Planning Board struggles with its comments for Town Board on Chappaqua Crossing

Monday, July 28, 2014

Editor’s Note:  Planning Board members Bob Kirkwood (Chair), Dick Brownell, Sheila Crespi and Tom Curley met on Friday, July 18, to finish up the comments they must produce for the Town Board on the zoning amendments proposed for a grocery and retail at Chappaqua Crossing.  They also discussed whether—and how—to pose their objections to the application in a separate cover letter.  At the request of the Planning Board, the Town Board will meet with them soon to discuss the application.  The public hearing continues on August 12. The Planning Board’s discussion below is arranged by topic.

Parking and traffic

Will any future parking deficit be made worse by the three different uses at Chappaqua Crossing?  Crespi asked, and how can the town ensure that the three zones—once owned separately as retail, office and residential enterprises—will cooperate to provide sufficient parking if conditions at any one of them should change?  Planning Board members decided to ask for parking accumulation study.

Crespi asked also whether there would be an increase in truck deliveries with more stores that are smaller as opposed to fewer, larger stores.

Preserving the Wallace Auditorium

And “if the Wallace Auditorium is to be left intact—a gift to the town—in the part of the property zoned for 111 residential units,” said Crespi, should the town find out what its upkeep would cost?  “Yes,” said Kirkwood. “if the cost is prohibitive, then why go through all this?” [See a letter from Michael Shapiro, conductor of The Chappaqua Orchestra, advocating for the use of the auditorium as a home for the orchestra.]

More housing?

“We now have a free-standing Whole Foods rather than one inside the 100 and 200 buildings,” noted Kirkwood.  “Could we consider adaptive reuse of the [those] building for residential?  There’s been a lot of talk about changed office space to retail space, but what about housing?  This is happening all over our metro area, conversion into housing.”

“Mechanically,” said Town Planner Sabrina Charney, “the 100 building is located in what we are deeming as the retail area.”

“This is going back to the zoning legislation,” said Kirkwood.  “This is not the first time the Planning Board has made this observation.  Perhaps really a mixed-use ought to be considered—not just retail zoning.”

“We looked at putting residential in other buildings,” said Andy Tung, Summit Greenfield’s planning and engineering consultant.  “The [cupola] building is like a wedding cake—it gets smaller as you go higher.  And most of the Reader’s Digest buildings are blocks of deep space, not readily changeable to residential.  It would cost much more to translate them to residential than build anew, and they wouldn’t be very attractive to live in.  Maybe the top of the 200 [cupola] building, where it’s not such deep space, and there are windows on all sides.”

Third retail center could be “loading the dice against the hamlets”

Planning Board members discussed exploring adaptive reuse of the cupola building for the gym—instead of locating a gym in a 25,000 free-standing building across “main street” from the residential apartment buildings.  They also recommended having AKRF update its “competitive effects analysis” in light of the latest proposal by Summit Greenfield to remove the limitation on the number of smaller stores in a retail zone at Chappaqua Crossing.

“And get something into the zoning that precludes us from ending up with two giant anchors,” said Crespi. “There was something in there previously and now it’s gone.”

The Planning Board was, said Kirkwood, concerned not just about impact to the existing hamlets in tax revenues, but about their health and vitality.  “Tax revenue is not the only reason we’re concerned.”

“The studies that were done to support the need for this project were called what?” asked Dick Brownell.

The AKRF report was a “competitive effects analysis,” said Town Planner Sabrina Charney.

Tom Curley noted that that report did not so much support “a need for the community to have this here—but that you can capture those dollars if you put that facility there.”

Noting that the AKRF report had “not much quantitative information,” Sheila Crespi asked, “How can we get better information?”

