Supervisor talks: Retail at Chappaqua Xing a given, spa developer to consider all-residential


Supervisor committed to shoring up Chappaqua hamlet by developing town hall property with residential, in swap for town hall at cupola building
March 21, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Last Tuesday morning, Supervisor Rob Greenstein spoke at the League of Women Voters’ annual “Conversation with the Supervisor.”  According to Supervisor Rob Greenstein, the previous Town Board “introduced retail to Chappaqua Crossing and entered into a settlement with Summit Greenfield that [the town] would essentially approve retail and would follow a very strict timeline in order to do that.  We came aboard and now that’s what we’re dealing with. Now we’re dealing with SEQR process that’s completed.  We’re dealing with a ‘Findings’ statement saying [retail at Chappaqua Crossing] not going to adversely affect our downtown hamlets and we’re dealing with ‘any negative impacts can be mitigated.’ ” A video of the session is embedded below.

“So we’ve been meeting with the developer and I have no problem sharing my vision as far as what I’d like to see at Chappaqua Crossing. What we’re trying to do at Chappaqua Crossing—with the knowledge that there’s a very, very good chance there may be retail there, is that we’re trying to make it so that it’s not ‘big box’ stores.  Because it’s certainly not going to be a strip mall, as was previously proposed.”

It was a strip mall after all, but not now

“Now that it’s not a strip mall anymore,” said Greenstein, “everyone previously involved in this process pretty much acknowledges that it was a strip mall before.  It was a traditional strip mall layout.  And that’s what it’s not going to be anymore. We’ve had Tom Curley [who is a Planning Board member and an architect] working with them to come up with a new preliminary concept plan.” 

Greenstein described the three separate compartments—office, residential and, then, retail use—that will, in Curley’s reworking, be more integrated into a “walkable community.”

The “high-end” grocery

“We’re still looking at 120,000 square feet of retail (total),” said Greenstein, “but if we can reduce some of that by, for example, a 30,000-square-foot gym, and hopefully a pool that the Greeley swim team can use…”

In the rework, the Wallace Auditorium is no longer slated for demolition but will remain.  Already, Greenstein said, someone has expressed interest in holding a summer repertory theatre there.

Master Plan will discuss “what type of retail residents might want” at Chappaqua Crossing

As far as the other retail at Chappaqua Crossing, “We’re trying to make it more like ‘healthy lifestyle’ type retail,” said Greenstein, “so that it’s consistent with a brand we might want to be known as.  These are things that will be discussed in the Master Plan—as far as the type of retail residents might like—the type of brand and vision we might have for commercial development in New Castle.  So that’s what we’re working on with the developer—some flexibility with the retail so that it works for the community and has a minimum impact on our downtown hamlet.  That’s the goal.”

“We’re not just going to ‘hope for the best’ for the downtown hamlets,” declared Greenstein. “We’re going to make sure that whatever happens at Chappaqua Crossing—something happens in Chappaqua and Millwood.  Many people feel downtown Chappaqua is already on life support. Another blow could be really bad.  These are things we’re working on.  We’ve floated the idea of having a trolley between Chappaqua Crossing and downtown Chappaqua.  There’s traffic improvements [also].”

Town Hall move to Chappaqua Crossing

“And we’ve also floated the idea of moving the town hall to the cupola building at Chappaqua Crossing,” said Greenstein. “Because granted, in a perfect world it’s nice to have the town hall in the downtown business area; however, it’s not a perfect world—because we have a downtown very limited by topography, with half of [South Greeley Avenue] used for municipal purposes—a seven-acre parking lot, town hall, library, Bell school. We have a very, very limited area to work with.  So by moving town hall to the cupola building we preserve the cupola building—the developer could knock it down.  And by the way, in the plan we’re working on they will be knocking down the 100 building and reducing the size of the 300 building [these are the buildings on either side of the cupola building]. By moving town hall to the cupola building not only do we preserve the cupola building—which is an historically beautiful building, and, in my opinion, would be a great representation for New Castle—but we get the space here [town hall property] where we could increase some residential which is something that our downtown lacks.”

