua Crossing site to be used for a grocery of 40,000 square feet and for 80,000 square feet of additional retail.

Two years ago, when the grocery and retail use was first proposed for a portion of Chappaqua Crossing, the amount of grocery-retail space considered for environmental review purposes was 120,000 square feet of floor space.  The environmental review completed in 2013 was conducted under the assumption that the grocery would occupy two existing office buildings—the cupola building and the “100 Building” between the cupola building and Roaring Brook Road—with some amount of retail newly constructed to accompany the grocery. 

However, since November 2013 Summit Greenfield has shown instead a plan in which all 120,000 square feet of space in newly constructed buildings.  Only the 100 Building (around 38,000 SF), which would be torn down for purposes of storm water management, is “traded out” against the 120,000 SF of retail.

On this same point—“trading” existing office space for new retail—there was a discussion two weeks ago among Town Board and Planning Board members [See Boards + residents struggle to understand Chappaqua Crossing traffic problems + mitigations, NCNOW.org, 5/30/14.] about SG’s proposal to decommission enough existing office space—mainly Chappaqua Crossing’s ground floor (underground in front, “walk-out” in back, on the Saw Mill Parkway side)—to equal the 120,000 SF of grocery-with-retail in the plan (another, say, 82,000 SF besides the 38,000 SF of the razed 100 Building).

The most recent change is the request by Summit Greenfield that the limitation on the number of small stores permitted in the retail mix—four—be lifted to allow an unlimited number.  “Easy,” said Brownell, “the Supervisor said you’re not going to have unlimited number of small stores.” (Supervisor Rob Greenstein announced on May 22 that he had told Summit Greenfield that lifting the small store restriction was “a non-starter.”)

Whatever plan the Town Board and Summit Greenfield settle on, the town’s zoning code must match it—and so must the Town Development Plan (TDP), or Master Plan).  Although last September hearings on both were closed (but not yet approved by TB vote), on Tuesday, June 10, the TB is reopening the public hearing on the changes to the zoning code.

Specifics of the project will be addressed in during site plan approval by Planning Board

Both the TDP (Master Plan) and zoning documents would be fairly broad-stroke; the zoning legislation would state that a Preliminary Development Concept Plan be prepared, and the details would be worked out in that document.  “We have to decide whether the objectives in the revised PDCP are objectives that we support,” explained Curley, “and then go back to the zoning and decide whether the zoning supports them.”

Curley, who worked with SG to reorient the retail (with the exception of the Whole Foods supermarket) along the “Main Street” entryway from Bedford Road to the cupola building, commended SG for “paying attention to the design of the buildings. It’s not my cup of tea, style-wise, but for what it is, it’s been done very well.”  He was concerned, he said, both the fronts and backs of the retail seemed designed to be used as front doors, whereas it was the intent of the redesign that the front doors should open onto the main street.

Likewise, Curley cautioned, the plan for the residential component of the plan needed more “Traditional Neighborhood Design” characteristics, perhaps to be spelled out in the zoning legislation.

In this latest version of the plan, “the components of the site ‘talk’ to each other,” said Town Planner Sabrina Charney, “based on the [Traditional Neighborhood Design concepts the PB suggested].”

Which are more harmful to the hamlets: big or little stores at CC?

PB members had differing opinions on which would be the greater threat to the existing hamlets: fewer big stores or more small stores.  Contrary to studies commissioned by the Town Board last year, Curley believes that the bigger stores are “category-killers,” competing on multiple fronts with hamlet shops.  A TJ Maxx, for example, has dresses, shoes, jewelry, housewares, and more.  He also believes that “putting restrictions on retail, when retail stores turn over more frequently than almost any other type of real estate,” would threaten the future viability of the entire development.  “If tenancies are allowed to grow or shrink according to market demand,” said Curley, “it would be better.”

And in order for the plan to be successful, explained Curley, you need more than just a few stores on the street.

“In Armonk,” Curley continued, there are “four or five stores on each side [of the pedestrian walkway] of 900 to 1,000 square feet each.  The pattern of the shopfronts—there are enough to actually create some cross-shopping”—as opposed to larger-box stores, where you have “one store, one doorway and more glass than you know what to do with.”  If the Town Board maintains its position that small stores will be limited to only four, Curley believes the current PDCP will need more changes.

“I’d like to know,” said PB member Sheila Crespi, “how [the pre-existing Armonk shops] are affected by the new ones.  Now I go shopping in Armonk Square and haven’t set foot in another of [the old ones].  I’m interested to know whether they’re being helped or hurt—or are not affected at all—by this new retail development.” She noted that some of the shops “that used to be on the main street have moved into the new development.  So my concern is that [whether small shops or big shops at Chappaqua Crossing] it becomes the new destination, period.”

