Letter to the Editor: Is New Castle ready for apartment buildings?
Monday, February 7, 2011
by Rob Greenstein
The town board is proposing a change in local law that seems designed specifically to shove aside planning board concerns about the Chappaqua Crossing project and, beyond that, pave the way in general to high-density apartment buildings of three or more stories in New Castle.
In last Friday’s edition of NewCastleNOW.org, an article appeared titled “At town board’s urging, planning board agrees to cut back on oversight authority.” This article reported that the New Castle Town Board had initiated discussion about changing town law to remove the authority the planning board now has to decide whether to allow multifamily dwelling units in buildings taller than two stories to share common hallways, stairs, elevators and exits-entrances to the outside.
Current laws and impact of proposed change to the law
As the law stands now, every multifamily housing unit in New Castle has its own entrance/exit to the outdoors. In order to do otherwise, the New Castle Planning Board, a volunteer advisory committee to the town board, must on a case-by-case basis grant a waiver to allow a developer to construct a multifamily building with shared exits/entrances.
If the town board votes to adopt the new law, the planning board will be left with authority only over one- and two-story buildings. Any future apartment buildings greater than two stories – such as the three-story apartment buildings proposed for the East Village of Chappaqua Crossing and the two four-story (five, with underground parking) buildings of 44 units each proposed for the North Village of Chappaqua Crossing would no longer require this special waiver from the planning board.
The New Castle Planning Board has been critical of Chappaqua Crossing
The planning board has been critical of Chappaqua Crossing, raising many concerns about the proposed residential development there. The planning board has questioned whether the site meets the criteria for creating a multifamily planned development (MFPD) zone; it has found the developer’s parking and traffic management plans deficient; and it has questioned the appropriateness of apartment buildings in a single family area, as well as the overall intensity of use of the Chappaqua Crossing site.
In planning board discussions of the Chappaqua Crossing draft environmental impact statement in October 2010, Planning Board Chair Susan Carpenter said, “I don’t know if the town can accommodate five stories.” She cited Old Farm Lake and Stone Creek as examples of dwellings that have a preferable “townhouse look more than an apartment-building look.” During that same discussion, planning board member Sheila Crespi characterized the apartment buildings of Chappaqua Crossing as “an urban concept but not an urban area,” adding, “Something needs to be done about the design to make it fit more into the neighborhood, whether it’s courtyards or something, but not big, rectangular apartment buildings.”
In the planning board’s discussion one week ago of the change in law that would curtail its authority, Sheila Crespi characterized the amendment to the law as “something that changes the texture of multifamily housing going forward.” Richard Brownell, acting as chairman, added, “It’s a good point.” But the planning board’s counsel, Les Steinman, and its planning consultant, Joanne Meder, continued to steer the planning board toward agreement with the town board, telling the planning board that their waiver authority over individual-access could be viewed as an impediment to high-density multifamily housing.
The public hearing on this proposed change continues tomorrow, Tuesday, February 8, at the town board meeting that starts at town hall at 8:30 p.m. The hearing is the first item on the agenda following the supervisor’s and administrator’s reports.
Robert J. Greenstein
To view NCNOW’s archived articles and letters—in chronological order, newest to oldest—on Chappaqua Crossing and Summit Greenfield’s application for a zoning change, click HERE.
When I first read this, I thought it was another example of our town board being tone deaf to the desires of the residents. I thought, “They just don’t get it.” But, I was wrong. I changed my mind. What this says is not, “We don’t hear you”. No it says, “We hear you, but screw you, we will do whatever suits our own self dealing agenda.”
There is no need to change this law when there is a process to grant waivers to it. The only issue is that the decision is with the planning board not the town board. Isn’t that what the planning board is for???
As my Popa used to say, “There is something rotten in Denmark.”
See you Tuesday.
I moved here because I liked the small-town atmosphere. Now they apparently want to start so many high-rise projects that they need to change the laws to accommodate all of them. More people means more traffic, more crowding, more infrastructure, more cost, less charm. Not to mention that high-rises are going to visually stick out like a sore thumb. Who wants an austere, multistory, brick monstrosity for a neighbor anyway? Didn’t we all move here to get away from that? You know what? Forget it. Just put a Walmart at Readers Digest. At least that way, my taxes will go down.
Can someone please explain why this change in procedure is needed? The only thing this article alludes to is that the board’s “waiver authority over individual-access could be viewed as an impediment to high-density multifamily housing”. Have the Planning Board’s professionals not laid out a stronger case than that?
Of course, some people will view this waiver authority that way, namely those with a vested interest in having that authority removed. What about those people who view the planning board as an indispensable advocate for neighborhood preservation? And those who feel the Planning board is an invaluable ally to the Town Board as it tries to police the activities of infinitely better financed developers? I for one feel like the more people acting as a check against unchecked development the better for all.
The Chappaque Crossing saga is only one example of the Planning Board helping to enforce the wishes of our fellow residents. This model should be touted to other towns, not abandoned.
