Letter to New Castle Planning Board: Opposition to rezoning of Chappaqua Crossing

November 19, 2010
by Betty and Leonard Weitz

Editor’s note: There are no further public comment sessions required on Summit Greenfield’s proposal for Chappaqua Crossing under the New York State Environmental Review Act (SEQR). However, under New Castle Town Code, the town board must hold a public hearing on Summit Greenfield’s request to rezone the property to accommodate a multi-family planned development zone, or MFPD.  Perhaps as soon as late December the town board will provide advance notice of this hearing. 

New Castle Planning Board:
Ms. Susan Carpenter, Chair
Ms. Sheila Crespi
Mr. Gerard Curran
Mr. Douglas Schuerman
Mr. Richard Brownell

Dear Members:

We wish to register our opposition to any rezoning for residential use of the former Reader’s Digest property.  We do not reside in that immediate vicinity, but we support our fellow residents who live in that neighborhood since they will suffer the most hardship.  Furthermore, we believe that the negative impact on the town as a whole will be severe and irreparable.

Affordable Housing

One issue that the developer, Summit Greenfield, has addressed and promised to fulfill is to supply twenty units of affordable housing.  We are sure that the board is aware that there is no law that mandates or requires that Summit Greenfield sell any of their units at “affordable” prices.  We have been informed that unless Summit Greenfield takes the appropriate government grants neither Westchester County nor any other government authority has any jurisdiction over the pricing.  There is also the consideration that if Summit Greenfield does take government money, there will be the loss of certain powers of self-governance for the town as well as for the developer. 

If Summit Greenfield accepts the grants, they must meet certain criteria. 

1) According to Ms. Bacal of the Westchester County Department of Planning Land Use /SEQR Committee in her June 16, 2009 letter, “Of course, all affordable housing units should be integrated seamlessly and anonymously throughout the site.”  (See enclosed letter.) Yet Summit Greenfield has planned a separate area, the East Village, in their plans for the affordable housing units. 

2) We also know that Chappaqua Crossing does not meet the criterion for affordable housing https://www.newcastlenow.org/files/index-php/article/of “reasonable proximity to shopping services and other community facilities” because of its location.

Another important issue that bears further examination is that Summit Greenfield adds a proviso on the issue of supplying affordable housing for our New Castle workforce:
“It is not possible to determine who, or what number of persons who now work in New Castle, would occupy the workforce units.”(DEIS.I-26)  One major objective of the affordable housing mandate is to extend availability of all affordable housing across the county. 

If we judge from our own history of condominium developers in New Castle who have promised, time and again, affordable units for our workforce, that experience will reveal that they never fulfilled their promises. Let us not repeat that history.

Ecological issues: 600 trees to be razed, including 80 mature specimens

In the same letter, Ms. Bacal has serious concerns about ecological issues.  She states: “It is questionable whether the open space fulfills the purpose of the minimum ‘park and/or recreation space’ of the New Castle Zoning Code.”

Her concern brings up the issue of razing over 600 trees “including 80 mature” trees, as reported by Summit Greenfield in the DEIS (I-21), which is bound to have a deleterious affect upon the flora and fauna of that acreage.  Even though they claim that they will “replace” them, how do you replace trees of significant maturity?  (Has our conservation committee been consulted?)  Under the good stewardship of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace, that property was open land, in effect a preserve, in character with the open nature of that residential landscape.

Viability of financial requirements

We must also consider the viability of the financial requirements that the developer must satisfy. The condominiums would have to be priced to meet the formula of 80% of the AMI (actually it is recommended that developers should calculate only 70% of the AMI) and 30% of that amount for:  mortgage principal and interest, home insurance, common charges, Home Owners Association (HOA) fees and taxes.  Whether the affordable housing pricing would fit into the developer’s overall financial plan is something that we believe both the planning and town boards should investigate (if they have not already done so). 

The requirement for affordable housing is 1.5 persons for each bedroom (if they meet the specification of appropriate size).  That means that one can calculate what the affordable price would be for a two-bedroom unit based on the percentages of the AMI for a household of three. One simply has to do the math. Whether the developer could successfully execute the seamless integration of the affordable units and offset that highly probable loss with the sale of their market units is questionable, especially if the economy does not significantly improve and when we consider the cost of integrating affordable housing “seamlessly and anonymously throughout the site.” We urge both boards carefully to consider an analysis of the AMI tables and requirements to ascertain just how financially viable such an endeavor would be for this developer.

If affordable housing is not financially viable as part of their development, the protocol, as it was explained to us, is that the developer goes, yet again, to the boards in that municipality – namely, New Castle – and applies for relief.  In short, they simply come back before your boards and petition, once again, for relief from “hardship” to price the units at market value.  Consider, that if they do not accept government money, you will be on the firing line, again, as they demand their “right” to make what they deem to be the appropriate profit or to remain financially sound.

