Letter to the Editor: With multiple projects proposed all over town, we REALLY need to talk

October 19, 2012
by Rob Greenstein

There are a lot of proposals for development right now, and they all seem to be happening in separate compartments.  We need a Big Picture talk with town officials, residents and developers.

Summit Greenfield, the owner of Chappaqua Crossing, has appealed the state lawsuit that was dismissed two weeks ago and the Federal case is still pending.

It ‘s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to this point with Summit Greenfield. But New York State requires completion of this arduous environmental review process before municipalities may approve substantive development projects that may have significant impacts on the local environment. This environmental review process identified many negative social, environmental and economic impacts on the community, many of which were expressed by residents.  These negative impacts could not be simply ignored and negotiated away; they have to actually be mitigated.  If a developer becomes impatient with that process, positions hardened, communication stops and we make no progress.

How can we learn from this experience, especially when we now are confronted with an application to allow 120,000 square feet of retail space at Chappaqua Crossing?

The answer is simple: we need a collaborative process that includes all interested parties and stakeholders— Town Hall, residents and developers—to participate in the solution.  People should become aware of the issues in more detail than we’ve seen so far, before sides form and positions harden on this latest issue of retail zoning.

A lot of irons in the fire

We have many projects being considered right now.  The Town Board is considering changing the zoning at Chappaqua Crossing to allow a retail use with the hope that Chappaqua will once again have a supermarket.  Conifer wants to build a 36 units of affordable housing on Hunts Lane.  A Westchester developer, Mountco, is looking to construct 40 units of senior housing next to the Chappaqua Firehouse, a New Jersey developer, Soder Real Estate Equities L.L.C., is interested in building residential units on the Legionaries’ property, and Chappaqua developer Chuck Napoli has proposed a plan to revitalize the Chappaqua hamlet.

Everything seems to be happening in separate compartments.  Let’s get together and evaluate the needs of all interested parties.

Town and school tax revenue

We need to increase our commercial tax revenues.  Our biggest industry—our prized school system—is almost completely dependent on residential taxes (97% residential versus 3% commercial).  Chappaqua Crossing and our downtown hamlets must be sources of increased commercial tax revenues.  A look at the master plan includes a look at our existing zoning to see if there are changes we want to make that will enable reasonable development at Chappaqua Crossing and enable the Chappaqua and Millwood hamlets to thrive.

Summit Greenfield

Summit Greenfield has 662,000 square feet of office space, 522,000 of it vacant right now.  They obviously want to a nice return on their investment.  Although Summit Greenfield did not initiate an application for the retail overlay zone on their property (that was done on the Town Board’s own initiative) the developer would understandably welcome the prospect of retail tenants.

And just this past Wednesday, Summit Greenfield submitted a “Preliminary Development Plan” for the addition of a “retail component” at Chappaqua Crossing.

Downtown Chappaqua merchants

Downtown Chappaqua merchants want a robust business hamlet.  They lived through a four-year bridge construction project, and their businesses suffered.  Internet sales are a threat to brick-and-mortar businesses everywhere.  Shop owners are concerned that if 120,000 square feet of retail space is allowed at Chappaqua Crossing, it would hurt them badly.  Plus, merchants point out that experts in this industry say our population isn’t dense enough to support a high-end supermarket like a Whole Foods. And those same experts say it’s much more likely that a Walmart Express would go there.

They point out that a failing or vacant downtown hamlet and/or Walmart would not be a good selling point for potential home buyers.  Plus, if our downtown turns into a ghost town, we would lose those commercial tax revenues.

Conifer’s Hunts Place proposal for affordable housing

Conifer wants to build 36 units of affordable housing, but many residents believe that the revisions that have been made still result in a five-story building that is far too massive and still fails to address the many substantial deficiencies of this proposal, including the inappropriateness of the site for residential development.  In addition, the railroad side of the building is completely inaccessible to fire-fighting equipment. 

Legionaries of Christ property

Developers from New Jersey submitted a plan for the 97-acre Legionaries of Christ property on the Armonk Road (Route 128). The plan originally included a 30-room boutique hotel and a 20,000 square foot spa and gym facility, changed recently to all-residential.  That plan would certain help our commercial tax revenues, since the current religious use of the property leaves it now untaxed—but is the property appropriate for such a use?

