Town Board members debate whether to allow chain restaurants

Saturday, December 6, 2014
by Christine Yeres

In Whole Foods’ conditional lease with Summit Greenfield, the planned 40,000-square-foot grocery requires that no more than 16,000 square feet of the 120,000-square-foot shopping center should be leased for restaurant use.  Whether or not to allow them to be chain restaurants is still a point of disagreement among Town Board members.

Supervisor Rob Greenstein was reluctant to impose a “no chains” requirement for restaurants, since, he reasoned, it would rule out desirable chains as well. He suggested that whether Chappaqua Crossing attracts an Outback or a Smith & Wollensky steakhouse—both are chains—should be left to market forces, “based on the population and what they want.” 

“I disagree,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz. “I think it’s a landlord who has checked the box of the Chipotle and the Five Guys and the restaurants they want in here.  They’re asking for a lot from our town and we have every right to restrict what should go there.  And there are amazing restaurants nearby that are not chain restaurants that do phenomenal business in this area.  I think we would not be losing anything or [prevent] the developer from having a successful business by prohibiting chain restaurants.  I would rather see a really wonderful restaurant that’s a destination—like Stone Barns—than an Outback or TGIF.  I think we have something really special in our community and to allow those types of restaurants to come in and turn us into downtown White Plains or Mt. Kisco—I think we have every right to say we don’t want that. This might make it a little harder, because the developer can’t check its boxes of the retailers that go into every single one of its shopping centers.” 

“I agree that we have something very special here,” said Greenstein, “but we also have 500,000 square feet of office space here and if we want Summit Greenfield to rent their office space—and we would get tax revenues from that—I think it’s also nice for them to have a place for the people who work there to go to lunch like a Chipotle or a Chop’t—“

“—or a Whole Foods,” said Katz, “which has plenty of places to eat—”

“—and there are plenty of non-chain restaurants,” said Town Board member Elise Mottle, “that can provide places for office workers to eat.”

“And if right now [restaurants are] limited to 15,000 square feet out of 120,000 square feet of retail,” said Katz, “I don’t think Summit Greenfield is going to go out of business because we’re not allowing a chain restaurant.”

“Hypothetically,” said Town Board member Jason Chapin, “if this proposal were to be approved then you could have a mix of local restaurants and national-type restaurants.  Or one that’s currently located in New Castle that may want to relocate at Chappaqua Crossing, and bring in another restaurant to the downtown.  So there’s a whole mix of options and opportunities.”

“If you look at Armonk,” said Greenstein, “they have really great restaurants and they also don’t have a restriction on chains, so there is something to be said for market forces.”

“They don’t have a developer like Summit Greenfield coming in,” said Katz, “that has a list of [food establishments] that they like.  They’ve already told us they want a Chipotle and a Panera and a Five Guys.  Armonk does not have that.  Armonk was much more of a free market than this is.  And they have a new restaurant opening up where the garden center used to be, they have all these wonderful restaurants opening up—none of which are chains—I cannot imagine that a valid argument can be made that Summit Greenfield cannot survive without chain restaurants.”

Phillips suggested a middle way: “If want to restrict chains you could say some lesser number—say, no more than 7500 square feet of the 15,000—could be occupied by chains.”

“I agree with Lisa,” said Mottel.  “I look at Chappaqua Crossing as a very special place and it should be treated as a special place and we should look very carefully at the uses.  We want to make it a destination and not just a place where you get restaurants that can be placed in any area in Westchester.” 

“We want it to be successful,” said Greenstein, “but we also want the free market to work, without hindering that.  The reality is that this compromise [7,500 chain, 7,500 non-chain] probably wouldn’t hinder the free market, because it’s probably going to wind up like that anyway.  I know Stone Barns is interested—and [the Chappaqua Crossing 15,000 square feet for restaurant use] will probably end up with half of it a nice restaurant-type place and the other half will be a place where people can get a quick bite—because there is 500,000 square feet of office space.”

“But it depends on what we allow,” said Katz.  “Whole Foods has a huge food court and there’s a cafeteria in the Reader’s Digest property where people can eat.  And we want people to go downtown, too.”

“Maybe we can do a mix-and-match,” suggested Brodsky, “because the more diversity you have—whether it’s food or clothes—it makes it more dynamic and increases the likelihood of success.”

Mottel announced that she was “very interested” in having restaurants come to Chappaqua Crossing, “because I think it’s a use the town needs and I think it will create a destination and will be a use that will not have as great an impact on traffic as some of the other uses. So I would welcome restaurants at Chappaqua Crossing,” said Mottel, “as long as it’s the right mix.”“

Chapin pointed out that the town’s AKRF study found that New Castle satisfies only 15% of residents’ demand for for full-service restaurants and only 38% for limited-service restaurants.  “So this report tells me that there’s plenty of room for restaurants in New Castle without threatening existing restaurants.  And I do think that restaurants do attract residents from other towns and also our New Castle residents who are spending their restaurant dollars elsewhere.”

“That depends on what restaurants and who we want to attract,” said Katz.

“And I can envision,” said Mottel, “with those beautiful restaurants, getting people to actually spend time at Chappaqua Crossing and enjoy the grounds.”

“—former grounds,” added Katz.

Board members were taking pains to tie down the chains/no-chains issue in the draft zoning because, as they explained, the 15,000-square-foot restriction on restaurants is part of Whole Foods’ lease. If Whole Foods were to leave the development, the restriction would disappear.  New Castle’s zoning laws do not currently ban chain restaurants in the town; a ban at Chappaqua Crossing would apply only to the retail zoned segment of Chappaqua Crossing.

Board members determined that they needed to discuss the matter further.  The public hearing reopens on Tuesday, December 9.

Town Board Work Session/Public Hearing 12/2/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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