PB uneasy with bypassing Master Plan process to make zoning and Master Plan changes for Spa

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
by Christine Yeres

As with the Chappaqua Crossing application for grocery and retail zoning, the “Spa at New Castle” application would require changes both to the town’s zoning laws and to its Master Plan.  In finalizing their comments to the Town Board on the Spa draft scoping document, due Friday, last night Planning Board members debated how to handle such changes without carving out the Legionaries property—and, because of the “floating zoning” proposed, properties of similar size—from the Master Plan, set for an overall review by the community in the next several months.

The Planning Board’s preliminary advice: 1) The proposed spa use is “obviously incompatible with the current zoning and should wait for the [Master Plan] update,” and 2) as a precondition to moving forward with the Spa application, any changes should be made in the context of viewing the overall Master Plan (also referred to as the Town Development Plan).

“Since we are in middle of a Master Plan update,” said Planning Board member Sheila Crespi, “rather than piecemeal changing of the Master Plan—tweaking it here or there—I was suggesting we continue with the Master Plan update before moving forward.”

“Does the PB support that?” asked Town Planner Sabrina Charney, present in Skype-form at the end of the dais.

“I don’t think this project should be put on hold,” said Planning Board member Dick Brownell, “because there are other timing constraints and a whole bunch of issues about this project—and the more time that’s spent the more money is spent.”

“My view,” said Planning Board Chair Bob Kirkwood, “is it should not be carved out and a special floating should not be established before it’s studied with TDP [town development plan, or Master Plan].  I would say that would be getting the cart in front of the horse.  I would say this is almost a segmented approach and I would not support that, frankly.  I understand the timing issues, but it’s not unusual for a town to call a time out, or moratorium,  and take care of these kinds of global planning issues.”

“My only thought is that how global is it really?” asked Brownell.  “There’s only a few parcels of this size left.  Everything else has already been taken.  I can see it either way.  But I like the idea that if we have carefully thought-out, comprehensive amendments to the TDP that would satisfy me.”

“I agree it’s a little premature [to let the application proceed before the Master Plan review],” said Planning Board member Doug Schuerman, “but I do think the ‘global’ impact is not just that there are other areas in the town it might set a precedent for.  I think it’s more ‘global’ for that region of town.  It has a global impact on that region.  It’s out of character for what’s currently going on there.”

“Good statement, good description,” said Kirkwood.

“Excellent,” said Brownell.

Back to comments on the scoping document

“It’s one thing if you want to recommend moratorium be undertaken,” said Charney, “but that is not commenting on the scoping document.  So let’s focus on the purpose of commenting on the scope.  If you want to object to the project moving forward in relation to the Master Plan, that’s different than commenting on content of the scoping document.”

“If the Planning Board wants to update the Master Plan,” said the Planning Board’s counsel Jennifer Gray, she would make members’ comments reflect that.  “Everyone agrees we should consider whether amendments should be made.  [The questions is] whether to make them before moving forward any further with the application or make them as this application moves forward.”

Can both birds be killed with one stone?

“I would agree,” said Charney.  “The Master Plan process is moving forward.  This [Spa] project is on what I’d call a ‘fast track’ as opposed to the Master Plan.  We’ve had to restart that Master Plan process.  It’s been thought that given that this [Spa] project is in the pipeline and that the Town Board is entertaining a scoping document that would ultimately be looking for amendments. And depending on the timing, those things [the developer’s application timeline and the Master Plan review] might flow into the Master Plan.”

“I wanted certain issues to be included in the scope for analysis,” continued Charney, ”—particularly in regard to large lots: what this would look like applying it to other areas of the town and what are the opportunities to apply this to other parts of town.  Because I’m concerned that the Master Plan now is silent on large lots other than for them to be used what they’re already zoned for.  So there are parts of the scope and the [environmental review process] that would help us further the Master Plan in those areas.  It’s just a matter of timing.”

An end-run around the Master Plan?

“I would say,” Kirkwood responded, “that the point you make that the Master Plan is ‘silent’ is really not the case.  In fact, it is zoned for two-acre residential.  It’s not silent.  That’s what it’s zoned for.  So what’s happening here is that the proposal is for a very significant change in that zoning, inconsistent with our Master Plan and inconsistent with our zoning.  So I would think there would be a perspective taken by a good number of residents that the Master Plan is not silent, in fact that what is in the Master Plan is appropriate.  And so what you’re really doing here, it seems to me, is—fast-track, slow-track, whatever track—is that you are doing an end run around that [Master Plan] statement and policy that’s been around a long time.  I’m not saying the policy is right, wrong, or in-between, but it is something that by looking at the application you’re starting to move into an area that is inconsistent with a plan that exists.  And I think we start to get into problems and difficulties when we start doing this kind of ‘pocket’ approach.”

