Mastering the Master Plan Process: A Week in Master Planning

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Editor’s Note: Last week was jam-packed with Master Plan-related meetings.  Supervisor Greenstein in a “conversation” sponsored by the League of Women Voters, a presentation by the firm contracted to perform $6.5 million of infrastructure repairs for downtown Chappaqua, a Board of Ed meeting in which members discussed their fears that the $600,000 for Greeley road improvements may not be enough, a Pace outreach session to recap Master Plan efforts so far and show what’s to come, and Bob Kirkwood resigns from Master Plan Steering Committee. Below are “in brief” and more lengthy accounts and observations of each—as well as some of the editor’s opinions [in brackets].

In brief

• In a League of Women Voters conversation with Supervisor Rob Greenstein last week, he revealed that he’s considering striking a deal with Summit Greenfield to place the 20 affordable housing units of the 111 total approved residential in the upper floors of the cupola building instead, leaving 91 market-rate units for the residential-zoned area.

• Consultants WSP Sells summarized some long-term and interim recommendations for infrastructure (water main repair mainly along Greeley Avenue) and streetscape improvements to downtown Chappaqua.  Long-term, they suggested making the triangle at the bridge behave like a roundabout.

• Summit Greenfield’s architects presented Town Board members with more detailed renderings of the retail buildings proposed for Chappaqua Crossing.  The guiding principle of the design seems to be to make large retail spaces read as multiple smaller buildings with differing facades—“Georgian” in style, to complement the cupola building—and to appear to have second stories.  Click HERE to see the renderings.

• The public hearing on the preliminary development concept plan (PDCP) for Chappaqua Crossing began last Tuesday and continues on April 14.  Between these, this Tuesday, March 17, the Planning Board, Town Board and Architectural Review Board meet together to discuss the PDCP. 

[All during the review of Summit Greenfield’s application for retail zoning at Chappaqua Crossing the advice of the town’s Planning Board and the County Planning Department has been largely ignored by the Town Board, whose members have so far acceded to Summit Greenfield’s site plan preferences.

Both town and county planning boards, for example,  were looking for more genuine integration of retail and residential uses, and have disapproved of the positioning of Whole Foods at the far end of a parking lot facing the main street that runs between Bedford Road and the cupola building.  Still, several Town Board members have declared that they care very much what the Planning Board thinks of the PDCP.]

• On Wednesday, Board of Education members discussed a draft letter to the Town Board expressing their fears that Summit Greenfield has pulled a “bait-and-switch” on the the school district.  Board members now doubt that the developer’s proposed $600,000 for improvements to Greeley interior roadways would be enough to cover the actual cost.  In the draft letter, BoE members assert that they will not ask taxpayers to make up any difference. 

“I think [the developer] just needs to know what our process is,” said Superintendent for Business John Chow. “We want them to carry out that plan, but go through the process we have to go through—SED [State Education Department] approval, public bidding, and not just restrict it to $600,000.”  See the draft letter HERE.

• At the Library on Thursday evening, Pace consultants Tiffany Zezula and Kevin Dwarka 1) gave an overview of the Master Plan review, 2) gave a summary of last spring’s outreach sessions in which residents pleaded for a downtown that would attract them, and 3) described their plans to immediately conduct revitalization studies for Chappaqua and Millwood, looking for “viable forms of development” for each.  Dwarka, a land use lawyer and economic consultant specializing in the revitalization of urban neighborhoods (and Senior Fellow at Pace Land Use Law Center) was brought in to conduct the analyses.

• Bob Kirkwood has resigned from the Master Plan Steering Committee for personal reasons. At the start of the Steering Committee’s meeting last Thursday Town Planner Sabrina Charney informed the Steering Committee of his resignation.  Kirkwood will continue to serve as chairman of the Planning Board. 

Lengthier versions

The Supervisor’s plans for housing and town hall at Chappaqua Crossing

In 2011 the Town Board approved 111 residential units for Chappaqua Crossing—20 affordable apartments, 31 market-rate apartments and 60 fee-simple townhouses (i.e., taxed as single-family houses rather than as condos). 

On Tuesday morning, Greenstein revealed at the League gathering that he’s considering an arrangement with Summit Greenfield that would remove the 20 affordable housing units from the 111 residences, place them instead in the upper floors of the cupola building and leaving 91 market-rate residences in the grouping around the auditorium. In the plan approved in 2011, 60 of these would be townhouses, taxed fee-simple.  Greenstein made no mention of what would happen, with 20 fewer apartments, to the two apartment buildings shown in the preliminary development concept plan—on the main entry drive from Bedford Road—that form a sort of gateway to the townhouse development and auditorium behind them. This may come up in tonight’s meeting with Planning Board and ARB.