“We’re asking for another market study here,” said Chair Bob Kirkwood.  “It’s a fine line.  It’s all pretty dynamic.  I think all of us recognize that our two hamlets do not in any way, shape or form live up to their potential.  So not only is it [a matter of the competitive effects of a third retail center on] the existing hamlets, but to what extent might this third hamlet frustrate the energy, the capital, whatever it is we’re going to plan to revitalize these hamlets. I think we’re going to find from the Pace report [on the community outreach sessions] that there’s going to be a cry for the hamlets [to be revitalized].  So it’s the future viability, not just the current viability [of the hamlets].

“I only went to one of [the Pace outreach sessions],” said Curley, “but there was very little discussion about Chappaqua Crossing.  What I did hear is that people are really concerned about our hamlets. And there was really no “Gee what we need is another one”— but [rather] “Let’s make the ones we have better.”

“I fear,” said Kirkwood, “that [permitting retail at Chappaqua Crossing] is loading the dice against the hamlets.”

“You’ll never get a better hamlet if you put another one in,” said Curley.  “We said this in the very first public meeting: if you’re worried about the hamlets, don’t put retail at CC.”

“I don’t know if you can plan to protect something,” said Brownell, “[such as] the future of the hamlet.  I think the stronger case is to protect the present hamlets.”

“I want to make sure we’re doing both,” said Kirkwood.  “The [AKRF] study speaks about existing.  It falls short of the mark in not talking about potential.  And the town is talking about revitalizing the hamlets right now.  To me, it’s almost like giving up on the hamlets.  It’s not so much protection as location, as consistent with our current TDP [Town Development Plan or Master Plan], in terms of where you locate things.”

“The Planning Board believes public need analysis is what we need,” said Brownell, revising draft of the Planning Board’s memo to the Town Board.

“A market analysis of the public need for these facilities,” confirmed Charney.

Planning Board members decided on the wording, “The statement of need for the proposed retail must be better supported by a market demand analysis for the target market area.”

“No personal services” at Chappaqua Crossing

The Planning Board wanted to see the “personal services”—a use that the draft zoning text does not allow in the Chappaqua Crossing retail zone—more clearly defined.

Whether store sizes and types should be dictated

“Just so the Town Board understands—and the applicant too—” said Curley, “even in the very beginning when we talked about whether there should be retail here at all there was the discussion on store sizes.  And now we’re talking about store types.  When it was just a discussion about store sizes—and retail is one of the most fragile tenancies there is they turn over all the time and get reinvented all the time.  They fail and change…. all the time—what is a small hardware today is going to be a small dress shop tomorrow.  That’s how places regenerate themselves and finally find their merchandising potential and strength.

“I believe it to be true from 40 years in this business that the more you try and restrict that natural sorting out of retail the more difficult you make it to be a vitally successful retail environment.  Nobody knows what happens to the future of these things. We could try to say what types we think should be there, and then five or ten years from now this place is dying because three people thought they knew what they were talking about.  Even I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to the future of these things.  Nobody does. 

“So with respect to four restaurants, two restaurants I think we’d be making a big mistake by deciding what’s good, what’s bad.  If the town is going to allow retail to go into [Chappaqua Crossing] they ought to get the infrastructure right, get the street right, get the stores aligned properly, get the environment, get the place right and then let the market sort out what goes in there to make it a vital place.  That’s my take on how many restaurants or how many nail salons.  That’s also my take on store size too: give it a chance to sort itself out instead of putting restrictions on it.  So with respect to the restaurants, and asking for an analysis of that, even if we got an answer, I’m not sure it’s an answer we’d want to implement.”

“And, relative to your point,” said Kirkwood, “is it even relevant in two years?”

Big stores, small stores debate

Various iterations of the proposal have described one restaurant, then three or four restaurants.  Parking needs might be very different “with the new uses being layered on,” said Crespi.  She asked whether the restaurants question should be included in the small store / big store research.  “Months and months into the process and we still don’t have an answer,” said Crespi, “And we asked this long ago.”

“It could have impacts that I could almost guarantee haven’t been studied,” said Kirkwood.  “It becomes like chasing a tail.” 