I have lived in Chappaqua for nearly 30 years. I do not believe multi-family dwellings of greater that 2 stories are consistent with the character of this town. The population density of Chappaqua is already too high. I urge the town board not to approve the pending measure.
And although this code change doesn’t specifically mention Chappaqua Crossing, I would HOPE that conflicted and recused Board Members John Buckley & Elise Mottel will NOT take part in this vote.
Let’s face it, this law absolutely involves Chappaqua Crossing—even the counsel to the planning board and its planning consultant admitted that this law was NOT applicable to Hunts Lane, the affordable housing proposal for the downtown. If it’s NOT about Hunts Lane, what other 3, 4 or 5 story project COULD it be applied to? Answer: Chappaqua Crossing as well as any other future MFPD apartment building proposal “exceeding two stories.”
In addition to the proposed buildings at Chappaqua Crossing, there is yet another more outrageous proposal for the placement of a Five Story apartment building in the heart of Downtown Chappaqua. The Town Board plans to approve at least 36 units of Housing to be specifically marketed towards Low Income African Americans and Latinos. This is in response to the settlement of the New York Fair Housing Litigation by the County. There are so many issues with this proposal that one is hard-pressed to believe it is seriously being considered by our Town Board. The piece of land being considered is the narrow strip located at Exit 32 of the Saw Mill River Parkway between the Parkway and the Train tracks that currently stores construction equipment! Imagine driving into our town from the Saw Mill River Parkway and, after waiting to get off of the Saw Mill due to the new intersection that will be created, facing an imposing five story building directly on your right. Traffic issues? You bet. Environmental issues? Definitely. Aesthetic issues? Beyond belief. Please come to the February 8 Town Board Meeting and voice your Opposition to the drastic and dramatic changes the Town Board has in store for our beautiful Town. If you stay home, your lack of interest may empower the Town Board to forever destroy the Town as you know it.
I have lived in Chappaqua since 1974 when it was a rural, uncrowded and great place to live. The Town has over grown to the point that it cannot even maintain the roads which are subjected to great stress by the ever increasing traffic. It is hard to envision who would be served by this proposed change except Chappaqua Crossing, which, anyone who has read this publication knows, is overwhelmingly opposed by the residents of this town. The Town Board should leave oversight authority with the Planning Board as an additional check against overbuilding and overcrowding to the detriment of this community’s remaining country character.
A poker player looks for a “tell” to reveal what cards an opponent is holding. This proposal by the Town and Planning Boards is a “tell” revealing that undisclosed decisions have been reached that will benefit Summit Greenfield. What other reason would a major proposal be considered that will benefit ONLY Chappaqua Crossing at this time? What is driving this charade? Is it the two partner attorneys instilling fear in the members of both Boards, or is it Board members themselves, who want to take the easy way out? In either case they should all remember, the easy way is sometimes, as it would be in this case, the hard way.
Sometimes you CAN fight Tammany Hall!
Thanks to NCCMC.org for carrying these meetings like youtubes, so we can watch “on demand” online. Thanks also to NCNOW.org for providing the minute markers for the pertinent part of the meeting (2 hours, 17 minutes until 2 hours, 42 minutes). Here’s the address for the video:
I realized after hearing this discussion that the small change to the amendment that the planning board asked for was really insignificant—and PB members rightly dropped it (the issue was whether buildings in town with combined commercial and residential uses need to have access on different facades of the building).
But the REAL issue was that the planning board gave up its authority to waive (or not waive) the requirement for buildings exceeding two stories to provide separate entrances for each dwelling unit. This was the real issue. And it seems to have been done at the urging of their counsel and planning consultant.
This change was not needed for the affordable at Hunts Lane. What else will it make possible but Chappaqua Crossing AND any and all future 3, 4 and 5 story apt buildings? Why is the PB’s counsel so determined to permit apartment buildings? Is he acting at the direction of the town board? Who dreamed up this amendment change? The town board and planning board have some explaining to do.
It seemed to me also that the one-door-per-facade was a red herring and that the safety issue was also a red herring. The planning board possesses one small approval power on whether buildings of more than two stories must have separate entrances (as all dwellings—both houses and condos—currently have). The planning board could decide to waive the requirement or not.
Why would we want to take that power from them? Who does that leave to decide the matter? The town board? Leave the power with the planning board. This is their business.
I also had the distinct impression that the lawyer advising the planning board both pressed planning board members and confused them. I can’t imagine that the planning board members understood the significance of what they were willing to give up. Now that they have approved, it rests with the town board to adopt the law after a public hearing. I hope the public will make itself heard. Leave the power to decide with the planning board!
Why do the two law partners, planning board counsel Steinman and town board counsel Smith, always present arguments for granting residential zoning to Summit Greenfield?
Both boards are being guided by these law partners. They consistently appear to see only that side. Why?
Why is this community’s future in their hands? They were not elected.
