April 8, 2014
by Christine Yeres
Editor’s Note: In an interview yesterday, Supervisor Rob Greenstein, now in office for three months, gave an update of his accomplishments in these first 100 days. The following article treats only the subjects of the search for a “win-win” at Chappaqua Crossing and the Spa @ New Castle, now renamed “Homes @ New Castle,” due, according to Greenstein, to his efforts to bring neighbors and developer toward something both can support.
On Friday, the town’s website showed the revised Preliminary Development Concept Plan that Summit Greenfield had submitted, which is expected to very closely resemble the plans Tom Curley has been describing to his Planning Board colleagues over the last three months, more of a “new neighborhood” than a “shopping center.”
Greenstein: Summit Greenfield has submitted a revised Preliminary Development Concept Plan for Chappaqua Crossing
NCNOW: Yes, it appeared on the town website on Friday. Tom Curley [PB member] last showed the plan in a Planning Board meeting. Are there any surprises in the new submission?
Greenstein: I haven’t looked at it yet. There was talk of a greenhouse. There may be space for a greenhouse and a community garden.
NCNOW: You said at the League of Women Voters “Conversation with the Supervisor” that the Chappaqua Crossing site doesn’t have the population density surrounding it that a high-end grocery usually wants, but that the grocery’s interest is more in the “community garden” possibility —
“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.”
NCNOW: Is this true?
Greenstein: Right. It still doesn’t have the density they want, but it will allow them to do some of the sustainability initiatives they want. Over past couple of days they’ve been working on that community garden idea.
Editor’s Note: In the TB Work Session of April 1, 2014, Greenstein told Town Board members, ““He’d [Summit Greenfield’s Felix Charney] be willing to give us the land” for tennis bubble, but not have it count as part of the 120,000 square feet. The rent’s too low for his economics,” and that there might be “some fields at Chappaqua Crossing for the town.” Asked by email about the tennis bubble and field space, Greenstein responded, by email, “No tennis bubble @ Chappaqua Crossing & no fields. We are not adding anything to CC besides the retail which is replacing office space at a 1:1 ratio.”
NCNOW: What about the tennis bubble?
Greenstein: While a tennis bubble would be great, having an indoor facility like Armonk indoor would be great for the town of New Castle. However, we’re reluctant to add things to Chappaqua Crossing, as traffic remains a concern.
NCNOW: Tom Curley has said that Summit Greenfield may be willing to decommission office space—besides the entire 100 Building and a part of the 300 Building on either side of the cupola building that’s been proposed. Isn’t that balance of more or less traffic versus more or less office and retail space still being worked out?
Greenstein: There are people who say our hands aren’t tied, but the prior Town Board did issue “Findings”—including traffic. My goal right now is to try to do everything in our power to mitigate the traffic. That means if we can try to make as much office space go dark as possible that would be good. We’re certainly looking at improvments for the Greeley traffic in and out of Roaring Brook Road.
So back to the tennis bubble. We’re exploring if the opportunity arises to put a bubble someplace else, say in downtown Chappaqua, we would welcome the opportunity. So we’re exploring other options. And while Chuck Napoli’s plan is certainly controversial and has many moving parts, many people find the idea of a turf field at Bell surrounded by lights that could be bubbled in winter very appealing. It would certainly help to bring more vitality to downtown Chappaqua.
NCNOW: Back to Chappaqua Crossing. Why the fixation on 120,000 square feet of retail?
Greenstein: I’ve asked our attorneys a number of times if can we approve less than less than 120,000, but the “Findings” and the Settlement specifically mention 120,000 square feet. By the time the Town Board did the Findings for the 111 residential units they approved at Chappaqua Crossing, they knew—and said in the Findings—they were going to approve the 111.
When the previous Town Board issued this [“Findings”] they were heading for approval of 120,000 square feet. Part of the reason I’m talking to Summit Greenfield— and when people say I’m “negotiating” with SG—I’m not. But the decision of whether to approve retail or not at CC is not going to be based on public opinion. We have zero basis to deny retail without being sued and being in a very poor legal position. If you think we can deny retail and win— I’d rather not fight if we think we’re going to lose.
We’ve had the “Findings,” the Settlement, the SEQR process. If we deny it now we’re in a bad legal position. Maybe we can approve less than 120,000 square feet—but just like John Nolon [Professor John Nolon of Pace Land Use Law Center, a consultant in the Master Plan community outreach] said: this is a decision the Town Board needs to make…. not based on opinion or a poll about whether we should disregard the findings statement or settlement. We have to make this based on our legal position and our attorney’s advice.
