SG releases results of its survey of how residents feel about Whole Foods and retail at CC ...

... Brodsky says surveyors seemed able to “tailor” responses
Friday, July 25, 2014
by Christine Yeres

An exchange between Town Board member Jason Chapin and attorney for Summit Greenfield John Marwell about their mutual frustration over the Chappaqua Crossing application led to a presentation of the results of a “community survey” undertaken by Summit Greenfield confirm for itself that it was “on the right track” in proposing the new “main street” configuration and smaller stores in its grocery-retail application.

“I think we’re waiting for another memo from the Planning Board,” said Chapin to an offer from Town Planner Sabrina Charney to go over the zoning amendments that were the subject of the public hearing. “So I’d prefer to hear from the Planning Board first, and do it all at once.  I think I and many others are still struggling with the numerous changes to this proposed plan.  I’d like to know more about the stores and the specifics of the stores that are being proposed so we can have a better sense of the impact on traffic and the neighborhood, and also the two hamlets.  And more specifics on the stores will give us a better idea of the potential tax implications.  I’m also interesting in hearing from the Planning Board, the Master Plan Steering Committee, and Pace [Land Use Law Center] on the Town Development Plan [a/k/a Master Plan] and the issues related to Chappaqua Crossing.  It seems each time we have a public hearing we’re going over information and some of it’s new—and it’s very frustrating. I feel we’re not moving forward, we’re moving sideways—so I think it’s very important that we talk about concrete details so we can make a decision on this.”

“We share your frustration,” said Marwell.  “Over the last several months we have sat listening respectfully to repeated comments and criticisms of the neighbors and adjacent property owners and we sensed a disconnect as we look at the blogs and commentary and what we hear in the community.  We don’t see the landslide of criticism that we sit here and endure [at public hearings].  We were puzzled by it.  As a result, we engaged a professional surveying firm to get a sense for what the silent majority or others in the community are feeling about it.  As you look in the blogs, there are those who seem to state that they support this project and don’t come out to the hearings because they’re intimidated because they get insulted and abused.  We wanted to try to get a sense of a cross-section of the community.  The professional surveying firm [we engaged] felt that in order to get a fair representation of the community they needed to interview 580 residents.”

“And I just want to make it clear to the public that this was not a survey authorized by the Town Board,” said TB member Lisa Katz. “This was a purely Summit Greenfield-sponsored survey.”  There had been some misunderstanding, she said, that it was a town survey.

“I heard [a surveyor] at Starbucks telling people they were doing this on behalf of the town,” said TB member Elise Mottel.

Marwell responded that the impression was immediately addressed and corrected.

“And I’m interested in hearing the results, but afterwards, I actually want to make a comment regarding the format of the questions and the way in which they were asked,” said TB member Adam Brodsky, “because I think it’s instructive as far as the results.

Marwell turned to Andy Tung, Summit Greenfield’s planning and engineering consultant, to explain.

“Summit Greenfield did engage a firm to take a survey within the community,” said Tung, “to obtain impressions from residents on the “revised Preliminary Development Concept Plan [PDCP] that incorporates ideas and concepts changed in working with town representatives to change the layout for both the retail and residential at Chappaqua Crossing, more specifically to incorporate various streetscape elements of Traditional Neighborhood Design [TND], and with the main entry drive [from Bedford Road to cupola] as the organizing element, the connector between retail, residential and office uses and to relate them better to one another.”

Now that larger stores are less attracted to the changed “main street” layout, Summit Greenfield may have to be able to lease to the smaller stores more typical of Traditional Neighborhood Design, hence Summit Greenfield’s proposed change to the draft zoning to remove the original limit of only four small stores.  Although one month ago Greenstein called the change to smaller stores “a non-starter,” the smaller-store language change did appear in the draft legislation that was a subject of the public hearing last Tuesday.

“Whole Foods as the anchor retail tenant and smaller stores were the assumptions in our latest application,” said Tung.  “We looked for third-party confirmation that those two ideas in the community were valid and appropriate, mainly for the purposes of Summit Greenfield, to confirm that Chappaqua Crossing was heading in the right direction.  We wanted the opinions and views of New Castle residents, to speak to them face-to-face rather than over the web or by phone, in a three-to-five-minute survey.  It took place over two and a half weeks, with the proper permits from town hall.”

The survey was carried out by five surveyors in the last month from Robin Liebowitz’s firm rkl3dat various locations at the downtown hamlet, the Chappaqua Farmers Market, the train station, and at Chappaqua Crossing itself.  Given New Castle’s population of 17,500—12,150 of them adults over the age of 18—the firm decided, Tung explained, that a statistically appropriate sample size would be 580.  Surveyors interviewed around 100 more than that, as they discovered that some interviewees were from out of town, mainly from Mt. Kisco.

Question: Have you heard that Whole Foods may be moving to Chappaqua Crossing?

84% of those surveyed had a general awareness of the proposal and “that Whole Foods may come to the Chappaqua Crossing retail area,” said Tung.

Question:  How do you feel about Whole Foods moving to Chappaqua Crossing?

67% of them said they were interested in seeing a Whole Foods at Chappaqua Crossing.

26% had concerns about retail and Whole Foods at Chappaqua Crossing.

Those who expressed concern were asked an open-ended question as to the source of their concern.  For 64% of them it was traffic, for 18% believed retail was not appropriate there, in proximity to the residential neighborhood or to the high school.

Question: “What other type of retailers would you like to see located alongside Whole Foods?”

74% said their preference was for smaller stores, 6% said medium or large, 20% had no preference.

Overall, this survey was done by Summit Greenfield, said Tung, “to demonstrate to itself that Chappaqua Crossing was basically on the right track with the supermarket and retail in the new [“main street”] configuration in the proposal of April 2014 [which also asked that the limit on the number of smaller stores be lifted entirely].”  He offered to send the PowerPoint presentation to the town to add to its documents on Chappaqua Crossing.

In the public comment that followed, New Castle resident Lynn Lambert said, “I was disturbed by the presentation of that flawed survey.  It was flawed at the get-go and entirely wrong to share it on any town vehicle. At least at the beginning who knows how many people were told who was sponsoring the survey?  I’m embarrassed as a town resident to have it presented [here, in the public hearing].  It’s a flawed survey.”

TB member Adam Brodsky agreed with Lambert that the survey was flawed, and expanded on his earlier comment that the survey questions he overheard had been “instructive.”

Brodsky had overheard the survey questions being administered.  “I was on the train platform,” he said, “and sat next to someone who was taking it.  I thought the questions and the way people were asking the questions—they were tailoring them in such a way as to kind of get the answers they wanted. So it goes into the mix and I understand and appreciate their effort, but I was just very taken aback by the process.  To say that I thought it was awkward is an understatement.”

Tung presented the following PowerPoint summary of its survey to Town Board members.  The survey, according to several residents who took it, consisted only of questions; there were no pictures or maps presented.

In a statement released the day of the public hearing from Geoff Thompson of Thompson & Bender, Felix Charney a principal of Summit Development and an owner of Chappaqua Crossing, said of the survey, “The results demonstrate that New Castle residents recognize and support having a first-class local supermarket and additional shopping and dining opportunities at Chappaqua Crossing. The need for a supermarket in Chappaqua is clear, and having Whole Foods Market at Chappaqua Crossing along with high-quality small retailers and restaurants in an attractive traditional neighborhood style development is an excellent adaptive reuse of a part of the former Readers Digest site.”

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Town of New Caslte Board Meeting 7/22/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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