Planning board weighs in on rezoning for retail at Chappaqua Crossing
October 5, 2012
by Christine Yeres
In discussing rezoning for retail at Chappaqua Crossing at the Town Board’s request, Planning Board members asked right off the bat, “Why so big?” The Planning Board’s job is to assist the Town Board by considering whether a grocery or supermarket is an appropriate new use to allow at Chappaqua Crossing. Like residents in last Monday’s public hearing, Planning Board members wanted more detail on the type of store, the amount of traffic, and the effect on the two existing commercial centers of the town.
The draft legislation proposed by the Town Board—for an anchor grocery of between 50,000 and 60,000 square feet and ancillary retail stores (of at least 5,000 square feet each) for another 90,000 or 100,000 square feet—would simply establish a “framework” for such a zone, explained Les Steinman, counsel to the Planning Board.
Size and customer base
“That’s three, even four times bigger than the old D’Agostino’s,” noted Planning Board member Jerry Curran. “It raises a lot of questions,” added Planning Board member Sheila Crespi, “about where the [customers] will be drawn from to support that kind of undertaking. Our population didn’t support the 12,000 square foot D’Agostino’s. It’s unlikely that our local population would generate revenue for a 50,000 square foot grocery. I don’t see it being locally based anymore. We need to have better understanding of where the clientele is coming from and how much traffic will that draw.”
“Aren’t there other types of groceries like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods,” asked Planning Board member Doug Shuerman, “that may not require 50,000 square feet? So why specify a minimum amount of space? It would be better if we had a wider range [in proposed the legislation] of what would be allowed.”
“And with the greater square footage of floorspace, you’re attracting a bigger type of occupant,” cautioned Curran.
“It says in the legislation,” noted Crespi, “‘to be anchored by a full service grocery store and provide for other retail uses that will provide a complementary and mutually sustaining tenant mix, that are appropriate for the comfort and convenience of occupants in the underlying Office Park District and occupants and residents in the community, that will facilitate provision of daily needs products and services such as groceries and basic retail in an otherwise underserved market area.’ I don’t see us as an underserved market area.”
“It needs rewording,” said Brownell.
Crespi pointed out that the market to which it will appeal will be high schoolers, “who’ll walk across the street to it in droves, taking business from Chappaqua and Millwood [food vendors].”
“I don’t know the basis for saying ‘underserved market’,” said Brownell. “If [the legislation] is going to proceed, that should be determined by a market study, perhaps by a person who’s going to come forward with an application. And the other question is how much the site can bear. We need to have some planning from the master plan point of view to understand that better. I’m not too worried about truck deliveries at night; they’ll go up Route 117.”
“I feel this is introducing a third commercial center into New Castle,” said Crespi, “which I feel the master plan did not anticipate. This is a significant change to the character of the town, a community that’s unfolded over years. This needs to be part of a much larger community discussion.”
“Once you move forward, there’s no going back,” continued Crespi, ” and so it really behooves us to have a real community discussion, in forums that go out into the community to find out whether this is something the community really wants or whether it’s [the result of] dismay over losing D’Agostino’s.”
“Not so much ‘losing D’Agostino’s,’” said Brownell, “as expanding the commercial tax base.”
“I know,” said Crespi, ” but this is a very different kind of commercial tax base and I think that on pages 104 and 105 the master plan made that distinction between ‘business district’ and ‘business center’ and talked separately about business and office.” [What’s being proposed by the draft zoning] is very different in nature. Putting up 165,000 square feet of retail in a place that hasn’t had that kind of traffic coming to it—and what impact it would have on the other Chappaqua and Millwood hamlets—is something the community needs to talk about.”
“I thought the limit was 120,000 square feet,” said Brownell.
“That figure is actually one of several different numbers you can come up with from the draft legislation,” explained F.P. Clark planning consultant Joanne Meder, advisor to the Planning Board.
“Well,” said Crespi, “whether 120,000 or 165,000, it’s big.”
“We have to figure out just what would comfortably fit into that facility from a retail standpoint,” said Curran. “The ramification of such a magnitude of retail space from the standpoint of emergency services and traffic—there are a lot of challenges to it.”
Crespi suggested commissioning a “GEIS [generic environmental impact statement] to asses this before it gets to an application coming before us. Why can’t we take a look a that first?”
“There will be a SEQRA (NYS environmental quality review act) process,” said Steinman.
“Yes, but [a SEQRA process would take place] once the legislation is on the books. [What you’re suggesting] would put the ordinance on the books first, and then the applicant will come and go through the environmental review and then we would say yes or no. Once it’s on the books, the pressure is there to move forward on something. It would be wiser to just get the information up front on how much traffic there would be. That you can get from a GEIS.”