It’s not a decision that can be made based on public opinion. The type of retail can be made based on public opinion. This is a decision that has to be made. We can’t go into court and spend millions of dollars in litigation. Maybe a year ago we could have done this, before Findings, before SEQR finished.
And that doesn’t mean I’m running my own MP process [Greenstein was referring to a piece in NCNOW, “Op-Ed: Pace runs one Master Plan process while Greenstein runs another, 4/4/2014.] It means this is a decision the Town Board has to make. And it won’t be made two years from now. It’s not going to be made based on the public outreach process. The public outreach can be a discussion of the type of retail, whether to do a transit-oriented development, move town hall to the cupola building, and whether we want an indoor [bubbled] turf field at Bell. But the public outeach process is not made for whether we can deny retail at Chappaqua Crossing.
And it’s my fault for not being clear. As far as people saying I’m “negotiating” ... Look, if we ask the public “Would you be in favor of moving town hall to the cupola building?” Why ask the question if its not a real option? What I’m doing is finding out what the real options are. That’s not “negotiating.” We have a real person who owns this [Chappaqua Crossing] property. I’m not going to ask that question until I find out what’s possible.
NCNOW: “Move town hall” how? Buy or lease the cupola building? Swap cupola for town hall property?
Greenstein: There are different options. Swapping is the least preferable. The best option would be that we would have an RFP for downtown Chappaqua for a transit-oriented development and have lots of developers come in with lots of creative proposals. That process would give us a true sense of what the property would be valued at.
If we move town hall to the cupola and did a transit-oriented development at train station, most likely the town hall property would turn into parking lot, used for non-resident parking and people shopping. Then residential would go behind Dunkin Donuts and and the Shell station [these are on South Greeley, on either side of “Woodburn Avenue,” the main entry road to the train station]. That would also create, from Woodburn to Lower King Street, a perfect pedestrian walkway. And then a parking garage all the way back at the town hall property.
If the first stage was to create parking at town hall, that would enable us to put commuter parking there while we free up 300-400 spots. But first you create the 400 spots behind town hall. [In the above two paragraphs, Greenstein is describing a concept he also described to Town Board members at their April 1 Work Session at the 1-hour and 1-minute mark. See below for video of that meeting.]
So when I’m talking to Summit Greenfield, I’m not “negotiating” with them. If we’re going to ask residents “Do you want to move town hall to the cupola?” we have to make sure that’s possible.
How to pay for the cupola building? First get the RFPs for transit-oriented development; see proposals for developers, that’s the best way to see what the value is of that property. Then we would say to Summit Greenfield “You can develop X amount of the cupola. We know you have no tenants in there.”
We would appraise the cupola building. Say it’s worth X million dollars. We can then go back and say “We will allow you to develop X million dollars of value in downtown Chappaqua”—or pay outright from development in downtown. “Look, your building is worth X amount. We’ll swap or pay outright. Or lease with an option to buy.”
If we do this thing with transit-oriented development in downtown Chappaqua maybe we decide we still want town hall down there [in downtown Chappaqua].
This is Master Plan material—so that residents can decide whether it’s something they’re interested in.
I’m trying to continue with Summit Greenfield to try to get them to look at downtown Chappaqua as another opportunity to develop. The best approach—it’s no secret, by the way, that Summit Greenfield is not going to be building the residential at Chappaqua Crossing [the approved 111 units, 60 fee simple townhouses; 51 condos, 20 of them affordable]—they will have someone else do it. But what I’ve tried to do with them is to encourage them that if we ever issue an RFP for transit-oriented development in downtown Chappaqua—subject to the Master Plan process—that if we ever issue an RFP for transit-oriented development I would love to see [Summit Greenfield’s] residential developer submit a proposal. Because that would be a great way for both of us to have economies of scale. So at Chappaqua Crossing and in downtown Chappaqua. It would be at a better price for everybody—and maybe if we were going to build some additional retail down here [downtown], maybe there could be less up there [Chappaqua Crossing].
So if I’m trying to get 90,000 square feet [of retail at Chappaqua Crossing, down from 120,000] and build 30,000 in downtown chappaqua…. But I don’t want to talk about pretend stuff. I want to talk about real options.
NCNOW: The plans you mentioned at the LWV conversation at the library for a “Taj Mahal” town hall at the cupola building—weren’t those Summit Greenfield’s plans, done by KG&D of Mt. Kisco, for a “build out”?