More housing needed for young and old

“The fact is,” said Greenstein, “that our town suffers from what a lot of affluent communities suffer from.  There are two groups of people that can’t afford to live here or stay here.  One is young adults who might have grown up here and love it here but they can’t afford to live here.  They might be starting a family, but they can’t afford to live here.  And [the other is] empty nesters who raised their kids here but then the taxes prevent them from staying here.  By building apartments by the train station—which is also known as ‘transit-oriented development’—we can target those two groups that cannot afford to live here right now.  And that’s what communities all across the United States are doing right now, building transit-oriented developments.  We have this incredible train here that runs through our town, but we’re not taking advantage of it as far as people who can live in town, jump on the train, go into the City, and come back home without ever setting foot in a car.  That would add feet to our downtown and it would liven it up and we get to increase commercial tax base as well.  And we get to preserve the cupola building besides.”

Tennis bubble and sports complex not so sure

“That’s something we’re talking to [Summit Greenfield] about.  I have not been secret about anything I’ve been doing with the developer,” Greenstein assured the audience. “But we’re trying to figure out possible options.  We’re also talking to the developer about putting a tennis bubble and an indoor recreation space at Chappaqua Crossing.  Now that won’t count toward the 120,000 square feet of retail—although I’ve asked a million times—it’s not happening, but I’ll continue to ask.  That’s something we think many in the community would welcome.  Maybe not.  But we’ll find that out during the Master Plan process.  But a lot of people do go to Armonk Indoor and they seem to like it—we go there all the time with my kids and I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to go to Chappaqua Crossing instead, for my daughter’s Lacrosse and soccer practices.  And the developer would welcome it too, because instead of sitting in a bubble for an hour while you’re kid is practicing you could go to the high-end supermarket.” 

The dispute with Conifer

The special permit approved by the previous Town Board, Greenstein explained, was conditioned on certain variances—several connected to fire safety—from established Code.  New York State has not yet decided whether to grant the variances.  April 8 is the next hearing date.  Based on the unresolved variances, Greenstein said, the County withheld funding approval.

No one, to date, said Greenstein, has objected to the 20 affordable units approved in the Chappaqua Crossing residential project of 111 residential units.  “I tried to stop the number of market-rate units,” said Greenstein, “but not the affordable housing units.  So when we got only the 111 units approved and the 20 affordable, it was a win for everybody.  Although maybe Summit Greenfield didn’t agree with that.  In fact, they didn’t—because they sued us.  But we did get the affordable units our town wanted and there was not a peep of opposition to those affordable units.  And while Conifer can attempt to rewrite history, that history stands for itself.”

Why not a moratorium until the Master Plan is reviewed?

“There are many people calling for a moratorium who think that because we’re updating the Master Plan we should halt all development,” said Greenstein.  “That’s easier said than done.  But just because there’s community opposition to a project is not reason to issue a moratorium—and it would apply to all the projects, and we can’t really include Chappaqua Crossing; we would end up back in court with them.  We’re better off working with the developer to make the project so it works with the community—and I’m talking about [Summit Greenfield].  And he’s 100% willing to work with the community.”

Previous Town Board wasn’t proactive enough

The previous Town Board, said Greenstein, believed its job was “to review the application to decide based on the merits of the application.  But I don’t believe that, personally.  I believe you can talk to the developer and try to work with the application so that it’s better for the community and better for the developer. The developer just wants their approval.  And a developer needs to make money on a project—at least they want to make money on a project.  So I think our job is to try to make it so that the developer wins and the community wins.”

“To issue a moratorium,” Greenstein continued, “is inconsistent with that.  It’s also not consistent with our message that ‘New Castle is open for business.’  Because we have a commercial tax base that’s too low.  We need to get that up.  That’s why I was opposed to the residential at Chappaqua Crossing.  [Barbara Gerrard helped preserve our commercial tax base] by approving [only] 111 residential units at Chappaqua Crossing.” 

“Now that doesn’t mean we can increase our commercial tax base at the expense of our residents,” said Greenstein. “And I’ve reached out to the developer of the spa and I’ve set up a meeting with the developer and many opponents of the project and they’re going to be meeting.  The developer [proposing the spa] has told us to hold off on the SEQR review.  He’s open to changing his proposal because we reached out to him.  We’re not just going to look at the application before us.  We’re going to try to make the applications better—better for the community and the developer.  I’m trying to make everything into a win-win.

Development in Millwood

Christine Wolf asked about plans for development of Millwood.

Greenstein identified the current fire house No. 1 as “a nice parcel that can be developed.  I know there are people who would like to see sewers in downtown Millwood.  I’d like to see someone interested in building housing on [the old fire house site] there with 10% or 20% of the units affordable.”  That, he said, would likely bring sewers to downtown Millwood.