Types of stores
“And what kind of stores are actually interested in 5,000 and 10,000 square feet?” continued Crespi. “If it were a large-scale hardware store, you’d create a lot of competition. Or a large-scale clothing store. A carry-out food store [as mentioned in the draft legislation]?” I don’t think they’re going to go into a 5,000 square foot storefront. And what dry cleaner [another type of shop permitted by the legislation] is 5,000 square feet? If you have a Generic EIS, you get an understanding of what kind of stores would be interested.”
“It’s like a Woodbury Commons,” said Sheurman.
“More like a strip-mall,” countered Curran.
“I think we have to be clear that that’s not what we want,” said Brownell. “Not a strip-mall. And the architecture is important.”
“I agree with Sheila [Crespi],” said Sheurman. “If we’re going to allow this [zoning legislation] on the books, I think you should have a traffic analysis first.”
“A traffic study and a market study of what stores,” added Crespi.
“Would a traffic study and a market survey take place before the legislation goes on the books?” asked Brownell.
“At some point,” said Steinman, “the Town Board will have to decide what’s necessary with regard to SEQRA [environmental review].” He added that some of the analysis might take place before the passing of any legislation by the Town Board.
Would the draft zoning apply to other areas of town?
Curran asked whether the proposed zoning to allow retail would apply to other areas of the town, such as the truck-filled lot behind the former motorcycle shop in Millwood. “Everyone knows,” responded Meder, “that it would only apply to this one property.”
Planning Board suggestions
“The size of the anchor store should be better defined, down toward the lower end,” said Brownell. “And the Generic EIS has to do a good traffic analysis.”
“And look at the character of the existing neighborhood,” added Curran.
“And the impact on the other hamlets,” said Brownell. “And how does it affect the character of the area and how is it controlled? If the retail [inhabits] the existing buildings or if additional buildings are constructed, it has to be in the character of the existing buildings. D’Agostino’s has condos right behind it, and it creates some problems for those folks. There are ways to make things coexist. I understand we’d like to try to make better use of the [Chappaqua Crossing] site for lots of reasons, mainly economic.”
Sheurman asked Steinman, “Why a retail overlay district rather than a retail rezoning?”
“A number of techniques were possible,” Steinman explained. “Perhaps the Town Board felt the overlay provided a maximum of control, establishing legislation with parameters, in a multi-staged process that provides substantial oversight.” [A part of the draft legislation reads, “To further this intent with proper protection for existing development in the community, Office Park Retail Overlay Districts shall be established within Office Park Districts on a floating zone basis, subject to approval by the Town Board in each case, and in accordance with an approved preliminary development concept plan, as described and defined herein.” (Italics are NCNOW’s)]
“But multi-staged can get you pretty far down the road before you know what you’ve got,” noted Sheurman. He went on to ask, “Has this [type of mixed use—residential, retail and office] been done in other areas? Is it taken from an example of other areas in the region?”
“The approach is taken from the idea of a MFPD [multi-family planned development, as established for the 111 residential units at Chappaqua Crossing] floating zone, which is not ‘parked’ anywhere until you go through this two-step process.”
Back to the plan to review the master plan
“The key issue,” said Crespi, “is that this is a sea change in our locat town dvelopment. With stores of this kind you’re no longer talking about serving our area, but a much larger area.”
“I think that’s characterized as the ‘Walmart Effect,’ working to the detriment of local stores,” said Curran.
“Whether the town wants to go in that direction,” said Crespi, “should be the subject of a much bigger discussion, not just one or two forums.”
Brownell asked Town Planner Sabrina Charney-Hull what work was being done on the review of the master plan. “The base study documents are about to begin,” she said. The county is assisting in providing some baseline data, “and we’re looking to expedite the policy part of this study of the master plan.”
“It says in the legislation that ‘no personal service’ will be allowed [in the retail at Chappaqua Crossing],” said Crespi. “I want a better understanding of what legal tools there are for keeping out certain businesses, because it sounds as though [the Town Board is] trying to craft a very particular retail mix—but what are the tools for that?”
“It’s important, too,” said Brownell, “that the core of the retail services stay within the confines of existing structures.” If parking garages are allowed, he suggested, the developer might want to put one into a part of the existing buildings it values least.
“Allow demolition and rebuilding?” asked Sheurman.
“If they’re going to knock down existing building,” said Brownell, “then they would have to rebuild to continue the facade. We’re all very comfortable with the facade looking east [to the Saw Mill]. Knocking that down would be an issue.”
The public hearing on the zoning change the Town Board opened on September 24 will continue on October 30. Summit Greenfield has said it would submit its application before that date.
“The Town Board gets first crack at evaluating what’s being proposed [in the application],” explained Steinman. If, after a public hearing on an application, the Town Board were to approve a “preliminary development concept plan,” the application would then wind its way back to the Planning Board for site plan approval and any environmental permits.
Related: With little detail provided on proposal, public reaction is harsh on retail at Chappaqua Crossing, NCNOW.org, 9/28/12
Open Letter to the Community: Put on our whole-town thinking caps, NCNOW.org, 9/28/12