Greenstein: Yes. Summit Greenfield with KG&D had their guys do a build out, a proposal for us.
NCNOW: But surely you would have your own consultants evaluate something like this?
Greenstein: They want us to move into the cupola…
NCNOW: How do we find out whether it’s a good deal?
Greenstein: The fact is Summit Greenfield would welcome town hall there with open arms. But that’s not the reason to do it. Only if we thought it was in our best interest to do it would we do it. It would allow them to fill up a building they’ve had a hard time finding a tenant for and it’s going to basically enhance their development.
These are things that we would work into any negotiations with them. KG&D was only trying to get an estimate of the cost.
NCNOW: So what kind of feasibility study is going on right now?
Greenstein: There’s a feasibility study to determine what if anything can be build on the town hall location and at the train station—but not the rec field. Because there’s no reason to talk about whether residents want a transit-oriented development if it’s not possible.
We’re doing a survey of the town hall property, basically to know where the property lines are. If we’re doing the whole transit-oriented development we don’t need to do a survey. A survey’s only relevant if we decide we’re going to touch only the town hall location in what we do. But if we do the whole train station….
NCNOW: So the survey is only minimal—to learn where property lines are. So where does a feasibility study come in—of the type Tom Curley recommended last November to the Master Plan Steering Committee [including Greenstein and Town Planner Sabrina Charney]?
Greenstein: That whole chart Tom Curley showed is done after the public outreach process…. If people say “We don’t want to do it,” then. . .But these are options down the road. There will be no decisions made about moving town hall to the cupola building till later. Retail rezoning will very well come some time this year. We have no idea when moving town hall to the cupola would happen. These are two separate decisions.
NCNOW: So there’s a gym and a pool in the latest Preliminary Development Concept Plan?
Greenstein: RG: Yes. That gym should be in the PDCP. 30,000 square feet and a pool [with access for students of the] high school.
We might tell Summit Greenfield that town hall enhances their property—and takes a white elephant off their hands…. maybe as part of the deal could be “the only way we’ll move town hall to the cupola, and pay fair market value [in a purchase or lease] is if you reduce the amount of retail—because you know town hall is going to be a draw!
There may be alternatives that—while we may not be in the best situation legally—we are still eliminating their desire to sue the town. Like moving town hall to the cupola. It might not strengthen us legallly but it works as a win-win for the developer and us.
Two separate decisions: Chappaqua Crossing out of Master Plan process, town hall move in
NCNOW: Sabrina Charney has been saying—to the Planning Board—that there is no deadline for the Chappaqua Crossing retail decision.
Greenstein: They’re two separate decisions. Moving town hall will be 100% part of MP process. And residents might say “OK.”
NCNOW: What if you approve the retail rezoning and Summit Greenfield says, “Thanks for the retail. Now we’re going to take down the cupola building”? Aren’t these decisions that have to be made at the same time? And are these questions that the Downtown Business Development Advisory Committee [meeting for the first time on April 23] that you and Adam Brodsky are forming will consider? Will this be presented to them all?
Greenstein: They’ll work on any issues we ask them to work on. Probably the very first issue is streamlining the approval process for new businesses—or existing businesses that want to expand.
Second, to be in contact with existing landlords so we can work with landlords to find a new tenant that is good for the mix of retail we want.
NCNOW: So this will be a standing committee that would work on the issues you put to them?
Greenstein: Yes. They’s say, “Hey before you just go ahead and sign up another nail salon we might be able to help you find a better tenant with a better chance of success that would enhance our downtown hamlet.” If we’d done that with D’Agostino’s ...
NCNOW: If that had been done when D’Agostino’s was leaving, the owner/landlord might still have chosen Walgreen’s.
Greenstein: If the Master Plan committee says, “Hey, OK. Lets do a transit-oriented development and move town hall,” then this committee would research the economics of that. It would have been a great committee to have a year go when we were anlayzing the economic impacts of the120,000 of retail at Chappaqua Crossing prior to the previous Town Board’s “Findings” statement ... And if there’s room to continue to study the economic benefits at Chappaqua Crossing, that’s definitely something this committee of developers, residents and merchants would work on. These guys are good guys to help guide us.
NCNOW: So that’s what you’ll discuss at the first meeting of the group on April 23?
Nothing will be discussed on the 23. We’ll see who shows up at the meeting. We have a lot of people who were very excited to join but let’s see who shows up and see who wants to continue once we explain what we want them to do. We have about 21 names now—some commercial real estate brokers, residential brokers, Robin Stout, merchants, landlords—21 potential people. I’d be very happy if we could get 10 or 12 of them. Once we have that list we will then have a formal resolution passed that will appoint them to advise the board.