How to reconcile “Traditional Neighborhood Design” with bigger stores the Town Board may favor

“I have one more comment and it goes to the heart of ‘small stores versus big stores’ issue,” said Crespi, “and where the Town Board may come down on that.  And if the Town Board comes down on the side of larger store format, how do we reconcile that with our principles of Traditional Neighborhood Design?  And I don’t know which memo that should be reflected in, but that should be a discussion. Because there’s been a lot of work has gone into the TND layout [along a “main street], but we now have information from the applicant that that is no longer attractive to the type of retail this development was originally meant to attract, which was the larger scale retailer.”

Addressing Tung, Curley said, “Andy, maybe I’m wrong, but I thought the change in the zoning text to have no restriction on the number of smaller stores was actually in support of the Traditional Neighborhood Design concept and that you felt you could tenant the project on that basis.” 

Tung agreed.

“But at the same time,” said Crespi, “you have information from the Town Board indicating they’re not in favor of taking away the restriction on the number of small stores.”  [In a joint meeting on April 22 with the Town Board and Planning Board, Supervisor Greenstein called the removal of limits on number of small retail spaces a “non-starter.”  But in the zoning amendment considered at the public hearing last week, a revision was included that removes the restriction on the number of smaller stores allowed.]

“In support of TND principles,” Curley continued, “you have streets of a certain width, benches and flowers and all that, front doors on it and a bar of shops between 75 and 100 feet deep, and then you just let it go.  Let the developer, tenant and manager figure out where the dividing lines are and how many shops are in there and just let it happen. And that will change over time.  It just will.  And for us to predict that now how many shops and what types is just folly.”

Should there be retail at all?

“There are two threshold issues here,” said Kirkwood.  “Is there a need at all for retail and the other fundamental issue is OK, retail?  How much?  Andy explained in the last meeting the history—and how we got to 120,000 square feet.”

“But now we not only have 120,000 square feet,” Kirkwood continued, “but now we have a significant change in the configuration of that space.  We now have a free-standing grocery that was going to be in the old building.  And now, with Sheila’s question about Whole Foods being free-standing, was the other retail a real need? And the answer was ‘not necessarily a need but a market strategy.’  And it was represented to us that Whole Foods will not enter into a lease unless there’s some other retail.  They don’t want to be a stand-alone.  So whether that’s their particular strategy or whether that’s the in-between solution here for the town is something I think needs to be asked and explored.  And therefore is 120,000 the wrong number?  Should it be 90,000, should it be 80,000, should it be 70,000, what is the right number?” 

“Again, I agree with you, Tom,” said Kirkwood, “that whatever the space, is let the market figure out what those occupancies should be.  But I think it’s an important question for the Town to be asking, in terms of what is the right level of activity for this space? And that goes to how much retail is the right amount. And now that we have this changing configuration—now it’s a new building, not the old building.  That was the old deal, now it’s a new deal.  And what you guys have come up with [reconfigured from strip center to main street] is an improvement, but I’m not sure it’s really still the right number.” 

Getting the answers from community master planning

“And there are two ways to get at that answer,” said Curley. “One is the EIS which is the thing that takes the amount of development that’s being proposed and runs it through a process and tells you whether—with respect to environmental impacts—it’s too much or not.  And that’s actually a legitimate answer.  The other one is a more qualitative one, and that’s OK now what kind of place making do we want to have here here?  Fine.  The numbers are the numbers but what do we want it to feel like?  What do we really want it to be?  Rather than ‘How much can you build?’ and that is a soft answer that comes out of a public policy process of town master planning, community meetings, people sitting around a table saying ‘This is what I want it to be.’  And I’m in full support of that process.  Which gets us back to the original comment that we had, which is that we’re pushing this thing through—it’s not being done properly.  I don’t think you can get at an answer to your question—‘What’s the right number?’—through a technical process.  I think it’s more a matter of engaging the community and putting some images out there showing what it would be like if it was 100,000 square feet, what it’s like if it’s 60,000 square feet.  What if we just put a grocery store there and leave it alone, make the rest of it residential? I agree that that’s a critical part of the process we haven’t had.”

