Speaking with the general public at a League of Women Voters event Tuesday, New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter described how the town is facing many big projects. What was covered at the talk, held at the Chappaqua Library, was in many categories. Below is a list of the items discussed and her thoughts on them:
Carpenter noted the town board's new interest in looking at whether or not part of Chappaqua Crossing should be and some retail use. The proposal would help the Chappaqua hamlet get a major supermarket to replace D'Agostino, which left late last summer and will be replaced by Walgreens at its King Street site.
“There’s obviously space there", she said. "Space that could be rezoned for retail and could have a grocery store.”
She added that it needs to be studied and talked about the need for public input.
“It would be a long-term tax benefit to the town," Carpenter said about a rezoned site.
Betty Weitz asked whether having retail at Chappaqua Crossing would divert business away from exisiting merchants in Chappaqua and Millwood. Addressing this topic, Carpenter said that they would not be rezoning to allow for stores of similar size to retail in the hamlets. For example, she explained, they would not rezone for places like nail salon type of stores or gift shop type of stores.
“It would be for a different kind of space and a different kind of use," she said.
The board will be discussing this interest at its March 27 regular session.
Meanwhile, Carpenter described Chappaqua Crossing in general as being good for commercial usage.
“It is a facility with a lot of potential. A lot of that facility is very flexible," she said.
The supervisor also noted that developer Summit/Greenfield has had success with finding tenants, , which is building a therapeutic playspace for kids, and Northern Westchester Hospital's use.
Summit/Greenfield is currently undertaking legal action against the town, including its and over how the town's rezoning review for its 199 proposed housing units was handled. , the town board only approved 111 and the multifamily zoning change that enables this is . Summit/Greenfield has requested an extension.
One woman suggested an unconventional use for the site: opening it up to farming. Carpenter is interested in the idea, but also noted the strained relationship Summit/Greenfield has with the town.
Chappaqua & Millwood Hamlet Plans
Both downtown hamlets are doing well with their retail usage and have low vacancy rates, Carpenter explained. She also took time to recap what the town is doing for the hamlet plans in both communities.
For Chappaqua's hamlet plan, which included renovation of the South Greeley Avenue parking lot last year, the next step this year is to do planning, drawing and engineering for sewer and water line replacements for South Greeley and lower King Street (this strategy was , after board members heard from merchants concerned about doing more work this year, just months after the long-term Route 120 bridge renovation was complete).
Carpenter explained that the sewer and water work will be done by 2014, with beautification work to follow.
For Millwood, the supervisor gave a recap of what came out of the meeting , which involves the task force coming up with a list of ideas for the hamlet.
One big item that is of interest from residents, extending sewers into the Millwood business district, is something Carpenter expressed support for but cautioned is not going to happen in the short term. However, she said they will try to keep capacity in the new planned trunk line - it will be built as an extension for the Riverwoods, Yeshiva and Random Farms neighborhoods - for downtown Millwood.
Dianne Kleinmann, who chairs the Millwood Task Force, asked Carpenter about meeting with condo associations in Millwood for hamlet planning, something that was discussed at last week's joint meeting. Carpenter reiterated her willingness to do so.
Carpenter also expressed interest in short-term measures to boost Millwood. They include adding crosswalks and improving the North County Trailway by adding feature such as signage and picnic tables.
“Currently people ride through Millwood," she said. "They don’t stop in Millwood.”
In addition, Carpenter expressed interest in developing a county-owned piece of property that is near the old Millwood train station building. Hypothetical scenarios she raised could include adding a structure to the site or looking into moving the former train station. The family of the late station owner Leo Rotta, who passed away in December, .
Using the Chappaqua Train Station for a Tenant
Another notable update from Carpenter is that the town is interested in renting out its empty space at the Chappaqua train station building.
The supervisor described this as an example of looking at ways to use underutilized properties. Currently, town employees are doing work on the building, including the plumbing, floor and sewer connection, to make the space more usable, she explained. Once that is done, the town will put out a request for proposal (RFP) and seek to get a tenant.
Examples of a tenant would include a restaurant, she explained. There would be conditions that the tenant would have to meet, which include continuing morning coffee service and keeping bathrooms open to the public. The extent of changes that could be made to the station are limited, she said, because it has landmark status. According to the New Castle Historical Society, the station was built in 1902.
Town Development Plan
Responding to an audience question, the supervisor discussed her interest in updating the master plan, officially called the town development plan. Already, planning board members are discussing the updates process, and Carpenter would like to have people in the community volunteer to help with updating it.
She noted that part of the plan, last updated in 1989, are still good, such as the parts that pertains to recreation and parks.
“We have some pieces of it that are in terrific shape.”
Carpenter also noted that getting data from the school district and county will not be too much of a challenge. New materials, such as GIS data that the county provides, will help make the updating process easier than last time, Carpenter believes.
Fair & Affordable Housing Settlement
When the supervisor discussed Westchester County's fair and affordable housing settlement with the federal government and the Anti-Discrimination Center, she gave a recap of what the agreement is a nutshell. For example, Carpenter explained that towns were not defendants in the case and that there is not specific housing requirement for each town. Rather, it's a general one for the county; 750 units in total must be built, within communities that are predominently white. New Castle is one of the communities where the units could be built and would count towards the settlement.
“So we do have a very non-diverse town, but there has never been a showing that people in town have refused to rent or to sell - or at least in recent memory - to anybody because of their race or their ethnic background or their religious background.”
While the town has multifamily housing units, they are not affordable. Carpenter attributed the high cost of housing in New Castle to people who are willing to pay more to live in the town.
A woman from the audience asked about the status of Conifer Realty's for the Hunts Place area, which has attracted opposition from some in the community who are worried that it could have safety issues and be out of scale architecturally. The woman said it seemed it would be approved, while Carpenter corrected her and explained that the town board will be doing a review of it.
Due to the town's financial difficulties, and due to the county's own situation, Carpenter believes that a townwide or a countywide revaluation - she supports the later - is not affordable at the moment.
“The cost to do revaluation is very high, given our current budget.”
Carpenter is also opposed to a bill recently introduced in the state legislature that would require communities to reassess properties ever four years, feeling that it could become a financial burden.
“Talk about an unfunded mandate, she said.
The best solution for now, she explained, is for homeowners to compare the assessed values of their property with the sale prices of others, and to reach out to the town about it.
Warm Winter Helps Town Workers
While the town had to make employee cuts across several departments and is reeling from insufficient revenue, warm weather has helped its highway department make progress in taking care of backed up projects, Carpenter explained.
The town's Department of Works has steadily been losing staff in recent years due to the budget cuts, and is down to just nine for the crew, plus a foreman, based on the most recent explanation during the 2012 budget process.