Town hall to Chappaqua Crossing?

Although Greenstein did not talk about the use of the bottom two floors of the cupola building if the top two are used for housing, he has made it clear for the last year that he remains interested in moving town government to the cupola building.  Such a move, he believes, is central to revitalizing downtown Chappaqua, permitting development of additional retail and residential on town hall property, perhaps through a public-private partnership, and possibly replacing any loss of existing commuter parking with some sort of parking structure [these are notoriously expensive].

Greenstein seems to have had such a chain of occurrences in mind almost from the start: give Summit Greenfield retail zoning, procure the cupola building for a town hall, free up town hall property for development.  In fact, as he drove forward the approval of retail at Chappaqua Crossing over the last year, he often cited the approval of a third commercial center there as further reason to get cracking on the revitalization of the hamlets:  “Yes, it won’t be great for the hamlets, but it will force us to fix them.”  And he fixed on “transit-oriented development” as the answer. 

No more “TOD, TOD” talk

Both the supervisor and Pace are cutting back, by the way, on the use of the words “transit-oriented development” in the downtown, noting that New Castle already has transit-oriented development.  They say that all retail, office and residential in the downtown is, by virtue of having a train station in town, already “transit-oriented.”  And Pace has been tasked to show how the town can create more of it.  Obviously, it’s Chappaqua that has the train station; but according to Pace, Millwood fits the bill in every other way: a community center already there and the potential to develop it more intensely.

So the Master Plan review has morphed from an overall review—of commercial development, housing, parks and recreation, infrastructure and environment—to a master plan plus a deep-dive, fast-tracked economic analysis of downtown Chappaqua and Millwood [the type of analysis that should have been done before approving retail at Chappaqua Crossing]. 

The Missing Piece: Market Realities

In its presentation at the Library, Pace spoke of its approach to “comprehensive planning” in terms of “sustainability”—in social, environmental and economic spheres—and regularly mentioned “market realities.” 

Zezula told audience members that until now it has been this economic piece that had been missing from the discussion.  “What is the economic market here in New Castle?” she asked.  “So we decided that what needs to complement this planning process is to study Chappaqua, Millwood and Chappaqua Crossing and see how those three begin to fit together.”

Chappaqua Crossing in master planning

There seemed to be some confusion among the Master Plan Steering Committee members about how to treat Chappaqua Crossing going forward.  A 120,000-square-foot shopping center with a grocery is clearly a significant new existing condition. 

Asked by a Sustainability Advisory Board member during the Steering Committee meeting preceding the Library outreach session whether downtown development options would be viewed “in light of development at Chappaqua Crossing,” Town Planner Sabrina Charney responded, “That’s part of this process, but downtown has its own identity and feel, and needed to be done whether Chappaqua Crossing happened or not.”

“One of our responsibilities,” added Pace consultant Kevin Dwarka, ” is to ask ‘What things are unique [to the downtown] that you don’t have at Chappaqua Crossing?’ ” 

It may prove difficult, however, to learn what Chappaqua Crossing will have or not have within the two or three months that Pace is setting for itself to produce the “area revitalization studies,” since Summit Greenfield is still in very early stages of finding tenants for the retail space. Even Whole Foods’ lease, according to experts familiar with commercial real estate leasing, likely contains the usual “on condition” clauses.

In the Pace PowerPoint Dwarka listed three “area revitalization study” spots: Chappaqua, Millwood and Chappaqua Crossing.  Going forward, he said, Pace “might have to do more focused outreach on the Millwood and Chappaqua revitalization studies.” Later in the meeting he explained further: “With these two area studies completed as well as with the development planning that has been undertaken for Chappaqua Crossing, we will have hit the three major nodes that can then form the sort of more local micro-basis for the overall comprehensive planning of New Castle.”  [It seems that Chappaqua Crossing has been given a pass on comprehensive planning and will continue on its own course with its own “development planning,” a new existing condition with its own market reality over which the Planning Board has little say.  The rest of town planning will have to arrange itself around it.]

Is infrastructure consultant WSP Sells getting out ahead of the master plan?

WSP Sells is already talking not only about necessary water main repairs, but also about traffic solutions and pedestrian improvements.  WSP was contracted for around $600,000 to do the engineering work for the $6 million project.  In the meeting preceding the Library outreach, Master Plan Steering Committee members questioned “whether we ought to have an impact on what happens there.  It’s fine to repair the water main, but we shouldn’t be promising the Town Board that $6 million will solve all their [downtown] problems.”  For example, added another Steering Committee member, “if we decide we want to propose more density in the downtown, I’d hate to have spent $6 million for a water main if we really need a bigger one.”