Hamlet Revitalization Project

Local resident and developer-architect Chuck Napoli is working on a plan that would add 17,000 square feet of retail space, 33,000 square feet of residential, and 31,000 of market space to downtown Chappaqua.  The plan would include raising the field at Bell School, building a turf field on top and build a 400-spot parking lot underneath, a net increase of 250 spaces over the existing parking lot. 

Many believe this plan will solve two old problems—a lousy Bell field and too little parking.  There would be a performance space as an anchor—a multi-purpose performing arts center with a footprint of around 6,000 to 8,000 square feet with around 366 seats, for live performance, films and lectures—all to draw people and their dollars to the downtown.  Napoli would have control over who to accept as tenants.  He says he would not seek to duplicate existing businesses, and would work to create the proper business mix.

Where do we go from here?

We need a collaborative process that includes all interested parties and stakeholders.  I think this should be part of a much larger community discussion; a discussion in conjunction with amending the master plan.  Last spring, the planning board had plans to begin a study of our master plan in September.  The planning board should go forward with it.

We have to determine if a third retail center is something the community really wants.

We have to determine if a third retail center would have a negative impact on the other Chappaqua and Millwood hamlets.

Maybe Chappaqua Crossing is more suited for that hotel and spa that the developer wanted for the Legionaries property.

A NewCastleNOW reader suggested adding another medical use at Chappaqua Crossing: a rehabilitation center for our returning soldiers.

Should we move our town hall and police department to Chappaqua Crossing? Could its owners be induced to “swap” properties and develop the town hall site with retail and residential, both market-rate and affordable?

Should the Hunts Place property be used for commercial space or a parking structure?

Is the Legionaries of Christ property better suited for residential development such as Soder has recently proposed, with market-rate and the required 10% affordable housing,?

Is Chuck Napoli’s plan to increase retail and residential space the answer to our downtown Chappaqua business woes?

One thing is certain: we must foster a working relationship with all developers as we take one another’s interests into consideration.  We must consider one another’s needs, and—from the proposals that present themselves—figure out win-win solutions.  We need innovative thinking to generate creative ideas for discussion.

Let’s do so before positions harden and communication stops.

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

We know that many people are upset that D’Agostino’s closed and want a supermarket in Chappaqua.  But what the Town Board is proposing at Chappaqua Crossing is NOT about a new supermarket – IT’S ABOUT CREATING A STRIP MALL! 

It’s about adding over 120,000 square feet of new retail space, including at least one tenant the size of a typical WalMart, with the HOPE that maybe a supermarket will come. 

It’s about destroying downtown Chappaqua.  In addition to a 60,000 square foot anchor store, there will be other large merchants and will likely include ANOTHER dry cleaner, another nail salon—all the typical shops in a shopping strip anchored by a Walmart-type store—as well as, according to the Town Board, a Verizon Wireless shop and a SEWAGE TREATMENT CENTER!  This will draw even more shoppers away from the downtown Chappaqua shopping hamlet, a place we need to support if we want local merchants at all. 

A strip mall will negatively impact the surrounding neighborhoods.  We will have trucks delivering food at all hours of the day and night through predominantly residential neighborhoods, and 120 and 117, not to mention the potential for accidents (or worse!) with our High School right next door! This is already a dangerous and busy intersection, and trucks are not allowed on the Saw Mill.  One accident will stop traffic for miles.

The Town Board should focus on strengthening retail operations in our current downtown hamlets.  There are other options available, such as developing the current Town Hall property, that the Board has not even considered.  They are trying to appease Summit Greenfield, who is currently suing the Town.  And they WILL, if we don’t take action now. 

Please sign the petition to STOP THE STRIP MALL AND SAVE DOWNTOWN CHAPPAQUA before it is too late!!


By Concerned Businesses and Residents of New Castle on 10/19/2012 at 6:50 am

I agree with Rob – we need to coordinate all of these projects and look at the big picture.