Greenstein said that two years ago when he ran for office, he was reluctant to add downtown sewers for Millwood to the existing project of a sewer line for Random Farms, Yeshiva and Riverwoods.  But sewers are the key to development of downtown Millwood, he acknowledged.

Joan Lang

“I can’t walk ten miles to park,” said Joan Lang.  “I want to be able to go to New York.  I want to be able to park my car.” Right now there’s inadequate parking at the train station for handicapped and for seniors, she said.  Lang asked how a restaurant establishment could operate from the train station and also have adequate parking. “You have a problem with parking,” said Lang. “I also think the town should have a multi-level parking garage.”

“If I wanted to go to a restaurant there,” said Lang, “I wouldn’t be able to park there, either, at noontime.”

John Diaconis

“How much would it cost to move Town Hall to Chappaqua Crossing and where would you get the money?” asked Diaconis.

Greenstein responded that there were two costs to be considered:  the cost of the building and the cost of the “build out” [retrofitting the existing cupola building].

“When I first started the process with Summit Greenfield,” said Greenstein, “I said ‘Let’s do a swap—we’ll do Town Hall there [at Chappaqua Crossing] and you develop the town hall land down here.’  They weren’t interested at the time.  They didn’t trust me then.  I was an opponent, a thorn in their side.  And they didn’t want to delay their pending application by making it more complicated.” 

“If we are talking about moving Town Hall to the cupola building,” Greenstein explained further, “we’re pretty much talking about moving into the first and second floors of the cupola building.  They would be able to keep the third and fourth floors.  We’re also talking about putting affordable housing on the third and fourth floors.”  If Summit Greenfield can move the 20 affordables to the cupola building, said Greenstein, “that would be a win for them” because they could then make all 111 units market rate.  “Now they’re interested again in the swap.  I speak to Felix [Charney] a couple of times a week.  We have a great relationship.  We got rid of the attorneys and we talk person-to-person.  We curse and we have a real good relationship.”

“The goal,” said Greenstein, “is that [Summit Greenfield] would pay for the build out, we would get the first and second floors for Town Hall and a police station, affordables on the third and fourth floors, and they would develop this location here [town hall property on South Greeley Avenue].

All affordable in the downtown?

“If the Chappaqua Crossing people take over town hall for development there how large are you making it?,” asked a resident of Smith Street. “And would they try to take all their affordable housing and put it all down here?”

“The goal,” said Greenstein, “is not to move all the affordable down here.”  However, he said, the town’s current affordable housing ordinance is flawed.  He described the Ritterman dilemma.  Ritterman, a property owner who wanted to build a number of mini-mansions [on Lawrence Farms Crossways] and would have been obliged by the town’s ordinance to make—in a subdivision of eight or more residences—one of them look like all the other mini-mansions, but be affordable housing.  “In some communities maybe that makes sense, but not in a community where you’re building mini-mansions,” said Greenstein. “So what other communities have done is they have an option where you can build [the affordable housing] somewhere else or give money to an affordable housing organization and they would do it for you.”  Our Town Board said he couldn’t do that, said Greenstein.

Swapping town hall for cupola building

The cupola building is in beautiful condition, said Greenstein.  “They have these cubicles.  They’re beautiful.  There must be 100 of them, with closets and drawers.  The place is beautiful.  The jail would have to be a refit, and it would have to be made ADA-compliant [Americans with Disabilities Act].  But all we have to do is build a courtroom.” 

High-end grocery’s interest

“And the high-end grocery is interested not because of density—the density is not there,” said Greenstein.  “The reason is they want to have gardens there, to grow some of the food on the property.  That’s something people will decide in the Master Plan process.”

“Plan first, then develop”?

Sharon Greene asked whether Greenstein could think of any precedent in any town where a developer’s application has been allowed to proceed simultaneously with a Master Plan process. 

“Steve [Oder, would-be developer of the Legionaries property] is proceeding at his own risk,” said Greenstein. “He is well aware that this contradicts the Master Plan.  That’s part of the reason he’s willing to meet with the opponents of the project.  He’s halting his project, meeting with opponents—and I’ve offered to meet too—and there are some suggestions out there.  He has a residential option.”

“That’s not within the current [two-acre residential] zoning,” supplied Greene.

“The current Master Plan is being updated.  He knows that,” said Greenstein, “and that anything he does has to be consistent with the updated Master Plan.  Not everybody is going to be happy.  You will definitely be impacted by any development [considering the location of your property].  The developer is not going to make everybody happy.”

