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 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.