Import https://www.newcastlenow.org/files/index-php/article/of “community’s master plan” to the lead agency’s analysis

We direct the attention of both boards to the SEQR Handbook for the lead agency (town board) and the applicant that specifically lists “the community’s master plan” under items to be included in the scoping product (2.3:e).  The conditions set forth in New Castle’s current master plan contraindicate and preclude Summit Greenfield’s project for the residential rezoning of the former Reader’s Digest property for many reasons, including the character of the landscape and the intensity of land use.  Summit Greenfield’s building plan calls for four-story apartment buildings on the same site as commercial space and parking facilities.  Such intensity of land use is unprecedented in the Town of New Castle.

A master plan is drafted for an express purpose, namely, to protect and maintain the integrity and character of the town and the current master plan accomplishes this mission.  At a town board meeting, Supervisor Barbara Gerrard stated that she is considering revising the master plan.  We strongly urge the town board against such an action since it would place the Town of New Castle in significant jeopardy and force residents to take the appropriate measures. 

It is obvious that the issue of “revising” the master plan at this particular time is solely for the purpose of accommodating Summit Greenfield’s needs for Chappaqua Crossing. The idea is not to conform the master plan to developers, but for developers to conform to the master plan.  It is designed to work in the interest of the town to protect it against improper land use that would affect the essential character of the town and encroach on the rights of neighboring residents. Any revision of the master plan can wait until after the issue of Chappaqua Crossing is resolved. This is yet another reason why the town board is causing great discomfort to residents. 

New Castle is at an historical crossroads

New Castle is at an historical crossroads that will determine its destiny. It is incumbent upon us as current residents, and the town board and planning board as stewards of the community, to assure the continuity and future of the quality of life of the Town of New Castle at this precipitous moment in its history.  Summit Greenfield bought the Reader’s Digest property with full knowledge that it was commercially zoned and it is time that they take the appropriate responsibility for their investment choices. The town has gone beyond the call of duty to give Summit Greenfield the greatest latitude in giving audience to its unreasonable demands.  It is now time to close the book on this matter and to deny this application.

Risks to the Chappaqua Central School District

The Summit Greenfield plan for residential use of this commercially zoned property has been proven by many sources to be seriously flawed. Obviously traffic, parking, infrastructure and the pastoral character of the town are serious issues that, to say the least, have low priority for this developer. In addition there is the issue of the risk to the Chappaqua Central School District.

Although we have no children in the school system, our advocacy for our neighbors and fellow residents reflects our steadfast concern and sense of responsibility that we pass on to current and future generations a school system at least as good and as sound or even better than the one that our children enjoyed.  Summit Greenfield’s most obvious viable selling point would be to market the Chappaqua Central School District. But it is the school district that would then have to bear the risk of the fiscal burden of a tax shortfall and/or the decline of excellence of the Chappaqua schools.
It is interesting to note that although twenty townhouses will be designated fee simple, there is no guarantee that they will be built before the condominiums, or in a timely fashion, or even at all.  The developer can simply claim a lack of finances at that juncture.

A further indication of this developer’s flagrant disregard for the landscape of our town, as well as for its quality of life, is Summit Greenfield’s obdurate resistance and, finally, their grudging assent to retain the historic designation of the iconic Georgian revival building, yet, making it “pedestrian friendly,” (whatever that means) as Mr. Tung stated in his presentation.

The board will be opening a Pandora’s box if they agree to rezone

The boards should further consider what precedent they are setting.  Imagine if we all make a similar claim for rezoning.  Many in this town are suffering true hardship.  If we apply for rezoning of our respective properties, we could realize substantial profits.  Furthermore, we are already residentially zoned unlike the Reader’s Digest property.  Parity would be the issue.  All applications must be treated equitably.  Once such a precedent is established, it opens a Pandora’s box.

Given the bad faith that Summit Greenfield has demonstrated with their repeated obfuscations and distortions of the facts, we urge both boards to deny this application. There have been so many serious issues that Summit Greenfield has not addressed that their credibility is in serious doubt.  The fact that they cavalierly delegated to the town the problem of the enforceability of age restriction when that claim has not survived legal contest elsewhere, and only belatedly withdrew it when repeatedly challenged with irrefutable proof, claiming that they were acceding graciously to the town board’s request for relief, is further proof of their disdainful disregard for the facts and for the impact of their venture on the Town of New Castle.

Their untoward demand that the town bear the risk of the enormous cost both materially in the fiscal burden of increased taxes and qualitatively in our school system, infrastructure, traffic, parking, noise and other pollution, and the erosion of the bucolic character of our community in order to serve their opportunism, makes it imperative that the town and planning boards act as good stewards of the community and use their agency and authority to deny this application.  As many have stated, it has gone on long enough.