County and State roads in dismal condition

“No question the roads are in bad shape,” said Greenstein.  “No question that the DPW budget has been cut over the years.  I’m not criticizing them, but we have this tax cap.  All these local municipalities—there was a recession.  Now tax revenues are coming in and we have this cap.  Local municipalities are up in arms all over the state.  And because capital expenditures count against the cap, they’re discouraging us from making capital improvements.  It’s going to be an issue in the upcoming gubernatorial race, because you have Astorino, who’s served at the local level.”

The town, said Greenstein, has one asphalt “hot box” that can heat asphalt to be used in repairs even thought the State’s asphalt plants don’t officially open until April 15 [road repairers use “cold pack” materials in winter, that easily erode].  Greenstein asked DPW whether “if we have two ‘hot boxes’ we can fix twice as many holes—and the answer is ‘Yes.’”

“The roads are a quality-of-life issue,” said Greenstein.  “We all pay a lot of taxes.  The roads are something you see.  We deserve to have roads that are paved and plowed.  I’d like to restore some DPW cuts and make cuts elsewhere.  Or increase commercial tax revenues.”

Why allow commercial rezoning of residential areas?

“Why allow a contract vendee [Steve Oder, of Soder Realty, applicant for the Spa at New Castle on the Legionaries property] to rezone and entire residential area?” Frannie Faust asked.

“Conifer doesn’t own [the Hunts Place property] yet either,” said Greenstein.  Some argue that Summit Greenfield should have done the same thing.  That’s what developers do. Some of the people who live around [the Legionaries] property are upset because Oder removed some trees.  But most of those fell during Sandy.  And the owners of the Legionaries are allowed to have the potential buyer remove trees.”

“It certainly would have eased your tension,” Greenstein said to Faust, “if we’d said ‘Nope’ to the applicant.  But that’s not the message we want to send.  Even if he goes through this whole SEQR process, he’s taking a risk.  That’s why I’ve said ‘Why not consider a residential project?’  And that’s what he’s going to do.”

Sidewalk on 117 / Bedford Road?

What ever happened to the 117 sidewalk project? asked Marie Kish.  “It hasn’t been built—and walking is good for us.”

“The Town Board did want to do that,” said Greenstein.  “We have grant money [$500,000, which the town has to match in order to spend], but it won’t cover the whole cost.  We would need 26 easements, a lot of cooperation and a ton of legal fees.  When the town applied for the grant, they thought it would cover the cost [which has now been estimated at two to three million dollars].  There’s a project in Millwood [sidewalk segment between the A&P entrance on Rt. 133 around the corner to the A&P entrance on Rt. 100] we’re asking to use the grant money for that project instead.”

“And we’re talking about a path from Chappaqua Crossing to downtown Chappaqua [running behind the high school, parallel to the railroad track],” said Greenstein.  “That would be great.  And a trolley from Chappaqua Crossing into town.  They’re not going to do a MetroNorth station at Chappaqua Crossing—[Summit Greenfield] would have loved to have a stop there.  [Summit Greenfield] tried.”

What power does the town have over houses in fall-apart condition?

Calling it a “quality of life” issue, Sandra Flank asked what the town is able to do about abandoned houses where taxes may be being paid, but no one lives there and they’re falling apart. 

Town Administrator Jill Shapiro responded for Greenstein, “unfortunately, nothing.” 

“Unfortunately,” explained Shapiro, “if the taxes are paid, the only way the town would be in a position to assume title and control of the property would be in an in rem proceeding, and that would imply that the taxes had been delinquent, putting us in a position to move against the property.  But if the taxes are up-to-date, the town is really powerless.”

Is the Supervisor committed to the town hall and cupola swap?

“This idea of exchanging the current Town Hall for the cupola building at Chappaqua Crossing,” asked Carol Hurford, ”—has anyone done an evaluation of the town hall property?  Are we exchanging all of that for two floors of the cupola building?  Would we own the two floors or just use them?  Who initiated the idea of the exchange?

Greenstein said he definitely initiated the idea with Summit Greenfield.

“The town would own the two floors—or the entire building.  We’re having appraisals done.  The build out [retrofitting] cost could be in the millions.  By the way, to expand the current town hall would have cost $15 million. [In 2008 the Town Board considered plans to double the floor space of the current 20,000 square foot town hall to around 40,000 square feet; the cost was estimated at around $15 million.  See Town board reviews plan to expand police facilities, NCNOW.org, 10/3/08.]

