Chappaqua Crossing developer reps brief ZBA on request for unlimited tenants

August 7, 2009
by Christine Yeres

One day after the town board’s public hearing on Chappaqua Crossing drew a standing-room-only crowd, the zoning board of appeals on July 29 heard two of Summit Greenfield’s representatives deliver a late-night presentation on the project. Developer Summit Greenfield is asking the zoning board for removal of the four-tenant restriction on the office space to permit instead an unlimited number of tenants.

Other elements of Summit Greenfield’s proposal, including construction of 278 condominium residences and a reduction of office space from the existing 700,000 square feet to 520,000 square feet, are matters for town board approval. Zoning board action on the four-tenant restriction must await the town board’s decision on the overall application.

Relief from the four-tenant restriction on office space

One of Summit Greenfield’s attorneys, John Marwell of Shamberg Marwell Davis & Hollis, P.C., and engineer Andy Tung of Divney Tung Schwabe, the developer’s engineering consultants, reported that Summit Greenfield had recently rented space to a fourth tenant, Northern Westchester Hospital.  Marwell told zoning board members, “We’re used up. When we get the approvals to reduce the commercial space from 700,000 square feet to 520,000 square feet [we hope] that we will get relief from this multi-tenant restriction.”

Marwell told the board that the developer had “comprehensively studied the potential environmental impacts for each of the aspects of the project,” and asked, rhetorically, “What are the impacts of having ten, 20, or even 25 or 30 employers in there?  Would there be visual impacts? No, because there aren’t any exterior changes. Traffic impacts? We’ve studied that comprehensively and it’s all in the DEIS.”

Town board’s consultants have warned of medical offices as a more intense use of office space

Two separate reports to the town board—both HR&A Associates’ study of the finances of Summit Greenfield’s proposal from August 2008 and Saccardi & Schiff planning preliminary study of municipal uses from June 2009 – have warned of the increased intensity of traffic and parking associated with medical offices—according to HR&A,  “four times as many trips per 1000 square feet as a corporate headquarters.”  In May 2009 Summit Greenfield leased space to Northern Westchester Hospital, now the developer’s fourth and final tenant so long as the four-tenant restriction remains.

Zoning board probes on impacts of different uses

Zoning board member Harvey Boneparth asked, “How detailed is [the DEIS] with respect to the specific possible uses of the tenants? One type of tenant will have an impact different from another.  Did you study the possible differences?”

Marwell responded, “We’ve studied the permitted uses under the zoning because we’re not asking for any change in permitted uses in the [office space zoning].”

“No,” said Boneparth, “you’re asking for a change in the law. The law currently restricts that site to four tenants. I didn’t see a lot of information or data [in your DEIS] with respect to the possible impacts of those multiple tenant uses.”

“That’s because you won’t find any [impacts],” said Marwell. “I mean, you’ll find the study, but you’ll see that the conclusions are that there are virtually no impacts as a result of this [change to an unlimited number of tenants].”

“And your conclusion is based on what?” asked Boneparth.

Tung interjected, “There are two types of office buildings that are considered under the ITE [Institute of Transportation Engineers] ratios developed: single-user buildings and multi-tenant buildings, ranging from many different kinds of uses. And the findings based on the ratios that are provided are that the multi-tenant buildings have slightly lower traffic generation than single tenant or corporate buildings.”

Boneparth asked, “What are those conclusions based upon?”

Tung answered that conclusions were based on “observation of these types of buildings in the United States.”

“Studies provided in the DEIS?” asked Boneparth.

“No, they are not,” Tung responded, and went on to explain, “ITE is a standard traffic reference which forms the basis of almost every general traffic study for lots of different types of projects.”

“Is there another standard or study that shows something different?” asked Boneparth.

Tung responded, “Certainly in any given multi-use building, for example, ten tenants, five of one [kind], one of another, three of another and all these ratios are based on the collective average.”

Boneparth: “So it’s an ‘average,’ not a ‘worst-case scenario.’ Is there something that would show us worst-case?”

Tung: “Worst-case scenario, I would submit, is that there were at one time 7,000 employees at the Reader’s Digest and there will be, I suspect, nowhere near that number of employees [under Summit Greenfield’s proposed plan]. It is employees that generate traffic.”

Boneparth: “Why do you say it’s only employees? Doesn’t it depend on the type of use? If a tenant is there that has not only employees, but expects customers or clients…”

Tung: “Yes, I didn’t mean to say it was only the employees that drive, but the employees and the nature of the use [of the tenants] determines the traffic.”

Boneparth: “The problem is I’m reading this and not seeing enough information and data to deal with those possible scenarios.”

Tung: “Yes, there are an infinite number of possible mixes of tenants that could come here.”

Boneparth: “But this board has to deal with the worst case possibility.”

Tung: “Yes, but methodologies that have been developed over time to try and predict what the effect of certain actions would be.  You might refer to F.P. Clark, the town’s traffic experts, better than to me.”

Referring to Tung’s mention of 7,000 employees at Reader’s Digest in bygone days, zoning board member Gerry Golub interjected, “The 7,000 employees were in three shifts, not 7,000 all coming at eight in the morning.”

“Yes,” said Tung, “Three shifts and some in buses. Correct.  And we will not have that here, I can say that with some confidence.”

Calculating the amount of space now leased

In wrapping up the session, the zoning board’s counsel, Les Steinman, of Wormser, Kiely, Galef & Jacobs, said to Tung and Marwell, “If, down the road [in the application before the town board], you’re looking for 520,000 square feet of space [reduced from 700,000 square feet], I count 296,000 square feet for Reader’s Digest, plus 14,000 square feet of common space, which adds up to 310,000 square feet.  Then based on existing other leases I come up with another 100,000 square feet, which gets me up to 400,000 square feet, so basically 80 percent of what you’re looking for at the end is presently leased up.”

“Yes,” responded Marwell, “We just signed up with [Northern Westchester Hospital]. But right now we have 700,000 square feet and the rest of it is dark and has to stay dark, until we get relief from this board, hopefully.”

Concern about commercial density

The zoning board’s planning consultant, Joanne Meder, told zoning board members that it was not their job at the moment to reach any conclusion on the merits of the application, but rather “to make sure that you have all the information you need to eventually evaluate the application.” In fact, any zoning board action is on hold until the town board makes a determination on whether to approve the project.

In the meantime, although public hearings on the draft environmental impact hearing closed on July 28 [see the hearing on NCCTV by clicking here], the town board, as lead agency on the overall application by Summit Greenfield, has asked its boards and consultants to submit their written comments or requests for additional information by September 18, 2009.  Residents too may continue to submit written comments to the board [click .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to write the board].  “The goal,” said the zoning board’s counsel, Les Steinman, “is to make the environmental record as accurate and complete as possible because each board has to rely on it to discharge its duties. To the extent you don’t have that information, you can comment on it and the town board, as lead agency, has to address it in its final environmental impact statement.”

Write the Town Board with your comments about the developer’s DEIS and the proposal for rezoning here: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). 

Need to catch up?  To access all’s articles and letters to the editor on the subject of Chappaqua Crossing in chronological order, click here.

To access NCCTV’s “video on demand” replay of the July 28 public hearing, click here.