“The downtown revitaltization plan gives us the chance to take a look at the various land use options,” explained Pace’s Dwarka.  “Concurrent with that, WSP is asked to look at infrastructure issues.  Then these two come together and we see what the fit is between proposed infrastructure changes and the land use scenarios.”

And speaking of those scenarios…

The “revitalization substudies” will go beyond the usual master planning and point to specific development scenarios involving the “redisposition of key properties in downtown Chappaqua and in Millwood.”

Pace has not yet stated the number the scenarios Dwarka will work up, whether they will be limited to town-owned property and include a town hall moved to Chappaqua Crossing, or whether Chuck Napoli’s plan to create more retail in the center of town (his Bell area plan) will be examined as a possible scenario as well.

How to revitalize Chappaqua and Millwood

It was clear from last spring’s outreach session, Dwarka told the Library audience, “that you all value your downtown.”  He continued:

There have been various studies that have looked at your downtown from a design and vision perspective.  The challenge, though, is to make sure that the visions you articulated are, in fact, financially feasible and also legally implementable.

So we’re looking at what the market tells us it can support in terms of various land uses and, on the basis of market information and in tandem with the feedback from you as a community, will come up with a variety of land use scenarios that over the long term will help to make the downtown an even more thriving place, with a more optimal mix of retail and in a place that functions not only as a commercial heart, but also as a community and as a public center. 

First, we’ll collect more data and information, which we’re in the middle of doing now. We’ll come back to you in two or three months and tell you what the implications of that data are on different types of scenarios.

Our approach is to look at the downtown holistically, at the properties around the train station, but throughout the downtown area.

One way of revitalizing downtowns is to go on a parcel by parcel basis and figure out what you would do on that parcel.  Another way is to develop a cohesive, integreated plan so that you can amend that plan into your comprehensive plan, and then, as needed, proceed through the process of rezoning it to accommodate future redevelopment. 

Concurrently we’re going to be looking at Millwood.

Millwood also functions as a commercial center and as a focal point for surrounding community and neighborhoods.  Some work has gone into Millwood over the years—a zoning analysis, design guidelines and, in 2012, a Project for Public Spaces report.  But that report simply ended with the consultants identification of what they saw in their site visit and some very raw observations about what would be appropriate for Millwood.  It did not go all the way—because it wasn’t scoped to do so—toward developing a concrete implementatiaon strategy of what you would need to do to make Millwood a more vibrant place.

With these two area studies completed as well as with the development planning that has been undertaken for Chappaqua Crossing, we will have hit the three major nodes that can then form the sort of more local micro-basis for the overall comprehensive planning of New Castle.

It’s an ambitious schedule, Dwarka admitted. He estimates these studies may be finished by spring; the next “public engagement workshop” is scheduled for June 2015, followed by drafting of “goals and objectives,” then “strategies,” and a draft plan by fall. 

Preserving the quality of the schools

The data provided by the County, said Dwarka, was pretty “thin” when it came to schools, but, as one Steering Committee member put it, “We agree that New Castle is all about the schools,” and a Master Plan would naturally include the goal of “preserving the quality of the schools.” 

In fact, Board of Ed and Town Board members have fretted publicly this year over the decline in the school population and have discussed publicizing more energetically the reputation of the school district and the virtues of the New Castle as a community. 

In his presentation last week Dwarka noted that although New Castle’s population has remained stable over many years, its demographics have, in fact. changed:  25 to 34 year olds have decreased while the over-65s have risen.  He intends, he said “to do exhaustive demographic analysis,” since the data provided by the County on demographics and housing was also “thin.”

Getting everyone together in master planning

Speaking afterwards to NCNOW, Dwarka expressed interest in joining in the Town Board’s efforts to learn more from housing real estate agencies. 

Adam Brodsky pledged at the end of last year to connect his Downtown Hamlet Business Development Committee, several of whose members are in commercial real estate, with the Master Plan Steering Committee’s work.

Capturing funding

One of Pace’s talents, it seems, is identifying public financing opportunities.  According to Pace’s Tiffany Zezula, aligning municipalities’ interests and plans with regional interests and plans offers the best chance of capturing regional funding for municipalities.

The Pace presentation cited the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (click here for its 2014 Progress Report) as a possible resource.  [From a look at its 2014 “Progress Report,” this group seems more geared toward promoting the creation of businesses and jobs—redevelopment of a problem property such as Chappaqua Crossing might have been a good candidate for the council’s consideration—than strengthening retail shopping or revitalizing hamlets.] 

Below is the Pace outreach of this past Thursday.  It runs for one hour.

New Castle Master Plan Public Information Meeting 3/12/15 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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