“We hired a surveyor to give us the exact dimensions,” said Greenstein.  “It’s between two and three acres.  The cupola building’s first two floors are between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet.”

“In your own mind,” asked Hurford, “are you committed to the exchange?”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Greenstein.  “And, by the way, most people I speak to think it’s a good idea too.  But the community will definitely be weighing in on this.  Like I said, the reason I like the idea is that we’re not going to do something at Chappaqua Crossing and just hope for the best for the downtown.  I’m not doing this for the benefit of Chappaqua Crossing.  My reason for approaching them is because it’s going to help us.  We should have a transit-oriented development down by the train station and this is an opportunity to do it. And to provide housing for young people and seniors.”

Why buy the cupola building?  Hasn’t it been impossible for Summit Greenfield to lease?

“Isn’t it true that Summit Greenfield has been unable to rent the cupola building because it doesn’t conform to any commercial use?” asked Betty Weitz. “And isn’t the property around town hall prime property?  And by moving Town Hall to Chappaqua Crossing aren’t you creating a third hamlet there?  What has changed since you said that third hamlets are not good for small towns?”

“The actual property is around seven acres,” said Greenstein, “but we’re subdividing it.  The property we’re talking about is the town hall location and the small parking lot behind it.  But we’re not talking about the whole seven acres.  We’re talking about the town hall location, period.” 

“I was led to believe that the building is outdated and unrentable,” said Greenstein.  “But if you take a walk through it you’ll find it’s in great shape.  It’s a lot different than what I heard.  In fact, when they did an estimate for an overhaul, they came back with what we considered the Taj Mahal.  We said we don’t need a Taj Mahal.  The place is fine the way it is.  It’s beautiful.  Maybe [Summit Greenfield] just hasn’t made the effort to rent it.  Maybe they wanted to put pressure on us to rezone for them and they wanted to keep their commercial tax revenues down so they can keep their tax liability down, which puts pressure on the town.  I don’t know.  We have a really good working relationship with them now so I don’t want to make any accusations.  However, what’s changed is that I inherited an application where the SEQR process was done, the Findings had been issued that said it won’t hurt the downtown and adverse impacts can be mitigated.”

“The previous Town Board all but approved retail rezoning,” Greenstein continued.  “Now I could tell [Summit Greenfield] to jump in the lake and we’ll all end up back in court.  Or I can try to work with the developer to scale it down and make it a win for the community.  This is the hand that was dealt me.  I’m trying to work to make it the best I can with what was handed to me.  That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Now with the spa,” Greenstein continued, “I have a little more leeway. Because it’s the beginning of that application.  And that application might 100% change.  But with Chappaqua Crossing I don’t have that luxury.  I’m working with what was handed to me.  That’s it.”

“Do you think it’s a good real estate deal for the town?” asked Weitz.

“Nothing is going to be done based on what I think,” said Greenstein. “It’s going to be done based on real estate appraisals and what the experts say.  We’re putting together a Business Development Committee and these people are experts in their field.  We have some great talent in our town, like the guy who developed Target and the A&P in Mt. Kisco.  That’s not saying we’re going to do [make the move of town hall to Chappaqua Crossing], but we’re certainly not going to enter into a bad deal for our town.  That I can guarantee you.  And we’re certainly not going to do it based on what I think, but on what the experts think.  And then the town will make an informed decision.”

Revaluation and consolidation of county services

“What are your certioriari costs and the costs involved in taxpayers asking for their taxes to be lowered?” asked a resident.

At first, said Greenstein, if only for West End taxpayers “who get hit with the equalization rate” he thought revaluation was a good idea.  But after looking at the numbers, the cost is not worth it, he said.  New Castle’s “coefficient of dispersion” is very tight, that is, so many residents have grieved their taxes that many assessments have been adjusted already. 

“Do you have a number?” the resident asked.  Greenstein did not provide numbers.

“I think the town’s policy in the past was to vigorously fight all the tax certioraris,” said Greenstein.  “There was a recent certiorari case” brought by John Demeo of the Millwood Mart [the new Shell station at Rt. 100] and the town spent “exorbitant amounts of money” fighting it, then settled for exactly what Demeo had asked for.  “There will most likely be a change in policy over how we handle these cases,” said Greenstein.  “Our first goal will be to try to settle them.  And I think that will be a change in policy from the past.”