“That’s the business model [the big-store shopping center] that kills downtowns,” said Curley. “And I go to Armonk now too—and I’ve heard this from other people in our community who say, ‘Have you seen what’s going on with downtown Armonk?’—and who now also go to Armonk.”

“But what we have is not a parallel situation to Armonk’s,” said Crespi.  “We have a new retail area proposed that’s several miles from both of our hamlets.  I’m afraid that Chappaqua Crossing, as a third hamlet and whether with big or small stores, is going to outperform our hamlets,”

“So your concern, said Curley to Crespi, “is more the fact that there’s retail at all?”

“And the extent of it,” said Crespi.

How did we get to 120,000 square feet?

“When was the number of 120,00 square feet of retail arrived upon?” asked Crespi.  “Because you know it started out as a grocery store and some other related shops. And somewhere along the line it grew to 120,000 square feet—and even 130,000 square feet now, if you add the 10,000 square feet of ‘farm market’—which is an overlap with another thing we have in our hamlet that’s created a community spirit, the Chappaqua Farmers Market.”

“When did we get to 120,000 square feet?” Crespi repeated.

No one seemed to know, but Curley opined that this is the tendency of development projects everywhere—“an investor-developer looks at a piece of property and figures out what he can get on the property. And there’s a carrying capacity of the land, and the number that bubbled up from that was, apparently 120,000 square feet.”

“So it would have come from the developer, probably,” said Brownell.

“Yes,” said Curley, “and the developer needs something from the town—which is zoning—and it’s a relationship where yo go back and forth and decide what’s best for both parties.”

“Although the ‘traditional neighborhood design’ is superior to what we started out with,” noted Crespi, “the whole thing has sort of mushroomed.  There was going to be ‘adaptive reuse’ of existing buildings and now that’s gone by the wayside” and we have “new footprint,” a 10,000 square foot farm for the grocery store….”

Trading new retail space for existing basement space

“The intent,” said Brownell, “was to take the retail 120,000 out in terms of office space—but it’s basement.  That’s another negotiating point. How can you trade new above-ground, first-class prime retail space and say it’s equivalent to basement space?”

“It’s equivalent in the context of traffic and parking in the EIS [environmental impact statement],” said Curley.

“There’s an unfairness that might be there,” said Brownell. “I can’t say that it is, because I don’t understand the numbers—which is part of the briefing we want to have, to understand how all this would work.” [Summit Greenfield’s traffic consultant is expected to attend the June 10 public hearing.]

“I would suggest that if our biggest concern is traffic,” said Curley, “then I would probably agree with your point of view that you need to take occupy-able space off-line in order to reduce the traffic.  There’s another argument that occupying that space with people brings more tax revenues and many of the things that the town is trying achieve by making as full use of that property and that infrastructure as possible.”

Brownell:  “And that’s a noble thing…”

Curley:  “I’m not saying I’m agreeing with that…”

Brownell: “I understand, and I’m going to play back and say ‘OK, then how come that hasn’t been done up to this point?’  I guess it’s not that good a space to put people in.”

Curley:  “Oh, it’s very difficult space…”

Brownell:  “So it’s a flaw in our existing legislation, perhaps, that basement space would be counted this way for this and that.  Perhaps there’s a discrepancy, a potential unexpected result in the way it was worded, so maybe there’s another change that has to be made—so that we get more real about what that is and what the value of that space is, relative to being inhabited by people as opposed to boxes [i.e., storage].”

Curley: “You’re saying the town needs to decide whether we want more office space or less office space [at Chappaqua Crossing]—occupy-able, revenue-generating office space…”

Brownell: “On first and second floors, which is hard to redevelop and costly to redevelop and therefore might be more available to be put out of service.  If the applicant says they can’t rent the space because it’s too old and too expensive to rehab…”

Curley:  “So why take it off-line if it can’t be rented anyway?”

Brownell:  “Because someday someone may come up with something ten years from now…”

Curley:  “That may not be a bad thing.  We all know there are big buildings there and actually there are tenants there, and they’re doing quite well. Property management is really, really well done. Still there’s a lot of vacant space.  There’s big infrastructure sitting out there. It’s difficult because the floor plates are difficult, because the market isn’t quite right.  So one of the reasons to think about retail up there—done in the right way—is actually to generate more tenancy up there, to create a place, to create an address, someplace that has a health club—and make a destination out of it to make it a place you want your office to be in.”