Time for a change?
iVe seen several emails forwarded today in which supervisor gerrard explains that this change gives the planning board greater flexibility and that that’s a good thing.
Not possible. The planning board gave up something, they didn’t make themselves more flexible. I suppose they gave up the absolute requirement to make sure doors to commercial are on different sides of a building that also has residential. That might make them more flexible if they kept the power to decide this case by case. Did they keep that power, to decide on an individual basis? That could be the flexibility the supervisor means.
Why did the planning board give up its venue to the town board? Power is being centralized to reside in the town board, and all for the benefit of Summit Greenfield.
Not only is Summit Greenfield changing the face of this country town, with an urban development of multi-storied apartment buildings, but they are changing our laws and altering the structure of our government.
We need to stand up for the community and attend the meeting tomorrow night to let the people’s voice be heard.
John Buckley and Elise Mottel must recuse themselves as this is just an indirect move toward a zoning change to benefit Chappaqua Crossing. There is only one applicant to whom this change of rule applies—Summit Greenfield. Who else is applying to build apartment buildings of this size at this time?
The Hunts Lane development doesn’t need the change of rule, it is already exempt because of location.
These two members of the TB must realize this, and it is the sworn duty of TB counsel to advise them accordingly.
Conflict of interest has already been acknowledged.
First Con: The Teachers Union cons the School Board into granting what will be the only teachers’salary increase in Westchester in the year after next.
Second Con: The Town Board cons the Planning Board into giving up its responsibilities by granting its authority to the Town Board.
Third Con: Summit Greenfield runs the most significant con of all, with the passage by the Town Board of a building code change that now solely benefits them, but in the years to come will bring Garth Road, Scarsdale into the Hamlet of Chappaqua.
Fourth Con: (Yet to come, but it will before the snow melts, and it is anyone’s guess which Board will execute it).
The proposal to limit the authority of the Planning Board over apartment buildings exceeding two stories destroys its relevance as an important overseer of development in New Castle. The absence of any clearly articulated benefit for such limitation highlights that the proposal is driven by special interests. If the Planning Board has had sufficient competence to adjudicate development since its establishment by the Town Law, why then should it be limited when the first significant controversy over large apartment building development is before it?
Just as when Roosevelt attempted to “pack” the Supreme Court, this proposal must be viewed for what it really is-an indirect effort to obtain approval for SG’s project. The proposed limitation is offensive. I agree with the prior comment that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
To me, this change seems to be absolutely, positively a mistake. Among other reasons, I agree it appears designed to benefit Chappaqua Crossing (a project which will forever change the character of this town) and the community population is already dense enough. Please don’t do it!!!!!!!
Why would the Town Board want a lawsuit? They must know by now that if they push through residential zoning for CC the residents will sue.
Why put the town through this turmoil again and again? The Town Board has created such misery and anger in this town by their cowardice.
Town Board, “Screw your courage to the sticking point” and act according to your office or resign and let someone else fill that office.
Agree absolutely with Obvious in the Extreme.
Special interests is what it is all about. For attorneys to take this risk is amazingly foolish, especially in a town of lawyers.
I attended my first Town Board meeting tonight. When a constituent asked a question, our Supervisor told him, “this is a public hearing, not a Q&A.”
Can someone please tell me what is the process to ask questions and get answers from our Town Board?
I have been biting my tounge, trying to keep my mouth shut. I have lived here 41 years now. I know Hunts Lane like the back of my hand. Close your eyes and imagine this….Traffic coming under the bridge to go to the highway dept, the recycling center, World Cup, and the bus company-and let’s not forget traffic trying to get on the parkway. Then you have traffic leaving Hunts Lane- Buses, trucks, mothers who have dropped their kids off, or picked their kids up. And let’s not forget traffic coming off the Saw Mill Parway. Now the town is thinking of putting up a monster apartment building at the end of Hunts Lane, which means another roadway merging onto Hunts Place under the bridge. Who ever dreamed up the idea of a 36 family apartment building at this site isn’t the brightest light bulb in town.
That would be true if it weren’t a plan that has a 3rd story onto the bridge. That makes all the difference. I can’t believe the state would agree to smething so sensible tho as to allow the connection.
In response to: “That’s why the bridge access”
It’s folly to assume the bridge will substantially mitigate car traffic for 36 family units. Not everyone works in Manhattan. One of the arguments for cheap apartments is to provide housing for local workers who could otherwise not afford to live here. Guess what? Unless they work right in town (where there are sidewalks), they’re driving to work. Also, just because there are school buses, doesn’t mean people always use them. Just go to any of the schools at entry/dismissal time to realize that. Bet on a substantial percentage driving kids to school every day. A doorway onto the bridge? Well, if I lived there, knowing what a pain it was to get into and out of the apartment complex driveway, I suspect if I did carpool I would have my friends pick me up and drop me off on the bridge. After all, you just have to stop for a minute. What harm in that?