. . . and remains non-committal on Planning Board request to share PDCP approval authority
Saturday, November 8, 2014
by Christine Yeres
Last Wednesday Town Board members ran through the draft retail zoning from May of this year. Early on they discussed whether to agree to the Planning Board’s request that its members be included in the approval process for the preliminary development concept plan, “so that the Planning Board’s concerns and comments could be folded into the Town Board’s actions.”
The Town Board’s counsel, Nick Ward-Willis, outlined the approval process:
The Town Development Plan amendment would say, “Yes, we agree that there should be retail at Chappaqua Crossing.”
The zoning amendment would say, “Yes, retail is allowed in the property.”
First the Town Board would adopt the zoning change, then advance to Preliminary Concept Design Plan (PDCP) stage.
During PDCP stage “is the Board’s chance to say how much retail, to add conditions, and “put your fingerprints” on the project, he told Board members, “tailoring it to how, specifically, you believe the site should be developed.”
At this point the Town Board would refer the PDCP to the Planning Board and have a public hearing—“so there would be that opportunity for comment by the Planning Board,” explained Ward-Willis.
Last comes “site plan approval” by the Planning Board—site layout: where parking, streets and drainage go, lighting, garbage pickup, times for deliveries, storm water issues, sidewalks, architectural details, as well as environmental permits.
Planning Board request to share PDCP approval authority with Town Board
The Planning Board has proposed that its members be included in approval of the PDCP rather than be called upon officially only at site plan approval stage.
Ward-Willis cautioned Town Board members that sharing PDCP approval authority, in his experience, could result in an applicant feeling he or she is “serving two masters,” and that the applicant “ping-pongs” from one board to another.
Town Planner Sabrina Charney agreed with Ward-Willis. “Serving two masters,” she said—present by speaker phone at the meeting—“is very convoluted.”
“The Planning Board expressed its desire to incorporate Traditional Neighborhood Development principles and standards,” observed Town Board member Jason Chapin. “Overall here is the Planning Board saying they’re in favor of TND—and since they are the experts, I agree with that. I think it’s appropriate to share the changes we want to make with them and get their feedback. It’s important to continue to work with them on this process.”
“We definitely want their input,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein, “but acknowledge that this has bee a long, drawn-out process. We don’t want to complicate it any more than we have to.”
Town Board members made no commitment to formally share approval authority with the Planning Board when it comes to the PDCP.
County and Department of Transportation approvals
“And approval from the County?” asked Town Board member Lisa Katz.
“The County wants more TND design,” said Ward-Willis, in the form, for example, of “more pedestrian and bike linkage between the three uses [retail, office, and residential].”
“And can we get the Department of Transportation to opine on the [proposed changes to Route 117]—or they won’t do it till after [the project] is approved?” asked Katz.
“DOT is not going to expend their resources [thinking about] it until Summit Greenfield applies for a work permit,” said Ward-Willis. [The cost of the changes themselves would be borne entirely by Summit Greenfield.]
Size of the retail
The draft zoning the Town Board was reviewing in the work session still reads, “maximum square footage shall not exceed 120,000 square feet.” Ward-Willis explained, “That is something that we have to discuss. Right now that number is a place-holder.”
Chapin reminded colleagues that, in concept, according to the draft zoning, if the Town Board were to approve 120,000 square feet of retail, that same amount of existing office space would be decommissioned.
Town Board member Adam Brodsky noted that “some space [proposed for decomissioning] is basement space, “not really a fair exchange for the retail. We should consider that in the analysis. It’s not really apples-to-apples.”
“The basement,” explained Greenstein, “is space on a level with the Saw Mill side of the building—it’s not so dark and dingy. The first floor is level with Route 117.”
“It’s pretty dark and dingy,” said Katz, who used to work at Reader’s Digest.
No other large anchors
The Planning Board, said Ward-Willis, believed the town should not permit anchors-size stores other than the 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods grocery. No additional big-box.
“That’s consistent with TND,” said Greenstein.
But the Town Board might want to exempt the 25,000-square-foot gym space, suggested Charney.
“I agree,” said Katz, “but only if there’s a gym there. No gym, then no exemption.”
Is there parking enough?
“How was it determined that there is enough parking?” asked Brodsky.
“It was grandfathered in,” said Charney, by the Town Inspector. ”—which is why the Planning Board wants the site to have integrated parking, to operate as one continuous site for parking.” [The ratio of office square footage to parking spaces for the Reader’s Digest operation were lower than Town Code currently requires.]
“People want to build a little business in town,” said Brodsky, “and we drive them crazy [over whether they have enough parking spaces]—and here we’re glossing over it and saying the Building Inspector took his best guess. Parking drives everything.”
“Whole Foods certainly didn’t gloss over parking,” said Greenstein.
“And they’re asking for more [parking spaces] than our code requires,” added Charney.
Charney agreed that she would look at the history of the grandfathered parking requirements with Ward-Willis and report back to the Town Board.
The draft zoning specifies that “[T]he shape, dimension, topography, and location of any Office Park Retail Overlay District must allow for an appropriate and attractive development with proper building separation and screening and a harmonious relationship with adjoining land uses and the natural physical terrain.”
