Tensions surface over survey and funding, supervisor resigns his Master Plan hat


Tiffany Zezula preparing committee members for May Master Plan outreach sessions; video of the meeting is embedded below
April 25, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Last Tuesday, Supervisor Rob Greenstein went from a Master Plan meeting directly to a work session where he updated Town Board members on the progress of the Master Plan review.  During his update, Deputy Supervisor Lisa Katz began a line of questioning that led to an outright shouting match between Greenstein and a member of the Master Plan subcommittee he heads on “commercial development and hamlets.” It ended in his agreeing to let his place on the five-member Steering Committee be filled by someone else whom the Board will appoint.  The next day, he emailed his group to announce that he would leave.  The subject box read, “I’m done.”

How it started

Greenstein had come to the Town Board work session straight from a Master Plan Steering Committee meeting focused on the community outreach that begins in May [a video of the two-hour session is embedded below].  During his update on the Master Plan review for Town Board members, Board members Lisa Katz and Elise Mottel first pressed Greenstein to assure them that Town Board members would see in advance the questions to be used in the May outreach sessions Pace consultants will conduct. [The questions, all very general “conversation starters,” are below.]

But when Betty Weitz, a member of Greenstein’s subcommittee on commercial development, pointed out what she believed was a conflict between Greenstein’s determination to promote grocery-retail zoning at Chappaqua Crossing and his responsibility to a Steering Committee on the point of inviting the community to brainstorm about the town’s future in the most general terms—on whatever subject residents want—the two argued for a full 20 minutes. 

After ten minutes, Greenstein moved to go into executive session, but when no Board member seconded the motion he and Weitz tangled for another ten.

Greenstein pointed out that he held his position on the committee mainly by default.  The former supervisor, he said, had been part of the Steering Committee and he had simply stepped into her place—and only after he had tried to interest every other Town Board member in taking the spot.  He had stepped up and filled the spot, he said, because he believed the Master Plan review ought to get started—and it has.

That Greenstein is not only supervisor, but an energetic proponent of a development plan that assumes approval of as much as 120,000 square feet of retail development at Chappaqua Crossing—plus the move of town hall to its cupola building—has produced discomfort not only among some of his subcommittee members, but also among his four other Steering Committee members.  The ongoing uneasiness over the dual role he plays surfaced in a meeting of the Master Plan Steering Committee meeting with Pace in the two hours just before the work session. 

Weitz had first brought up this discomfort publicly in a meeting with Pace consultant on the Master Plan outreach, Tiffany Zezula. Weitz described the mixed messages she felt were coming from Pace consultants to the Steering Committee on one hand, and from Greenstein to his subcommittee on the other.  Weitz read portions of emails from Greenstein to subcommittee members pressing them to accept grocery-retail zoning at Chappaqua Crossing as a given, and to undertake any master planning around that central fact. [See Op-Ed: Pace runs one Master Plan process while Greenstein runs another, NCNOW.org, 4/4/14.]

Pace model for community outreach will remain general, get specific later

Meanwhile, Zezula has been on a course to conduct four community outreach sessions in May—some daytime, some evening—at four different schools around town.  In the broadest terms, facilitators will ask residents what they like about the town, what they don’t like, what works, what doesn’t, and take notes throughout. She explained the process to Steering Committee members in preparing them for the May outreach.  Facilitators will ask:

What’s good now?
  What do you like?
  What should be maintained?

What’s not working?
  What do you dislike?
  What needs to be changed?

What are the strategies to overcome what is not working?
  What new things can we do to make it better?
  What opportunities are there?
  Where can we make these opportunities happen?

Afterwards, Pace will compile the input gleaned from residents and produce a report for the Steering Committee.

“If we give people the solutions to their problems,” Zezula told Master Plan Steering Committee members, ”—if we give them what we think is right—we are going to create a bad relationship with people.  When we create a win-lose dynamic, we’re not building trust.  And I really think that with all community engagement efforts and with all types of municipal actions we’re trying to build trust in a relationship with the larger general public. And I want that for your group and your community as well.”

Zezula has never deviated from this approach for the Master Plan outreach, and has counseled Steering Committee members to remain in listener mode within their subcommittees as well as during the community outreach sessions.  But Greenstein, according to several of his group members, including Weitz,  has pointedly steered them toward generating solutions that match his own development plans for Chappaqua Crossing and downtown Chappaqua. 

Greenstein has explained this tendency as simply “being transparent”—because he believes, for example, that the fate of Chappaqua Crossing is already determined to a certain extent by the previous Town Board’s environmental review of it and by lawsuits that may resume if approval is not granted.  In his mind, he was simply pushing the members of his “commercial development and hamlets” committee in the direction of Reality.

Pushback from the Master Plan Steering Committee

Some pushback from his four fellow Master Plan Steering Committee members on Tuesday afternoon may have caused Greenstein to understand better what the Master Plan review process is about. 

Bob Kirkwood, Dick Brownell, Hala Makowska and Maud Bailey seemed disturbed, for example, that Town Planner Sabrina Charney had prepared a survey without asking Steering Committee members for input, and was on the point of sending it out to residents.  To add insult to injury, when the four expressed interest in a more scientific survey—by a paid outside consultant—Greenstein stated flatly that the Town Board had no money for one—and little money for anything else Master Plan-related. 

Although Greenstein subsequently acknowledged during the meeting that the Master Plan effort was important enough that the Town Board would surely come up with funds for one, as Weitz pointed out in the work session that followed, she believed his Supervisor-self had intruded on the Master Plan Steering Committee’s ability to decide—and get—what resources it needs to conduct a Master Plan review. 

Money for the Master Plan review

In fact the Town Board did come up with the $15,000 to engage Pace to conduct the outreach.  But Steering Committee members have been reminded from their early meetings last year to the present that the Master Plan review must remain on a shoestring.

Town Board members regularly wring their hands budget expenditures, but February the town’s comptroller Rob Deary presented them with a fairly rosy picture, due to increased mortgage taxes collected by the town because of a rise in house sales.  Deary explained to NCNOW that funds can always be found for the Master Plan review if the Town Board directs him to do so. “Give me a budget,” said Deary.  “If it’s $10,000 they need, it’s easier to move money around and find it.  If it’s $50,000, then we need to get more creative.  And if it’s $125,000, then the Board has to make a decision on where to get that from.  When they come to me we’ll sit down and figure out a way to get it done.”  [See In work session with comptroller, Town Board discusses town hall move, money, and Master Plan, NCNOW.org, 2/11/14.]

Feeling their way forward

It seems as though the members of all these groups—Town Board, Master Plan Steering Committee, the subcommittees—are feeling their way towards an understanding of what a Master Plan is, why updating it matters, what their respective roles are, how to fund it and how to get residents to come to the outreach sessions for brainstorming next month.

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The town’s Master Plan review

The community outreach meetings are scheduled for:

Wednesday, May 7 at Bell Middle School 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 10 at Horace Greeley High School 9:00 a.m. to noon

Thursday, May 15 at Westorchard Elementary 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 21 at Seven Bridges Middle School 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

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Town of New Castle Master Plan Steering Committee 4/22/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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For NCNOW’s archived articles on the Master Plan, visit our Master Plan page.

On four days in May, tell us about the future of Your New Castle, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14

In TB work session, argument breaks out over Greenstein’s place on Master Plan steering group, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14

Master Plan and Chappaqua Crossing: An update from Supervisor Rob Greenstein, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14

 

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