“When I said it was silent, I meant to say that it’s zoned residential and that there’s no language about uses other than what it’s been zoned for,” said Charney.  “So do you want to start off your comments [to the Town Board] being more specific about not moving forward on this project until the Master Plan is completed? Or do you want to just . . . ”

“Maybe we can all agree,” said Kirkwood, “just to make a very strong statement—or a statement—in here, recognizing that this action would be inconsistent with the existing town development plan and the applicant is going to have to put forward some very good reasons why this policy should be negated for this application.”

After carve-outs, what will be left for the Master Plan review?

“I think the net result of that comment,” said Crespi, “is that it will be carved out from the Master Plan process, because a rationale will come in—that will be accepted or not accepted—to the point of changing this particular part of the Master Plan without looking at the plan overall, but just carving out the text to create a floating zone.  So I am more comfortable with a statement that the Master Plan should probably be updated first.  And we’re seeing a lot of big projects come in that are being carved out from this process.  You begin to wonder what will be left for the Master Plan when we get around to it if all the big parcels are being carved out from it.  It becomes a little worrisome what you’ll be looking at when you start [the review of the Master Plan] as to the impacts—and the flexibility for doing things with these other large parcels that you didn’t have a chance to consider before they got carved out of the Master Plan.”

“I agree,” said Kirkwood.  “And it puts us in the position again—as you know, I’m a big supporter of updating the Master Plan—of being [reactive to a developer’s request] and it seems to me important that we get that Master Plan process going first and handle this as part of it.”

“It is possible,” said Crespi, “that in [proceeding with this application] we might gain some information about floating zones that would be useful in the Master Plan process—in the overall process and not just to carve out a piece of it for some amendment.  [For example, at a policy level,] some discussion of floating zones and how they might apply to large parcels that exist or might become available in the future.”

“One of the concerns I have,” said Kirkwood, “is that [treating this application outside of the Master Plan] puts the town in a reactive position in terms of a community statement of values, goals, policies—as opposed to working with applicants, working with the community to say, ‘This is where we’d like to go’—rather than having this carve-out.  I think that’s what the Master Plan is all about.  So I agree with you, Sheila.  I think every time we take away from that we diminish the importance of the document, we diminish therefore the input—on the direction, the policy—from the community and instead put ourselves very much in just a reactive position with things coming to us ‘yea,’ ‘nay,’ ‘smaller,’ ‘bigger,’ ‘over here,’ ‘over there,’ ‘try this,’ ‘try that.’  This [Spa application] could be the right thing that we want to see, but it just doesn’t have the right feeling.”

“OK,” said Brownell, “let’s try this wording: ‘It is obviously incompatible with the current zoning and should wait for the TDP update.  It is recommended that, if the project goes forward, comprehensive amendments to the town development plan would need to be included in the proposed action before moving forward with the project.”

“When you reference ‘comprehensive amendments to the TDP’,” asked Crespi, “do you mean more than the carve-out of this one piece of property?”

“As opposed to having just amendments,” said Brownell, “we could have ‘comprehensive amendments’ to the TDP, that would universally address such large parcels having zoning changes.”

Include, suggested Crespi, examples such as ” ‘the creation of a floating zone and its potential to be applied to other large parcels either existing or that may become available in New Castle.’ “

Brownell re-read the changed language: ” ‘It is recommended that if this project goes forward, comprehensive amendments to the TDP would need to be developed and address zoning changes on large parcels similar to this site anywhere in town.  These [comprehensive amendments] would be included in the proposed action before this moving forward with this project.’  Because the big issue that we’ve raised is that we have zoning changes for two large parcels—Chappaqua Crossing and the Spa, and a small zoning change for Conifer—but there are other parcels that may come forward, and we’re looking for an update not on the whole TDP but on this [large-parcel] piece of the TDP being brought in because it’s critical to the thinking ...”

“So it’s not just for the floating zone,” said Crespi, “but for the use of large parcels?”

“It’s good to use the word ‘comprehensive’ when describing the amendments,” said Charney, “because they need to be factually based, hard-look types of amendments. [The applicant is] asking for a floating zone and you’re looking for the comprehensive rationale as to why the Master Plan should be amended.”

The Planning Board’s comments in final form—and those of the public—are due at close-of-business on Friday, February 21. 

A video of the meeting is below.  The Spa scope discussion begins at the 8-minute mark; till around the 30-minute mark PB members discuss the how the Spa application fits timing-wise with the Master Plan review, then for the next two hours they discuss the remainder of the scoping document.

The public scoping hearing (the scope is the list of environmental concerns the applicant must respond to) has closed, but written comments may be submitted until Friday, February 21, 2014—either by email, to a special address for the purpose:

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Or by snail-mail, to:

Town Administrator Jill Shapiro
200 South Greeley Avenue
Chappaqua, NY 10514

To see the February 10, 2014 letter in which the Westchester County Planning Board weighed in on the Spa application click HERE

You can find all documents pertaining to The Spa at New Castle application (including the County letter of 2-10-14) on THIS PAGE of the town’s website.

To view the entire Draft Scope click HERE.

To view NCNOW’s archived Spa articles, click HERE.

Town of New Castle Planning Board Meeting 2/18/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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