By interested reader on 10/19/2012 at 8:15 am

In all due respect, Rob, I think you were one of the individuals getting the community all whipped up about what a devastating loss a supermarket (SM) would be to Chappaqua. It’s clear this activity got the town board motivated to find an alternative to fend off all the criticism it received for not doing enough to block Walgreens from replacing Dags and not finding a SM to locate there instead.  Let me remind you of your position on a SM at Chap Crossing. On March 8, 2012, The Chappaqua-Mt Kisco Patch, reported: Rob Greenstein, who ran for town board last fall and criticized the 199-unit proposal because he was concerned that it would limit commercial use on the site, praised the town’s interest (in a supermarket). He said: “I’m very happy to hear that they’re considering rezoning Chappaqua Crossing, for that purpose” . He also feels that such a move could help in having any settlement of the lawsuits. Greenstein has proposed considering Chappaqua Crossing, or developing the Chappaqua train station parking lot, as possible sites to build a grocery store.”  The damage is done, the wheels are in motion and we now need to figure out how to stop the “supermarket train” from arriving at the Crossing.  Nonetheless, I agree there needs to be a master plan and I thought there was one. In fact, part of what delayed the 120 bridge was how the New Castle master plan fit in with the bridge.  Why doesn’t someone dust it off and update it. Additionally, with regard to a SM and more retail, I agree with you that the train station parking lot should be looked at. There are acres of flat land used today for a parking lot that could be converted into something with multiple purposes including a parking lot.

By kld on 10/19/2012 at 11:59 am

Why not do something like Napoli is proposing for the Bell field.  I suggest we consider building a multipurpose structure in the back train station parking lot that can be used for a supermarket with some other retail on the ground floor, underground parking for train commuters and place a sports turf field on the top with lights.  We get our supermarket, we get our turf field with lights, we increase our commercial base and the commuters still have a place to park. Of course, this may drive more traffic across the bridge into town and may require converting the intersection to a T with a traffic light but that might be ok, perhaps.

By KLD continued on 10/19/2012 at 12:00 pm

KLD,  If you recall, I never made the loss of a supermarket an issue when I ran for the town board.  I was well aware that it wasn’t the Town Board’s fault, and I didn’t want to take any cheap shots.  Plus, I was well aware that we couldn’t force the owner D’Agostino’s property to rent it to another supermarket. 

Yes, I was in favor of a supermarket @ Chappaqua Crossing, and I even acknowledged same when I spoke at the public hearing on rezoning to allow retail stores at Chappaqua Crossing September 24th. I stated “And the scary part,” Greenstein continued, “is that the town is doing it on their own initiative. [Chappaqua Crossing] hasn’t even asked for it. And this part that there’s five other stores [actually up to 80,000 or 90,000 square feet of retail space made of stores of not less than 5,000 square feet each]—we’re talking about a strip mall. Maybe a year ago I said the grocery would be a good idea there, but that was also before I heard there would be five other stores [—and it’s really five other BUILDINGS] around it. That’s very, very troubling. And we don’t even know whether we’re going to get a supermarket up there. It’s not like a Whole Foods is saying ‘OK, great!” We have no idea who comes and [Chappaqua Crossing] will have exclusive control over this.”

Bottom line, if the Town Board was ONLY suggesting a high-end supermarket – like a Whole Foods – and if that high-end supermarket was interested – I very well might have a different opinion.  But, people must understand the size of this project – it’s not about a new supermarket @ Chappaqua Crossing – it’s about creating a strip mall – it’s about adding 120K square feet of new retail space.  It’s about creating a third business hamlet.  It’s about possibly destroying our downtown, and understanding what the supermarket, assuming we even get it, comes with. 

By Rob Greenstein on 10/19/2012 at 2:00 pm

Rob – we see you are becoming quite the politician. You are already flip flopping and mincing words. We lost Dags we will be gaining Walgreens and we agree we need a supermarket in our community. Chapp Crossing done properly, appropriately designed and implemented is the solution. The former Readers Digest campus can be designed to fit a tastefully designed supermarket with some adjacent retail while also taking into account traffic and safety. Rob – you and others continue to label this project a ” strip mall” and it’s not even on the blackboard. Repeating something over and over that is misleading and untrue doesn’t make it so. Strip mall conjures up some ugly storefronts with little consideration for the surrounding environment and character of the neighborhood- something from the 70’s / 80’s. That will never be allowed at Chapp Crossing! Before you and others dismiss this attempt at bringing a supermarket and additional tax revenue to our town perhaps you might give it a chance to unfold.
And YES I live in town and do not work for the developer.