“As far as consolidation of services,” said Greenstein, “we’re already working with the school board and other towns to do that.  Whether the governor ties it to the cap freeze or not, we’re going to do it anyway because of budgetary pressures.”

Can the town hall property bear the suggested development?

“Have you done an environmental impact study to see if you can do any of these things you’re suggesting in the downtown?” asked Joan Lang.  “Can you build some of these things you’re proposing?”

“The only thing we’re proposing to build would be a residential complex on the town hall location,” said Greenstein.

“Does the town need that more than parking?  And as I understood, it wasn’t possible physically build something like that down there,” said Lang.

“We’re doing a feasibility study now,” said Greenstein.  “And, by the way, we’re going to be talking with developers about parking.” 

“Currently people are parking in merchant parking spaces, at Rite Aid, behind the bank.  We need parking,” said Lang.

“I’m trying to get developers to come in here to show what a parking structure could bring to our town,” said Greenstein.  “We have this limited street down here, Greeley Avenue, and we really don’t have the luxury of having a seven-acre parking lot, a rec field—and I’m not planning on moving the rec field, although you could argue it’s not a very efficient use of space—a town hall, the Bell school taking up half our downtown.  We do have that now, but then when people complain that we don’t have a lot of services in our downtown, that it lacks vitality—something has to give.  The seven acres is something that absolutely should be looked at.  A parking structure could be something beautiful and quaint.  That’s not going to happen overnight.” 

“The solution to our downtown problem,” Greenstein declared, “is having people live downtown.  And we have this train here.  That’s the crown jewel—the fact that we have this train.  This is about making more efficient use of the parking lot.  We have seven acres to work with.” 

Via Vanti and the train station lease

Adam Brodsky and Via Vanti’s Carla Gambescia seemed both to not know that the bathroom availability was mandatory to any contract, Scott Mason observed. If this was so important, he asked, why did Brodsky negotiate the point, then declare it a deal-breaker and then “throw the lease open to a competitive process”?

Both the RFP and the lease, said Greenstein, made clear that having the bathrooms open to the public whenever the restaurant is open was mandatory.  “Nothing was approved,” said Greenstein. “There was a lease and a breakdown in negotiations on the lease, so we decided to open up the process to other people.  Now [Carla Gambescia] is agreeing to it, but it was too late.  And she’s still actually hedging on the bathroom terms.”

“That’s not the case,” said Mason. 

“Everything I’m saying is documented in emails from Carla,” said Greenstein.  “And we have four applicants interested now.  We’re going to have a restaurant in that train station, and it may be Carla’s, but to try to mischaracterize the situation…”

Tax exempt status of Legionaries property

“My understanding is that religious properties are only exempt when they’re in use for religious activities,” said Sharon Greene.  “The Legionaries property has not been used for religious purposes for close to a decade probably. They’re currently in contract with someone.  It’s my understanding that the religious exemption should disappear.  We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Why has nothing been done about this?  Is anything being done about it, to get this property back on the tax rolls?”

“This was brought to our attention recently,” said Greenstein. “There’s a process we have to take to get a piece of property back on the tax rolls.  That process has not been followed until very recently.  Somebody [Christine Yeres] has recently submitted a [request] to have the property’s exemption be reevaluated based on the current circumstances and our tax assessor is doing that now. There’s a process and it’s been initiated.”

“Is this negligence on the part of the town?” asked Greene.

“It would be negligence on the part of the person who didn’t initiate the process in the first place,” said Greenstein.  “The tax assessor cannot initiate the process.  It has to be initiated by someone.” 

“But this has been brought to various the town boards’ attention over the years,” said Greene.

“There’s a application and forms that have to be filled out and they are finally being filled out,” said Greenstein.  “You should just be happy that that process is finally [going forward]—after years of failing to file the right process.”

“So in the interest of public information,” said Greene, “when a citizen brings information before the town board, the town board should inform the citizen that it’s the citizen’s responsibility to initiate the proceeding.”

“In the interest of full disclosure, it’s also not proper when you have a supervisor who goes up to the tax assessor and says, ‘I want you to change the tax exemption on this property’—which is apparently what happened last year,” said Greenstein. “That’s not the process.  The process is that there’s a form that needs to be completed and then the tax assessor undertakes an investigation to determine if there’s been a change in use.  That has finally happened.  But it doesn’t happen by a supervisor going up to a tax assessor and saying the status should be changed.”