And we’ll let landlords know this is a resource for them to let us know when vacancies arise. And a year from now, if we decide after the Master Plan process “Yes, let’s purchase cupola, we’ll ask them to help us do that.”
Chappaqua Crossing and whether the Town Board’s “hands are tied”
Greenstein: We’re doing the MP process over the next three months. Whatever we can learn from it will be great but at the end of the day a decision of whether we approve retail at Chappaqua Crossing is a decision the Town Board has to make based on legal issues.
How tight my hands are tied can influence our ultimate decision. Maybe only 90,000 square feet of retail—but it’s still a decision we make based on legal issues. The only way the Master Plan comes into it is if our attorneys say we can say 90,000 [instead of 120,000] square feet and not be sued. The “Findings” [of the previous Town Board] should have said “less than 120,000.”
NCNOW: What about the point Steve Coyle has made in Letters to the Editor in NCNOW, that anchor tenants such as the high-end grocery at Chappaqua Crossing usually desire a 1-to-1 ratio of ancillary retail? The grocery will be between 36,000 and 40,000 square feet. So 1:1 would be another 36,000 to 40,000 square feet, or 80,000 square feet, total. Can you approve less than 120,000 square feet of total retail?
Greenstein: 120,000 is what the other Town Board said—and that the economic benefits outweighed the impacts. How tight they’ve tied our hands [by including the figure “120,000 square feet” in the “Findings”] our attorneys are still researching.
At some point in time we hope to have a list of permissible retail that the anchor tenant will allow. As far as traffic impacts, by the way, in two weeks the town’s traffic consultant, Michael Galante, is coming to address a joint meeting of the Planning Board and Town Board [on Tuesday, April 22, 2014].
And in the near future I plan to meet with residents near Chappaqua Crossing. But I certainly won’t have as much ability to shape that application as I did with the spa, because the spa was at the very beginning stages [Editor’s Note: See the status of the “Spa @ New Castle project, which has been renamed “Homes @ New Castle,” below.]—but at the very least I can hear their concerns and answer their questions.
Things might very well have been very different with the Chappaqua Crossing application if I had been involved in the process two years ago before the SEQR process began—instead of after the “Findings” statement was already issued.
NCNOW: So we’re back to your “hands being tied” on Chappaqua Crossing because of the previous Town Board’s actions?
Greenstein: We’re not being guided by the lawsuit. Summit Greenfield’s lawyers haven’t even been talking about the lawsuits [that were suspended by a settlement, while the previous Town Board reviewed the grocery-retail proposal], but where the lawsuit is relevant is that if there’s another court challenge the settlement agreement is going to be used as proof that the Town Board agreed to study 120,000 square feet of retail development. And the [previous] Town Board completed “Findings” were consistent with the settlement agreement…
NCNOW: But the settlement agreement doesn’t at all bind the town to approve the retail—only to review the possibility within an agreed-to time frame.
Greenstein: And we reviewed it and now the Environmental Impact Statement was completed and they issued “Findings.” And those “Findings” cannot be completely ignored.
Bottom line is that we can argue all day long about how tight our hands are tied, but there should be no doubt that my number one goal is to come up with the best possible outcome with what’s been handed to us…whatever that may be.
Greenstein: Now Steve Oder is proposing a residential development. Sixty condos, a clubhouse, indoor-outdoor pool, health club, tennis, a theatre. No restaurant, no spa. No commercial use at all.
And this was not “negotiating” with the developer, either. What I did was I went to the residents and attended a meeting of opponents of the spa project. I heard their concerns, relayed the to Oder and he changed his application after hearing the concerns of residents.
That’s not to say every resident is going to be in favor of 60 condos. Some may prefer nothing and some may prefer to see housing on two acre lots, which is what it’s zoned for.
NCNOW: Sixty condos may not be possible, septic-treatment-wise.
Greenstein: He’s aware of that. Part of the SEQR review will be to study a plan consistent with current zoning—single family homes on two-acre lots. Then part of the SEQR process will be to compare development of those single family houses with the 60 condos. He will study both proposals and at the end of the day we’ll be able to determine which will have the acceptable impacts. His position is that the condos are going to be less intrusive to the property—because they’re more concentrated—and have less of an environmental impact. We’ll see. If he does the condos, the mansion will be preserved.
April 1, 2014 Town Board Work Session:
Town Board of New Castle Work Session 4/1/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.
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