Public hearing on Reader’s Digest development draws over 100 to town hall
June 26, 2009
by Christine Yeres
Public hearings on developer Summit Greenfield’s proposal to build 278 condominium units on the Reader’s Digest property, reduce the commercial space from 700,000 square feet to 520,000 square feet and be released from the four-tenant restriction on its commercial space drew over 100 people to town hall on Tuesday night.
The hearing began with a 30 minute presentation by Summit Greenfield’s attorneys, Stephen Kass and John Marwell, and engineer Andy Tung. They outlined features of the residential development for people 55 and over, extolled the beauty of the site and the quality of the proposed architecture, and displayed artists’ renderings of several front elevations. Anticipating skepticism in the community – even among town board and school board members – concerning the enforceability of age restrictions on the units, Kass reiterated that he believed the age restrictions were both legal and enforceable.
Throughout the hearing, town board members refrained from commenting. Town Supervisor Barbara Gerrard limited her speech to calling out the names of those wished to speak from the index cards they had filled out.
At the conclusion of the hearing, over the objections of Summit Greenfield’s attorney, who had asked that the hearing be closed by July 14, Gerrard announced that the board would extend the public hearing until Tuesday, July 28, 2009. “Residents have asked for more time and the board will respond favorably to that request,” she stated to Kass.
Speakers appear evenly split on support for Chappaqua Crossing
The town board heard comments on the developer’s draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, as well as comments on the proposal itself. Of the total of 23 speakers that evening, 11 favored the project generally. Proponents included Reader’s Digest’s head of global communications, William Adler, and four health care professionals who are not residents of New Castle, but who have had professional contact with residents of the town. The first speaker, a health care worker, said, “I’d like to live here. But it’s about the seniors who are getting older and would like to stay here. This is a perfect situation for them.”
Adler, the Reader’s Digest executive, described the stark contrast between the number of employees ten years ago and the number now inhabiting the old digs. Reader’s Digest leases space on its old campus from Summit Greenfield. The Digest hopes, Adler explained, to be able to sublease some of that space if Summit Greenfield is released from its four-tenant restriction. Additional tenants would help defray costs of the common cafeteria and fitness center that Summit Greenfield tenants share, he explained.
Four retired senior residents of New Castle spoke in support of the project, finding the developer’s projected $5 million in increased revenue for the town and schools attractive, as well as the prospect of downsizing from their current homes.
One speaker, James McCauley, mentioned that he had developed a small condominium project on Highland Avenue in downtown Chappaqua in the 1980’s. In response to complaints by opponents of the proposal about the weightiness of the DEIS documents, McCauley countered, “Believe me, no developer wants to produce this kind of document or incur the expense of it, but it’s required by the State.”
Steven Schwartz, a resident of New Castle since 1982, introduced himself by commenting that he had coached many of the audience members’ children. “I’m in a big, empty house with just two people. I want to stay here and I can’t afford a big house and large taxes. Somewhere there needs to be a compromise . . . so I can afford to stay here and remain an active member of your community.”
Residents in opposition urge board to obtain expert analysis of DEIS
Speakers who opposed the project were all residents of New Castle, eight from the vicinity of Reader’s Digest, three from other parts of town. Most appealed to the board to extend the hearing process in order to have time to properly evaluate the multi-volume DEIS, chock full of technical data. Steven Mullaney, representing “New Castle RD,” a group of New Castle residents who oppose the project, contended that if the developer knew the answers to residents’ questions, he would show them in the DEIS in language that people might understand. “But if that’s how [the developer] is presenting the information to us, it leaves me more concerned than before,” said Mullaney. “In the end, the developer takes the cash and leaves us with the problems. We need more time to study the documents.”
Several speakers, who stated that they had only just begun to review the voluminous filing by Summit Greenfield, asked the town board to assure them that the developer’s data on traffic, age restriction and school population would be analyzed and confirmed by independent consultants engaged by the town. The town board at this time did not volunteer what further analysis they might undertake.
David Yeres, another neighbor of Reader’s Digest (and the husband of the author of this article), told the board that he had looked at the first section of the DEIS, which “violated my sense of balance. Economic decisions have trade-offs. According to this DEIS there are no trade-offs. Instead, this project seems designed not to make a commercial success, but to solve our [town’s] problems.” Yeres characterized the developer’s DEIS as claiming “no adverse impacts and it will actually improve our situation. . . . The people who spoke in support are adopting all his facts and figures as though true.” He ended by telling board members, “We really have to count on the board to do its own study. Not to check the facts and figures of someone with such a large financial interest would be derelict.”
League of Women Voters weighs in on Summit Greenfield’s proposal
Sheila Crespi, chairperson of the Local Planning Committee of the League of Women Voters of New Castle and former president of the League, presented commentary developed by that committee. The League, Crespi explained, has been studying the developer’s plan for redevelopment of the Reader’s Digest property since 2005. She enumerated several areas the committee believes are insufficiently addressed in the DEIS: the enforceability of the 55 and over age restriction; density; traffic; sewers and storm water; and tax revenues and increased town and school expenditures.
Crespi stated that after her committee and some other League committees with relevant expertise, for example, the Environmental Committee, had had time to review the DEIS thoroughly, they would likely have additional comments and questions for the developer and the town. She called for the town to conduct “its own analysis to independently verify the conclusions” of the traffic study and of revenues-and-expenditures as presented in the developer’s DEIS. The League expected, she continued, “to see a similar analysis from the CCSD Board of Education to assess the impacts of additional children in the school system, with and without the age restriction.” No school board members were present at the hearing.
Crespi’s comments ended by asking, as many residents had, for more time to adequately review the material in the DEIS and prepare comment on it. She asked further that the town’s additional analysis be presented to community members in “readable, non-technical language.” Lastly, Crespi suggested that the town undertake a town-wide mailing “so everyone in the community is aware of the window to comment on Chappaqua Crossing and how to access the DEIS and other relevant information.” Crespi’s comments were followed by applause. To see the League comments in their entirety, click here.
Keeping up with the hearings this summer
This public hearing on Summit Greenfield’s DEIS for the Reader’s Digest property is available on demand on NCCTV. Click here to see it. The first 30 minutes is the developer’s presentation followed by 90 minutes of comments and questions from the 23 speakers, listed below in order of appearance.
Kimberly Rudolf Turchyn
David Yeres (second time)
Karen Antin (second time)
Public comment on the DEIS and on Summit Greenfield’s proposal for rezoning continues on Tuesday, July 28, 7:00 p.m. at town hall. The town board has mounted the DEIS and related documents on a dedicated website:
For a complete listing of NewCastleNOW.org’s previous articles and letters to the editor on Reader’s Digest, click here.
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