“Has there been something filed yet?” asked Christine Yeres. “Has Phil Platz proceeded with it?  Should I come and fill out something?”

Jill Shapiro spoke in response, but without a microphone, and Greenstein repeated what she said:

“Every year there is a form filed.  And every year the form has to say that the property is continuing to be used for the tax exempt status.  There was a request made [by NewCastleNOW.org] basically saying that the property was not being used for the tax exempt status and to investigate it so that going forward it may not be granted the tax exempt status.  And that’s where we are right now.  That’s the process. 

Again he repeated, on behalf of Shapiro:

“There’s a much greater burden of proof to pull somebody’s existing status than to renew it.  It’s going to be looked at when [the Legionaries property] renewal form is reviewed.”

“I understand,” said Greenstein to Greene, “why you want this.  Your sympathy for the tax rolls is important.  Obviously it would be good for you to be able to take away the argument from the developer that he’s going to put this property back on the tax rolls.  So if you were able to put the property back on the tax rolls you’d be able to take that argument away from him.  So I understand and I think that’s a good approach that you should try to follow.  If the property deserves to be on the tax rolls it should be on the tax rolls.  But you’ve got to follow the right procedure.”

Can there be a MetroNorth station at Chappaqua Crossing?

“Has anyone asked about moving the commuter lot up to the Chappaqua Crossing area,” asked Chuck Napoli, “where there’s an awful lot of room for parking and more parking? Ask MTA that.  Another 2,000 car parking lot there would free the 2,000 parking lot downtown.”

“You’re trying to come up with uses,” said Greenstein.  “But we have a developer who’s been at this for eight years.  He did a SEQR process they [the Town Board] came back already [with “Findings”] and said it’s not going to have any negative impacts on the downtown and any negative impacts can be mitigated.” So he pretty much did his SEQR for his retail rezoning.  He also did a SEQR for his residential rezoning.  The property has been SEQR’d to death.  So you have a developer who is very close to getting his rezoning with the previous Town Board and is very close to getting it with us.  Now you’re basically asking him to call up MTA which he basically did already years ago—and you’re asking him to say ‘Let’s create a new stop on the commuter train and make a parking lot…’  and all this retail and residential we’re on the brink of getting, we’re just going to throw this out the window.  They’ve been at this for eight years.  They’ve spent $12 million.”

“It would free up something for the hamlet,” said Napoli.

“We’re trying to come up with options with the developer,” said Greenstein, “to come up with possible solutions that are realistic, that are doable.  Now we may not decide to do them, but we’re at least going to come up with possible, plausible options.  I’ve talked to him about having a North Chappaqua and a South Chappaqua parking.  They tried that already.” 

Can the downtown shops be made to look better?

“I frequently shop in town,” said Ellis Lesser.  “What’s being done about landlords who don’t keep the faces of their buildings up?  Like the planters in front of Hall of Scoops.” 

“Part of our business development committee,” Greenstein explained, “is going to be figuring out tax incentives for owners to keep up their buildings.  And the beautification committee will be involved too. we’re going to try to do planters with plaques.  And we’re going to do streetscape improvements soon.  A lot of cosmetic improvements.  But we have structural issues we have to deal with too.”

“What happens to landlords who let their buildings go?” asked Lesser.  “Does the town call them, send them letters?”

“You mean that they look old and tired?” asked Greenstein.

“Like outside Hall of Scoops,” said Lesser, “the planters are falling down.”

“That’s enforcement,” said Greenstein, “and we can definitely step up enforcement.  No question we have to make improvements in the downtown.  Appearance improvements, structural improvements.  Ideas like swapping town hall for the cupola building or like building a parking structure. Everything in the downtown needs to be considered.”

“If you ask the landlords…” began Lesser.

“It’s not a question of asking.  They’re fined if their building is in a state of disrepair. They can get fined. We actually issued a lot of fines this winter where they weren’t clearing the sidewalks of snow and ice.”

“But the reality it, it’s a fine line,” said Greenstein.  “We’re trying to be business-friendly too.  I’m not saying we’re not into enforcement. This issue hasn’t even come up yet. You want the town to be kept nice, but you also don’t want it to be like a police state. Incidentally, we’re also experimenting with parking—changing two-hour to three-hours. We’re going to figure out what works, what doesn’t. So if you come up with improvements to buildings, hopefully landlords will have incentives to do it on their own.”

LWV Conversation with New Castle Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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