Deputy Supervisor Lisa Katz’s statement on Chappaqua Xing retail zoning approval

First, I would like to thank my fellow Board members and all town and government employees who worked tirelessly to get us where we are today.

When I ran for Town councilwoman, I promised to act with integrity and in the best interests of our community, and I have worked hard to keep that promise.  I weigh every town board action, large or small, against the effect it’s going to have on the people who live and work and raise their families in all of our neighborhoods.  And I have weighed this decision as to whether to allow the Chappaqua Crossing property to be zoned for retail, in addition to its current office and residential zoning, very carefully. 

On the one hand, I understand the argument that it is important to increase our commercial tax base in order to alleviate financial pressure on our residents.  I also understand that some of our residents would welcome a supermarket in Chappaqua, and especially a Whole Foods if, indeed, it does come to New Castle.  I recognize these arguments, and, in fact, have no personal objections to them.  However, I need to analyze those potential benefits and then weigh them against the potential detriments. 

Over the past year, I have spent countless hours analyzing and studying the materials regarding Chappaqua Crossing.  I have sought to review the facts and thoughtfully analyze this project that will substantially impact our town. After reviewing all the information and expert reports, I believe that Chappaqua Crossing is an inappropriate site for the retail development proposal that we have in front of us tonight.  While I realize that many residents would like to see the site remain undeveloped, I do not believe that the status quo is a viable option either.  And, in fact, I might have been able to vote for this plan as first conceived with a grocery and some ancillary retail in a smaller scale shopping center.  But I feel that in the last year Summit Greenfield has run away with this proposal.  I believe that the site warrants development; however, I do not believe that the current retail center is in the best interest of the town, its residents or its merchants.  While a Whole Foods or other supermarket may be a welcome addition to New Castle, I do not believe that allowing a supermarket plus additional retail development of a size that approximately equals the size of the downtown Chappaqua business district is an appropriate action.

In analyzing the tax benefit to our town of the requested retail rezoning, I have not been presented with any credible information to show that our residential taxpayers will receive a substantial reduction in their tax bills. I think that Summit Greenfield has substantially over-estimated the tax revenues that will likely be generated by the grocery-retail project.
While it is true that commercial taxes will go up if retail is permitted at Chappaqua Crossing and if the development is successful, the commercial tax base will still represent only a very small percentage of our entire tax base. So even if the retail center at Chappaqua Crossing is successful, the tax benefit to the community likely will be small.  In fact, when weighed against the potential for home owners who live close to Chappaqua Crossing to claim that their tax bills should be cut because the assessed value of their homes has decreased as a result of the project, and the potential decrease in the assessed values of the existing downtown commercial real estate, I worry that the development could actually negatively impact taxes.

The roads and infrastructure to and from the site are already terribly overburdened.  This will be made much worse if Chappaqua Crossing emerges as a retail shopping center.  The plan we vote on tonight will bring what has been termed by the previous Town Board as “unmitigatable” traffic congestion at certain intersections, and moreover, the “mitigations” themselves – if approved by DOT—will make Route 117, Roaring Brook Road and the Saw Mill Parkway into a set of major commercial roadways in the middle of established residential neighborhoods on all but one side of it.  This will carry over to other town roads. And, even though Summit Greenfield proposes to restructure the entrance to Horace Greeley high school, both the 2011 and 2013 findings statements make clear that the project site driveways on 117 and Roaring Brook Road will suffer from “unmitigated significant adverse impacts.”

Despite my reservations about this project, I tried to negotiate with my fellow Board members to make this development as beneficial and unobtrusive to New Castle as possible, but, I don’t believe the concessions that were made have resulted in this project being in the best interests of the town.  The proposed mitigations from Summit Greenfield that you heard about tonight are not enough.  The proposed retail project is just too big.

I also believe in planning before developing which is a major reason why I ran for the Town Board, and why I believe I was successful in the election.  The Chappaqua Crossing property has essentially been removed from the master plan process. Approving the zoning for this plan now will make Summit Greenfield the master of our master plan, and everything else will have to be contorted to fit around it. 

Ultimately, Summit Greenfield is an investor out to make money, and, if I were in their situation, I would likely also be asking for all I could to maximize my investment and not be concerned with the long-term impact on the quality of life in our town.  No one can fault them for that.  But while I understand the importance of development, I believe that the proposed retail development at Chappaqua Crossing in the version before us tonight is not good enough for our Town.  It is neither the right development, nor the right size, nor the right vision for our community. And the Planning Board shares many of my concerns too.  I believe, as they do, that development needs to be appropriate and thoughtful, and the town needs to guide it.

In growing our town, we must be careful not to irreparably damage the neighborhoods, lifestyle and nature of our town. All of that defines our unique culture and makes New Castle the special, attractive place that it is.  Our job as your representatives is to protect the quality of life for the citizens who live here, and not let inappropriate development bulldoze what we all love about New Castle.

For all of these reasons, I am voting against this proposal.

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