Curley read from the Planning Board’s draft “A viable community and real estate tax base.”  What’s “a viable community” mean here? 

“I don’t know,” said Charney.

“Because I happen to think we have a very viable community without this project,” said Curley.  “And ‘meet community needs’— the case has not be made for ‘community needs.’  If this is the justification for this zoning, then this has to be defined and it’s not.  It’s just fluff.”

True mixed use

“I believe it should be mixed use,” Curley continued.  “This is a wrong zoning to be stand-alone retail and ought to apply to the whole property not just this acreage.  Let’s take the whole Reader’s Digest property, make it a mixed use zone and then we can really plan something here.  And somewhere we ought to be talking about the community character of New Castle itself.  This is something we ought to be taking into consideration on applications like this.  There’s nothing about the overall character of the town, which is one of the big issues we should be addressing and be concerned about.”

“Even within the context of the existing uses,” said Crespi.  “We talked about it ages ago.  Even though we talked about non-residential uses in that neighborhood, but those are very different in character than retail.  Comparing [the addition of retail at Chappaqua Crossing] to the Kittle House or the school with its fixed periods of traffic—even in that context retail is not a consistent use in that area.”

PB reminds Summit Greenfield reps that PB attempts to improve the plan was not an endorsement of the plan or of retail

Addressing Tung, Curley said, “Andy, I think it’s really important to say once again—and I’ve said it in our working sessions with the applicant and I’ve said it in our public meetings here that in the process that we went through with the applicant at the encouragement of the Town Board to try and get a plan that we thought was better planning-wise—and for ease of terminology we called it TND [Traditional Neighborhood Design],—was a process that was done not because, for me personally, at any point in the process was the Planning Board suggesting, by going through that process, that we had any notions one way or the other of whether we were going to approve this project or how we would come out in the end on the project. 

“I think there has been a misunderstanding on the part of the community.  The reason we went through it was that should it come true that this project moves forward, that we have done the best we can to make it a better project from our perspective.  And I believe the applicant has represented to us that he thinks it’s a better project too.  However, we’re now at a point where the final plan has been done and I don’t think that this board ought to recommend that the latest preliminary development concept plan (PDCP) be approved by the Town Board. 

“It does not meet to the fullest extent—that I had understood we were agreeing to—the TND principles.  To me it looks essentially a lot more like the original plan than the TND we were looking for.  Specifically, the last plan I saw there were no doorways going onto the main street, which is a fundamental principle of the plan, and there was no access from those residential buildings onto the street. Now I understand there is the promise that that will be rectified—to the extent that you can.  We understand that the residential developer will have to deal with that. 

“It’s the other side of the street that has the large gym on it and one other building adjacent to it and the back of that building is facing our main street.  So now instead of having a two-sided main street with shops on both sides and cross-shopping and all those small-town wonderful things—we have a residential building facing the back of a very big retail building and on the next block you’ve got retail buildings [on the right, facing west], now facing the big parking lot of Whole Foods.  And so, as a consequence, we really don’t have the street that we were working for. 

“Now understanding that Whole Foods—the grocer tenant, any grocery might respond the same way—was going to have to have all that parking in front of its building one block [of the main street] was going to have to have parking across from the retail.  If we had said, ‘Sorry, that doesn’t work for us, you have to have shops there.’ I believe what would have happened is that the applicant would have said, ‘Well, we can’t do that.  Planning Board, we’re sorry.  Whole Foods—or the grocery store, not necessarily Whole Foods—is the prime tenant.  Without the prime tenant there’s no project, therefore we’re going to go through with the plan we proposed and by pass you guys and just deal with you guys in site plan approval process.’ So it was our determination that we’d go ahead and accept that one block (facing the grocery parking lot) otherwise we’d have no influence on the project.  Now I’ve come to realize that the first block also has a big problem.  We’re just looking [from the main street] at the back of a big store.  And that’s the way it was in the original plan also. So I cannot suggest that this board recommend this plan for approval by the Town Board.”