“There should be aggressive screening between anything approved [at Chappaqua Crossing] and outside uses,” said Katz.
Fitting into the neighborhood
Bob Lewis, who lives at the corner of 117 and Roaring Brook Road, addressed Town Board members. “The main thing tonight is that the design of this site have not been explored from the standpoint of what’s good for the area—only for the applicant, and never in terms of the neighbors and what’s good for the neighbors.”
An architect himself, Lewis had some sketches, he told Board members, showing how retail traffic might be directed mainly to enter on the Saw Mill Parkway side of the Chappaqua Crossing site to reach the retail zone. Mere signage—pointing traffic to “go left” into Chappaqua Crossing instead of right, onto Roaring Brook Road—wasn’t enough, he suggested.
“Why not just build a nice entrance facing the parkway?” asked Lewis. “And why put the ass-end of the supermarket smack-dab on a residential street when you could instead consolidate the [Chappaqua Crossing residential units] along Roaring Brook Road to make a traditional neighborhood [with the residences on the opposite side of the street]? This is the preliminary development concept stage of the process. This is where you make these big decisions. You don’t wait for the design development phase or the construction documents phase.”
Ward-Willis suggested that Lewis make such comments at the next public hearing, or that he set up an appointment to discuss his ideas with Town Planner Sabrina Charney.
“It sounds like some of the ideas you have are things we should consider putting into the zoning law,” said Katz, ”—and some of them, such as the placement of Whole Foods, has to be part of the preliminary concept development plan.”
“Some of your recommendations have been made at the public hearings—and there are going to be more public hearings,” Greenstein assured Lewis.
Lewis responded that in the ten years that Summit Greenfield’s proposals have been considered “we haven’t really thought about these things.” And as to the “harmonious relationship” the zoning describes, said Lewis, “when you have two incompatible uses in direct proximity, the more extensive the buffer should be.”
“The way you make a design decision,” said Lewis, “is that you lay out half a dozen design ideas and let the best ones float to the top.” Lewis pointed out that the County, too, was not happy with Summit Greenfield’s latest concept plan.
“If you were the applicant,” Greenstein asked Lewis, “who has been at this eight to ten years, and someone comes in at the eleventh hour and asks to redesign the project, what would you say?”
“If I were the applicant I’d say it’s been going on too long,” said Lewis. “But I’m a neighbor and I also say it’s been going on too long. I want resolution too. I’m not proposing to abandon everything but have it pass the test of ‘Have we really looked at this thing?’”
Asked after the meeting Lewis told NCNOW, “The answer is that the developer seems more interested in retail than anything else, and if he gets it he probably doesn’t care exactly what it all looks like,” said Lewis, “and I hope the Board can influence him to make site work for everybody—including the neighborhood around it.”
Katz sets the record straight on sewage treatment at Chappaqua Crossing
Katz pointed out that the draft zoning the Town Board had before it listed “Utility structures for the transmission, storage and/or treatment of water and sewage.” Since she has felt “pushback” over her statement that “sewage treatment” was a permitted use, she said, she wanted to note, for the record, that “sewage treatment” was then—and was still—a use permitted in the draft zoning document.
Ward-Willis posited that the use may no longer be necessary. Asked later in the work session whether it would be removed, Town Planner Sabrina Charney guessed that it had been included in the zoning originally when it was not clear that Summit Greenfield would obtain County permission to extend the sewer district. It now has that permission. “If we don’t need it,” said Katz, “I would definitely take that out.”
“Personal services” defined
It was a request of the Planning Board that the proposed zoning amendment include a definition of the “personal services” that the zoning states are the domain of the existing hamlets and will not be repeated at Chappaqua Crossing. Ward-Willis said that these include repair, care of, cleaning, and maintenance businesses such as barber shops, beauty shops, nail salons and pet-grooming establishments, and have been specified in the revisions.
Alteration of the proposed 120,000 square feet upper of retail
When it comes to the amount of retail space Summit Greenfield could be allowed to create, Ward-Willis characterized the 120,000-square-feet figure as “a placeholder.” When NCNOW asked at what stage of the review or approval process it might be reduced, by whom, and by what mechanism, Ward-Willis responded that the Town Board had the authority—any time between now and the time they take a vote on it, and it’s a discussion the Town Board needs to have.” A public discussion? asked NCNOW. “Yes,” said Ward-Willis.
“Just to summarize,” said Chapin, “we have all the reports, we’re going to have more public hearings and will get more feedback, but I think we also need to agree that we need to move forward as expeditiously as possible. We don’t want to take too much time, but we want to take enough time to thoroughly review everything. I’ve heard other Board members say they’d like to make a decision by the end of the year. I would agree with that.”
“And a lot of this will be decided in the PDCP phase,” said Greenstein, “which we’re not approving now.”
Brodsky, too, agreed it was time to resolve the Chappaqua Crossing application.
The Board continues its discussion of the Chappaqua Crossing amendments in its regular meeting on Monday, November 10, around 8:15 p.m. The public hearing resumes on Tuesday, November 18.
Latest documents mounted on the Town website:
Town Planner’s Summary of the Chappaqua Crossing Revised Retail PDCP
Draft zoning amendment for retail
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