If their application had initially been denied, they might have taken legal action. Nothing has changed in that regard, that is still a possibility. If that is the case, we believe the people of this community will be in full support of whatever legal measures the boards deem necessary. If, by any chance, their rezoning application were to be approved, there will be significant lawsuits opposing the town ruling with the requisite injunctions delaying any building for many years to come.

We commend the board for its diligence and thank you for the opportunity to express the concerns and perspectives that we have been sharing in various groups with our fellow residents.

Respectfully yours,

Betty & Leonard Weitz

cc:  Town Board; Supervisor Gerrard, Mr. Robin Stout, Mr. Michael Wolfensohn
To find NCNOW.org’s archived articles and letters to the editor on Chappaqua Crossing, listed in chronological order, click HERE.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

GREAT letter!  And I really hope your letter doesn’t get over-looked with the controversy re: the cupcake issue. 

This is what our community needs to stay focused on.  And this is the issue that should & will affect future board elections, not the cupcake issue.

By Rob Greenstein on 11/19/2010 at 7:08 am

Thank you for an informed and clear exposition of the issues.  I cannot be sufficiently complementary.  But it is time that someone stood up for Summit Greenfield.  It is unfair for the Town Board to continue to consider their request when it is obvious to anyone paying attention that their proposal is awful and should be denied. It should be denied resolutely and soon.  I used to think the Town Board was doing the right thing by giving Summit Greenfield a full hearing.  That time has passed.  Do the right thing for the community and Summit Greenfield, say “NO” and say it now.

Stop the Insanity

By Stop the Insanity on 11/19/2010 at 2:42 pm

I agree, your letter is excellent and I thank you for writing it. 

As you demonstrate, rejecting the Summit Greenfield proposal on the merits should be a fairly straight-forward exercise.  But the reality is that the community MUST STAY FOCUSED on this issue to ensure that the proposal is soundly defeated.  We simply CANNOT let down our guard.

By Resident of Chappaqua on 11/19/2010 at 4:51 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful and well-written letter. It eloquently expressed what so many of us feel about this horrendous plan put forth by a greedy and dismissive developer. An end should be put to this plan as soon as possible. Those people on the Town Board who should have the town of New Castle’s best interest at heart should listen to Chappaqua’s residents and so so now.

By a concerned resident of this town on 11/20/2010 at 10:19 am

Have there be discussions about candidates to replace the Supervisor and the Board? I believe there are folks who are interested. In fact, I know there are folks who are interested.

By Potential Candidate for Town Board on 11/20/2010 at 1:33 pm

Excellent letter that sets out the issues clearly and fairly.  Many of us would be willing to participate in a law suit to enjoin this project.

Further, noting the requirement for government funding that “affordable housing” must be located in “reasonable proximity to shopping services and other community facilities,” and Summit Greenfield’s statement that the old Reader’s Digest building will be made “pedestrian friendly,” one wonders what SG intends to do with that landmarked structure.  Are we talking about public shopping and other commercial or service facilities that would only further increase the traffic and congestion in the area? 

I agree with the Weitzes that the SG proposal has placed the town of New Castle at a historical crossroads, and urge all residents to unite in opposition to this project.

By Lawrence Farm Crossing Resident on 11/22/2010 at 9:33 am

I am a taxpayer, and I agree! Thank you for your thoughtful letter, especially this, which should be shouted from the rooftops until the Town Board hears:

Summit Greenfield bought the Reader’s Digest property with full knowledge that it was commercially zoned and it is time that they take the appropriate responsibility for their investment choices. The town has gone beyond the call of duty to give Summit Greenfield the greatest latitude in giving audience to its unreasonable demands.  It is now time to close the book on this matter and to deny this application.

By Tired of Being Summit Greenfield Hostage on 11/22/2010 at 10:36 am

I am going down to Gedney to sell tea without a permit so I can have a tea party to defeat this rotten proposal.  Maybe someone will call my mommy to tell on me.

I agree with mr. greenstein.  let’s stay focused on destroying this terrible proposal.

By sell my house please on 11/22/2010 at 3:30 pm

Re:potential candidate for Town Board, the Demcocrats will be well-served if they offer a completetely new slate of candidates as this is a weak Town Board schooled by a Supervisor that does not believe in open dialogue or fair debate.  However, the Republicans need to step up and offer credible candidiates as well. The Town will only be well-governed when both parties are engaged in the process with credible candidates.

By A Reposnse to Potential Candidate on 11/24/2010 at 2:59 pm

In following the planning board discussions, what would happen if the affordable units have more bedrooms?  More Kids? How will this change all the numbers put forward for the development?  Also, no one has answered that there is a need for more condos in town.

By NJH on 11/25/2010 at 9:19 am

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