Brownell:  “As long as it doesn’t affect the traffic in some egregious way.”

Curley:  “What’s assumed in the EIS [environmental impact study] is all that space—minus the 80,000 square feet [taken off-line in the “trade”]—all that space is occupied.  That’s in the traffic numbers.  And if that is too much traffic then maybe we have to think about reducing that.”

[On May 22, during a presentation on traffic by the town’s traffic consultant, Michael Galante, several TB and PB members quite pointedly asked that the applicant and its expert consultant on traffic attend the June 10 public hearing on the zoning change in order to respond to questions both boards felt were still unanswered.  Galante stated during that same meeting that the applicant had done a “Synchro” traffic animation of the roadways surrounding the site, which may make the traffic studies more comprehensible.]

Planning Board’s job is to examine only the differences between the last two submissions from SG

The Planning Board’s counsel, Jennifer Gray, told PB members that in their job in reviewing the PDCP on the traffic issue and any other environmental impacts that may have changed with this latest PDCP, “the relevant scope of review is not to go back to what was previously studied, but to look at what was determined in the Findings statement to be mitigatable impacts and what’s being proposed now and traffic levels now.”

“It just isn’t reasonable,” said Brownell.  “I’m not looking to go back to review the traffic.  I want to understand what the new plan—with this kind of supermarket versus the other [ordinary, not-Whole Foods] 60,000 square foot supermarket—means, traffic-wise.

“I did have questions back in April and May of last year that were concerns about the mitigations,” said Crespi.

“To the extent they relate to the changes to the PDCP after the Findings were issued, they may be looked into,” said Jennifer Gray.

“But we can still issue negative findings ourselves [as the Planning Board],” said Curley.

“I think that we can word things in a way… there have been changes here, and they’ve been sufficient so that it seems to me we can word things so that the impacts will be considered,” said Kirkwood.

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Curley, “the DEIS is a document that’s completely up for grabs for us.  It may be the time—or not the time—to look at any changes that need to be looked at again given the changes to the site plan.  It’s an open document for us.

“The job before you now is to make comments,” said Gray.

“And when it comes back to us for site plan approval is when those things should come up,” said Curley.

“You can also pose those questions as comments on the PDCP before you,” said Gray.

That’s why I agree with Tom,” said Kirkwood.  “If you had X and now you have Y, then you can expect to have some questions.”

“They’re questions that need to be asked,” said Charney, “and I’m sure the Town Board will ask the applicant to respond.”

“We won’t have consensus on [small store versus big store] and the Town Board has taken a fairly strong position on it,” observed Kirkwood.

“I hope the applicant will answer some of those questions on June 10,” said Charney.  I have requested more information on what the applicant is thinking.”

Retail use still an open question?

Curley returned to whether retail belongs at Chappaqua Crossing.  “I think Sheila’s comments on the retail,—and not just on what kind of retail—but that there is any kind of retail up there at all is still, I think, an open question.  The work that the Planning Board [including Curley’s work on the site plan] has done with the support of the Town Board and working with the applicant to get a better kind of retail environment up there bore fruit, I think.  But that’s not meant to suggest that the Planning Board approves or will approve this project—to the extent that the Planning Board has power to approve or not approve the project.  None of the work that was done there was necessarily meant to ‘bless’ the proposal.  It was meant to try to get the best outcome if retail was to be there.  So I support keeping the question open about whether there should be any retail up there.”

“And I would add that there should be a limit on smaller stores.  It shouldn’t be infinite,” said Brownell.

I think you’re right, said Kirkwood, “even thought this is being driven by the current project it has to be projected out to the future.

“And why has the ‘community garden’ has morphed to a 10,000 square foot ‘farm market’ for Whole Foods?” asked Crespi.

NCNOW asked whether, because of the change SG is asking for—more smaller stores—and the difference of opinion among PB members, the Planning Board had the authority to engage a consultant to help answer the question.

“I think that as an independent Board we have the authority to ask for the studies we think are appropriate,” said Curley.  “The conclusions of those studies may fall on deaf ears, but I think we have the authority to do that.”

Chappaqua Crossing documents on the town website:http://www.mynewcastle.org/index.php/chappaqua-news/currentprojects/chappaqua-crossing/794-2014-revised-preliminary-development-concept-plan”> http://www.mynewcastle.org/index.php/chappaqua-news/currentprojects/chappaqua-crossing/794-2014-revised-preliminary-development-concept-plan

Planning Board discussion of Chappaqua Crossing PDCP
Starts: 2 hour, 38 minute mark
Ends: 4 hour mark

Town of New Castle Planning Board Meeting 6/3/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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