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March 21, 2014
by Rob Greenstein
I’d like to provide residents with a brief update on the Chappaqua Crossing and Spa at New Castle land use applications. First, however, I’d like to take a moment to talk about zoning moratoriums and explain why, as Supervisor, I have not favored taking this legislative step.
At the present time, the loudest calls for adopting a moratorium seem to be coming from residents who are opposed to the Spa at New Castle project. I certainly can appreciate their concerns. As Supervisor, however, I also have to balance the downsides and legal limitations of adopting a moratorium. Under New York law, a municipality may not adopt a zoning moratorium solely as a means of assuaging community opposition to a land use project. In fact, courts have struck down zoning moratoriums that were enacted solely to put the brakes on controversial projects. The law regards those types of moratoriums as unconstitutional and void.
Zoning moratoriums tend to have adverse economic consequences as well because they temporarily suspend development activity. Although moratoriums typically allow property owners to apply for hardship exceptions, they are a blunt instrument and drastic measure for any municipality.
There was a time, roughly one year ago, when I advocated for the adoption of a zoning moratorium while the prior town board was studying the environmental impacts associated with the retail zoning proposal for Chappaqua Crossing. At that time, I was concerned that creating a third retail business hamlet would undermine our existing downtown and Millwood business hamlets. Nevertheless, the prior town board did not adopt a moratorium, and instead went ahead and completed the SEQRA review for Chappaqua Crossing. The findings statement that was adopted last year for Chappaqua Crossing concluded that retail development on the site would not adversely impact our existing business hamlets, and that other impacts could be adequately mitigated.
We can’t go back and rewrite history. That’s what we’re working with today. In my opinion, the time for a moratorium has passed. The master plan will not be updated overnight. In the meantime, our town must remain open for business and keep moving ahead. As we proceed with the update, developers are on notice that the town is studying its zoning and that changes could be implemented before their projects receive approval.
More importantly, I am convinced that with smart planning and input from our community, we can shape the future of Chappaqua Crossing so that any future development on that site brings new and different amenities for our residents while enhancing our commercial tax base. If we get this right – and I believe we can – the town has a tremendous opportunity to not only help put the Chappaqua Crossing campus into productive use, but to rejuvenate our existing business hamlets at the same time. That’s why the Town Board is forming a business development advisory committee and moving ahead with our master plan update.
Let me emphasize one thing I just mentioned – enhancing our commercial tax base. I know there are some residents who would prefer that our business hamlets did not grow or change. The problem with that view is that it is not economically sustainable. Our property taxes make our community unaffordable to many young families, drive-out our seniors and empty nesters, and ultimately will drive down our property values. A vibrant commercial tax base is essential to our community’s long term fiscal health. I’m sure there will be disagreements along the way, but I hope almost everyone will agree there is work to be done, and we cannot afford to be complacent or make a sport out of shouting down new ideas.
With respect to the Spa at New Castle project, I have helped facilitate a meeting with the developer and some leading opponents of the project. I have also offered to meet with the opponents of the project, and hope to do so in the near future. We will work together and try our very best to make it a win-win for all.
On Chappaqua Crossing, the Planning Board is completing its work on the revised Preliminary Development Concept Plan submitted by Summit Greenfield. The collaborative process between Summit Greenfield and the Planning Board has been extremely productive, and the modified PDCP is expected to include a number of positive changes that the Town Board is looking forward to reviewing. Our goal is to help shape Chappaqua Crossing to likewise make it a win for the community.