“I agree with what you say, except for your conclusion,” said Tung.  “We worked in good faith and with good success toward TND principles to integrate better the uses on this property. You described a mixed zone being applied to this property.  We proposed that ten years ago.  That’s not the way the zoning was set for the residential. We weren’t directed this way until seven-eighths of the way through this process.  I think the recognition of the main street is critical to this plan and the architecture is also critical to the main street and streetscape. 

“The main block of retail on the north side of the street opens directly onto the main street.  The residential buildings will have architecture that faces and respects that main street and may well have an entry on the street side, with pedestrian access in front, vehicular access behind. On the opposite side of the street the gym could certainly be designed with access from both front and back.  But it’s a hybrid plan.  We’re working with a framework which was there, of 700,000 square feet of office space set on one side of the site and we’re working with that as a base.  So we’re combining some elements. Not every element is perfect.  I too would have liked to see the residential more interspersed, but that was way back at the beginning. 

“So from my point of view the plan is not very different from the plan that we worked on last.  It’s not different from the plan that I gave to Sabrina [Charney] four months ago that she shared with the Planning Board.  The detail of how the architecture sits on the main street is certainly something we can take up at site plan approval time and see how we can make that work from both sides.  The gym is one building that has to work from both sides.  The primary visitors to the gym will enter from the back parking lot and will enter from that side.  So people could come into that from the front [main street] as well. 

“In any town that grows over time there are incremental changes—we’ve not had the opportunity as planners, generally, to plan entire villages.  We take components as the are and we plan whatever pieces we can work with.  Here we have some framework to work from and are trying to balance a number of different things, and a number of different zoning constraints that have historically been adapted to this site.  So to say now at the end of the process that you are not comfortable with a plan that you helped very much to craft, and which you will still have the opportunity to work in the details during the site plan approval from my view is not…”

“Well, let me tell you to start with that it’s not the plan I worked on,” said Curley, “if that building…  I had always understood—in conversations we had we always talked about main street and that doors have to be facing main street. And I was under the explicit understanding from your team that that was the case, and those were TND principles that you championed and we championed and now we have a big building which has its back to main street. So that’s not the plan that we talked about. 

“And not only does it have its back to the main street, but the streetscape itself is not part of the main street streetscape.  It wasn’t on the residential side either.  It was more like suburban landscape.  So we worked very well together but at the very end… How we got there, let’s figure out what to do from here.  What makes this difficult to achieve is the use of that building.  I don’t think you’re going to have a gym that has two doors.  They’re very careful about checking membership.  Their entrance is much more likely to have access in the back.” 

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have an attractive arcade between the two buildings as an access way,” said Tung.

“The consequence of that big footprint building,” said Curley, “is that it’s a gym and the entrance has to be from [the back] then perhaps we have the wrong use. Maybe it should be something else.  And I know that’s a problem because there’s probably a lot of support for that use.  Now, at a critical point, we were at a very critical point and the balance has tipped over to the other side.

“I go to a gym that has two entrances,” said Crespi. “With retail it might be harder to control two entrances, but a gym might be workable.”

“So maybe the way around this is I need to learn more about that particular use,” said Curley.  “Maybe we can work through these concerns in site plan review.  You’ve always been very straight with us.”

“That makes sense,” said Tung, “because by that time we’ll have a tenant we can consult.”

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean we think it’s a good idea to have retail up there,” said Curley, ”—you understand that?

“I think I’ve gotten that point,” said Tung.
_______________________________

Related:  Stores big or small—or none at all? Planning Board balks at retail zoning for Chappaqua Xing, advises the matter be run through a master planning process, NCNOW.org, 7/17/14.
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Copyright 2019 NewCastleNOW.org