Keeping an Eye on Developments at Reader’s Digest

By Lee Bowen
November 16, 2007

An interesting late night discussion took place at the Planning Board’s November 5 meeting, long past my bedtime. But I caught it on NCCTV.

Current status

I reported here on October 12, 2007 that our Town Board had received developer Summit Greenfield’s newest application for redevelopment of the Reader’s Digest property in July. Once the town board determined that it was technically complete, the town board designated itself as the Lead Agency for the review of the proposal and they then referred the application to the planning board for review and comment. The job now of the planning board is to communicate its questions, concerns and recommendations on the use of this property by mid-December to the town board, which, as lead agency, is ultimately responsible for any decision.

Planning Board meeting, November 5

On Monday, November 5, around 11:00 p.m., after other business listed on its agenda had been completed, the Planning Board began an informal discussion of S/G’s application. First, Chair Robert Anesi announced that all five Planning Board members had met with S/G for an information-gathering site walk. S/G’s latest plan for the 116-acre property has two components: build 278 residential condos in a combination of apartment buildings and townhouses, and remove all limits on the number of commercial tenants allowed in the office buildings. Current zoning permits four commercial tenants. When S/G originally acquired the property, it was zoned for one commercial tenant. The Town Board agreed to increase the number to four in 2005, when S/G petitioned for that change. 

Traffic issues are planning board’s biggest concern
Traffic issues remained the planning board’s most serious concern, whether the developer pursues only the commercial piece of its proposal under the existing zoning, or obtains a variance to develop both commercial and residential—what S/G terms “mixed use.” 

One board member asked how much additional commercial space S/G had a “right” to “build out.”  Another member and the board’s consultant both answered that any “build out” would be subject to an application-and-approval process, just as the current proposal is. Board members speculated on what impact increased employee traffic at the property would have on our hamlet.  They acknowledged that there is an existing traffic problem now in the mornings and evenings on roadways surrounding Reader’s Digest.

It was noted that when the town board voted against the developer’s proposal last December, each town board member reiterated that the property’s zoning should remain as is, that is,  “business/office.”  It appeared to some members of the planning board that the developers have made little attempt to explore the potential office use of that space since that December 12, 2006, vote. 

Other topics discussed at the November 5 meeting
*  S/G has already received one zoning change that permits up to four business tenants;
*  potential office development should be explored and the planning board should deny further changes to the zoning, whether commercial or residential;
*  mixed-use (commercial-with-residential) and adaptive reuse of existing building should be explored;
*  the number of proposed residential units should be lowered;
*  review how close the wetlands buffer line is to the proposed residential units;
*  concern that the massive row of townhouses proposed would be completely visible from Route 117;
*  question as to how affordable the proposed affordable housing piece is, and ask for more affordable and fewer market rate units;
*  suggestion that the town board suspend any consideration of a zoning change until the town board looks at the Master Plan for the hamlet;
*  determine the number of affordable units in New Castle compared to other towns in northern Westchester;
*  the developers are using an old ratio of floor space and parking space that bears no resemblance to current parking standards.

S/G is characterizing the residential component of its proposal as falling into the Multi-Family Planned Development (“MFPD”) zoning catetory. There are only two MFPDs in town: one is Ledgewood Commons on Route 100 in Millwood; the other is Chappaqua Commons behind D’Agostino’s. Neither is a mixed use development.

In wrapping up the discussion, Chair Anesi left the planning board with the following questions to ponder:

*  Do we want in that part of the community a development of “somewhat dense”  residential character and more active commercial use?
*  Long term, how will any proposed changes affect the character of the town?
*  Will it be an asset to the community?
A glance at the Planning Board’s agenda for Tuesday, November 20 shows that the board will again discuss “Chappaqua Crossing” (the developer’s name for the Reader’s Digest property), but earlier this time, at 7:00 p.m.

Lee Bowen has lived in New Castle for 29 years.  She reports from her vantage point at the corner of Roaring Brook Road and the HGHS entrance.