PB to TB: Zoning law should reflect the Town’s long-term interest, not SG’s short term needs

Hours before Town Board votes on zoning—8:15 p.m. @ Chappaqua Library—Planning Board finalizes its comments on Chappaqua Crossing
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Editor’s Note:  Planning Board members followed up their Monday discussion of Chappaqua Crossing’s application for retail zoning with final comments to the Town Board. The 8-point letter ends: “In sum, after all this time and effort, the Planning Board believes that we need to look beyond the applicant’s immediate financial needs and legal posturing and get this right.  Frankly, a broader enabling law should work better than the more limited approval that [Summit Greenfield] seek[s].  At the same time, broader enabling legislation should serve as an important signal from the Town to the applicant that there is an expectation that we need to continue to work jointly toward a ‘best’ plan.”

In tonight’s meeting, the Town Board’s counsel has explained, the Town Board will vote on whether to grant the retail zoning, but it will not vote on the preliminary development concept plan, specifying locations of buildings and roadways, until January or February.  Counsel has also said that “mitigations” —in the form of a letter from Summit Greenfield—will be revealed. 

CORRECTION: In tonight’s meeting, the Town Board’s counsel explained on Monday, the Town Board will vote on whether to grant the retail zoning, but it will not vote on the preliminary development concept plan specifying locations of buildings and roadways, until January or February.

Although on Monday the town’s Counsel said that “mitigations” —in the form of a letter from Summit Greenfield—will be revealed tonight, today that estimate was revised.  It is no longer certain that the Summit Greenfield’s letter proposing mitigations will be a part of tonight’s meeting.

Below are the Planning Board’s comments of today in their entirety:

See the Planning Board’s Monday conversation here: While Town Bd makes plans to approve retail zoning, Planning Bd envisions another solution, NCNOW.org, 12/16/14

To: Town Board
From: Planning Board
Re: Local Law Referral re: modification of Town Zoning Map re: Chappaqua Crossing
Date: December 18, 2014

The Town Board has referred to the Planning Board a proposed local law to amend the Town’s Zoning Map for purposes of mapping a new OPR Office Park Retail Overlay District of approximately 19.1 acres on a portion of the existing B-RO-20 Research and Office Business District mapped on the Chappaqua Crossing property.  Prior to enactment of such legislation, the Town Board must enact amendments to Chapter 60, Zoning, of the Town Code to permit such retail use.  That enabling legislation has been previously referred to the Planning Board for review and comment.

Accordingly, this appears to be the Planning Board’s last opportunity to lend its input before a change to the Town’s zoning law or zoning map is adopted by the Town Board.  Our comments and recommendations set forth below are based are based upon planning principles, keeping in mind that the Town Board, as the Town’s legislative body, has exclusive jurisdiction over the enactment of changes to our zoning law and zoning map.

1) Through no party’s fault, this drawn-out process has resulted in a fragmented review of the proposed development of the property.  As a result, our sense is that the applicant’s revised and “preferred” proposal is less than optimal and does not incorporate the important features of a traditional neighborhood development plan.  The current proposal to map only a portion of the subject property for retail use, therefore, may not best meet the Town’s long-term objectives for the property, and may not assure the best chance of long-term success for development of the property.

(2) The Planning Board has consistently stated that the changed zoning law and Town action should not be driven by the short term interests of this particular developer/applicant or a particular tenant. Development of this parcel will have long term impacts on the Town. The best possible planning strategies should be utilized for the long term interests of the Town and the sustainable viability of the project.

(3)  Based upon Findings Statements adopted by the Town Board in April 2011 and October 2013, it appears that the applicant has shown that (1) the property is eligible for and can be appropriately developed with a combination of residential, commercial/ retail, and office development; and (2) significant impacts of the development can be avoided or, if they cannot be avoided, they can be mitigated to an acceptable level.

(4) The proposal to divide the parcel into three separate divisions imposes artificial constraints on the property that seem inconsistent with the stated objectives of the applicant and the Town to pursue a traditional neighborhood development plan.  As proposed, there would be a multi-family residential zone, an office zone, and, now, a retail overlay on a defined portion of the office area. 

(5)  Instead of this partitioned approach, the Planning Board proposes that any final change to the Town’s zoning law and zoning map for this property should be a broad, enabling legislation that would promote the potential for a true, comprehensive, integrated traditional neighborhood development plan.  With appropriate constraints and conditions, the Planning Board believes the entire parcel should be re-zoned for multi-family, office, business and retail uses to maximize planning flexibility that will enable the applicant and the Town to develop a “best” plan.  Consideration must also be given to the future of the site and how it may evolve through time; conditions and ownership will change.  The legislation should reflect the Town’s long-term interest, not merely the current needs of the site and its current owner.  The applicant’s proposal to locate a concentrated retail area on the southern end of the site may limit the ultimate viability of the development because it may preclude both adaptive retail reuse of existing structures and the realization of a traditional neighborhood development plan.

(6)   Appropriate limitations or conditions might include the following:  any housing element must include at least 20% affordable housing; maximum gross retail/commercial use shall be limited to an appropriate square footage that is consistent with parking regulations and traffic concerns; aggregate office development should be limited to an appropriate aggregate square footage that is consistent with current parking regulations (recognizing varying parking demands between business days, evenings and weekends) and consistent with traffic impacts.

(7)  The status of the Cupola Building might also be better addressed through integrated mixed-use zoning of the property.  At present, the building is excluded from the MFPD Residential District and from the proposed Office Park Retail Overlay District.  It also appears to be undesirable as office space in today’s market, as efforts to rent it have to date been unsuccessful.  Thus, this iconic building which is the centerpiece of Chappaqua Crossing stands empty.  An integrated, mixed-use campus would offer new opportunities to consider this building for adaptive reuse as housing, or as retail space that might have more flexible requirements than a grocery store, provided that the aggregate totals for retail and housing square footage currently in place or contemplated for the site are not exceeded.  If, however, the property is divided into separate zoning districts, consideration should be given to a special carve-out for the Cupola Building for mixed-use, provided again that aggregate square footage totals for housing, office and retail space for the site are not exceeded.

(8) If it is determined that a traditional neighborhood development plan cannot be planned, then retail development should be limited to the adaptive re-use of the existing structures to the greatest extent possible.

In sum, after all this time and effort, the Planning Board believes that we need to look beyond the applicant’s immediate financial needs and legal posturing and get this right.  Frankly, a broader enabling law should work better than the more limited approval that they seek.  At the same time, broader enabling legislation should serve as an important signal from the Town to the applicant that there is an expectation that we need to continue to work jointly toward a “best” plan.

cc:  Sabrina D. Charney Hull, Town Planner
      Lester D. Steinman, Esq.
      Nicholas Ward-Willis, Esq.

 

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