Update from joint town board and planning board meeting

June 6, 2008
by Christine Yeres

This week the town board and the planning board met in joint session to discuss overlapping topics of interest: municipal uses of the Reader’s Digest property; Northern Westchester Hospital’s request for 140 parking spaces at Reader’s Digest; the Hamlet Steering Committee’s survey of the downtown  [See Gene Nadel’s “Millwood Matters” column for their discussion of the Millwood area design plan.] Here is an update on the June 3, 2008 meeting.



Possible municipal uses for portions of the Reader’s Digest property

The town board reviewed a letter from the planning board in which it listed a range of possible uses of the Reader’s Digest property, from developer Summit Greenfield’s residential condo proposal, to full commercial use, to municipal uses such as additional field space, an indoor pool, a multi purpose auditorium, or office space for some departments of New Castle government.

“Almost any expanded use of the property,” cautioned planning board chairman Robert Anesi, “would require improving traffic conditions surrounding the site.” He described the current traffic conditions as close to “non-functioning,” suggesting that additional lanes and turning lanes might help.

“We could take one of two approaches,” Anesi told the two boards, “do very little and see what the private developer proposes,” which supervisor Barbara Gerrard described as a “reactive” way forward, or, continued Anesi, “figure out what government uses we want and push it forward.” Gerrard commented, “the proactive way.” She reported that a proactive approach is the one favored by the town board, “which is why we’ve invited the Recreation Commission and school board to discuss these matters with us.”

Gerrard told the planning board members that based on their recommendations regarding alternative uses for the Reader’s Digest property, town administrator Jerry Faiella had already modified the language in the scope of work sent out in the “request for proposals” for the generic environmental impact statement that will be prepared by the town. She encouraged the planning board members to “keep up the dialogue, whether negative or positive ideas, we still want to hear from you.”

Planning board members wondered whether the town board had spoken to school board members to obtain their ideas for alternative uses of the Reader’s Digest property…  “Yes,” responded Gerrard, “and they’re interested in fields; they feel even more constrained than we do. And they liked the auditorium idea as well.”  The school board had no strong feelings about municipal office space at the property, she reported, but was somewhat interested in the track and field possibilities of the property, the chance of an indoor pool, recognizing, however, that a pool would be a very expensive undertaking. Having been recently busy with its 2008-09 school budget, she added, the school board hadn’t yet put their Reader’s Digest thoughts to paper.

Planning board member Susan Carpenter asked whether the use of existing building space for an indoor pool would make that proposal a less expensive proposition. (Building an indoor pool is a proposed use of one of the existing northern buildings slated for demolition by the developer of the property.)  Carpenter queried, “A pool, ping pong, a place for kids to go, a rec center?” Gerrard responded that that might be hard to do, but given its location, such activities would likely be aimed at the high school population.

Northern Westchester Hospital continued plea for parking

Summit-Greenfield, owner-developer of the Reader’s Digest property, has petitioned the zoning board to amend the zoning at the Reader’s Digest property to permit Northern Westchester Hospital to use 140 parking spaces on its campus for hospital employee parking for a maximum period of 36 months, during which time the hospital will be expand its emergency department and construct a parking structure.  Summit-Greenfield would not charge the hospital for the spaces. If the town board permits the use, the agreement would be crafted to make clear the temporary nature of the arrangement.

NWH must show it has obtained a total of 250 off-site parking spaces before Mt. Kisco’s planning board will give the go-ahead for the building project. Fifty spaces have already been promised by the Lutheran church at the intersection of Routes 117 and 172, an intersection dominated by the hospital complex and very convenient to it. Fifty more spaces were offered by the town of Bedford at the lot where Route 684 crosses Route 172.  The plan is for two mini-buses to transport 25-30 employees every 22 minutes from the 60 Bedford spots as well as from the 140 Reader’s Digest spaces, making three trips every hour between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.  Shuttle buses returning hospital employees to Reader’s Digest parking areas would operate between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Town and hospital officials met last week with John Collins’ traffic consultants to understand how this new use would impact existing traffic conditions. New Castle’s town board has made clear from the start of these talks that they consider Northern Westchester Hospital to be a facility vital to the surrounding towns. However, they insist that the hospital traffic and shuttle buses avoid the height of congestion, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., when car traffic into and out of the high school is heaviest and slowest.

On its part, the hospital has already taken steps to encourage car pooling and its representatives are working with town staff and traffic consultants to figure where the employees in need of parking would be coming from to determine whether they would be candidates for entering the Reader’s Digest property by the Saw Mill River Parkway entrance or from the Route117 main entrance.

Taking stock by painting up the town

Before beginning to improve the downtown Chappaqua streetscape with lighting, sidewalk repair and beautification, the town has hired an engineering firm to take stock of underlying conditions in the downtown area. This past week surveyors (see photos below) were marking utilities:

Orange for communication, alarm, signal lines, cables or conduits

Blue for potable water lines

Green for sewer and drainage pipes

Yellow for gas, oil, steam, petroleum or gaseous materials

Red for cables, conduits and lighting cables

Along with camera eyes on tripods, the markings appear all up and down north and south Greeley Avenue.

Town board member Elise Kessler-Mottel, the board’s point person on the PPS downtown steering committee, which initiated the infrastructure stock-taking, told the town and planning boards that the committee has interviewed three landscape architects for the proposed beautification work downtown, mainly lighting, sidewalk repair, plantings and seating.