By Happychappy on 10/19/2012 at 2:45 pm

Perhaps you didn’t see the developers plans? Just as Mr Napoli submitted drawings, renderings, and scaled plans for his downtown proposal so did the developer of Chapp Crossing for the supermarket/retail idea. If any of you would have taken the time to review it and keep an open mind you would see it is definitely NOT a strip mall. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t but please people we must give them a fair chance to present their ideas.

By Relax on 10/19/2012 at 4:52 pm

HappyChappy, please tell me when I said I wanted anything but a HIGH END supermarket @ Chappaqau Crossing.  Please tell me when I said I wanted 120,000 of new retail space at Chappaqua Crossing.  Are you suggesting that any supermarket plus ten 5,000 square foot stores is the equivalent of a HIGH END supermarket?  Would you agree that 120,000 square feet of retail space would create lots of problems that a single HIGH END supermarket would not?

Relax, I agree, lets hears the developer has to say.  Also, lets hear what the residents have to say.  And, I mean, really listen to the residents.  Then, as I said in my letter,  we can we “take one another’s interests into consideration”.

By Rob Greenstein on 10/19/2012 at 6:12 pm

It’s not a traditional strip mall—but only because its stores are not lined up all in a row and are not visible from the street.  Otherwise… yes it is a strip mall.  A slightly hidden one.  Definitely a shopping center or shopping plaza—and a really really big one.

What’s “scaled back” about it?  They’re showing more big box buildings on the property. 

You’re saying Chapp Crossing is scaled back and so is Napoli’s plan?  What are you looking at?

How are Napoli’s plans “scaled back”? Napoli’s are scaled UP—in the right place, to make a downtown that does more than barely scrape by.

By Relax, you’re too relaxed! on 10/19/2012 at 6:48 pm

To Relax, you are too relaxed…so Napoli’s plans are scaled up ” in the right place” to improve downtown as you say. So you support Napoli’s plan and obviously oppose this Chapp Crossing PRELIMINARY plan? Your Not In My Backyard selfish view is shining thru. Napoli proposes a cement bunker to house 400 cars. He proposes an all purpose turf field to sit above it. We are going to attract more children to this field while we also have a middle school right there and now he proposes more shops, more cars, more traffic. In addition he plans a performing arts center which I am not sure anybody but a few really want – go to Jacob Burns.

It’s already impossible to drive around downtown when Bell lets out and impossible to exit the train station when rush hour trains empty. I guess this is all ok with you as long as it is not in your backyard. But to suggest a huge 80% empty Chapp Crossing campus be converted into something that will bring a much needed supermarket and commercial tax revenue to our town -that upsets you? Be honest, there is nothing but an empty Chapp Crossing that will make you NIMBY folks happy.

By Resident on 10/20/2012 at 2:50 pm

Rob- you did support a high end supermarket at Chapp Crossing and now it appears you oppose a supermarket at Chapp Crossing. If this proposal is too big and problematic than we should encourage and support a complex at Chapp Crossing that is more suitable.

This plan is the first step and we should expect changes and compromise so that our community can get what it needs( super market and additional commercial taxes). Your opposition plays not the hands of those that will oppose and obstruct ANYTHING at this site. We can come up with a great plan for a Whole Foods or Trader Joes with sufficient parking and traffic solutions and those opposed now will still be opposed.

Under no circumstances will we allow a strip mall yet this expression continues to be used to describe the plan proposed. And please let’s remember this is the first plan and one that should be refined and improved.

By Happychappy on 10/20/2012 at 3:05 pm

Rob-I’m not sure why a High End” supermarket is so appealing for Chap Crossing while a good old supermarket is not.  The town had a “high end” supermarket (Dags) with high end prices. It left because the community did not do the bulk of their food shopping there.  the prices were simply too high.  That’s what the community said in their comments published on the issue in New Castle Now. Just because we are the 1%, that doesn’t mean we want to pay extraordinary prices for basic foodstuff. The bottom line is that no market belongs at Chap Crossing.  We don’t need it there, nor want it there.  Consider my proposal above if you think we really need a supermarket in town.  Take a look at the train station parking lot.  Build a supermarket in the back lot with a parking deck and a lighted turf field on top.

By KLD on 10/22/2012 at 9:22 am

How do we get to this point, where do we get to this point, what is needed to get to this point, and what previous points have been discussed? Also, does this apply inside town hall or out in the field?

By Work in progress on 10/22/2012 at 1:33 pm

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