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Man With a Plan: Chuck Napoli's Vision for Chappaqua [UPDATE]

Proposal includes turf field near Bell Middle School, new row of shops behind existing South Greeley retail corridor.

Update, July 11:

Napoli wrote on Tuesday about the latest status of his project effort in the comments section of a New Castle NOW story about his plan.

"The development team for the Hamlet Project is in place and listening to your suggestions I call the “citizen wish list”, (Keep it up please), while we explore all options to make vibrant hamlet," he wrote on the site.

He added in his post, "The healthy business mix we need is incomplete as of this writing but should come together as the research evaluates the types of lease spaces to include."

Original Story:

Picture this: Downtown Chappaqua gets new commercial space that includes retail and a theater, 250 new parking spots and a turf field, all of which would be paid for privately.

Local architect Chuck Napoli, who has pitched his vision in some form since the 1980s, is making a new push for the overhaul to become a reality. Napoli, who is the project's developer' says it will cost $15 million. It will be financed by private investors - including a downtown property owner - and a bank, neither of which Napoli wants to disclose at the moment.

The proposed, dubbed the Hamlet Revitalization Project, will include 66,000 square feet in total of new space, which would be infill on land that is currently used as the South Greeley Avenue parking lot. The commecial mix would be situated behind existing storefronts along South Greeley and King Street.

Meanwhile, the existing parking spots would be moved several yards east, to where a grass sports field for is situated. The new lot, with 250 more spaces added than in the current configuration, would be covered with a deck that will have a turf field on top. The turf would be at grade with Senter Street, which is adjacent and to the east, while it would be above grade for vehicles moving through traffic corridors. Aside from the current entrance and exit that connects to South Greeley, Napoli proposes having another one for King Street, between the town's community center and King Street Restaurant and Bar.

“Parking is king of the hamlet," Napoli said at a recent meeting with local officials.

The proposal is meant to address several challenges for the town that have occupied New Castle's political zeitgeist in recent years: Creating a more vibrant Chappaqua hamlet, having better parking, and a beefed up commercial base that can provide more property taxes.

Napoli laid out his vision at a July 6 meeting with Chappaqua school board member Randall Katchis and New Castle Town Planner Sabrina Charney Hull. He has also held open meetings for the public, located at town hall, for people to learn more about it.

Napoli told Hull and Katchis that what is being done during the summer is working on, “a well-considered plan to bring to the town board for their review.”

The project faces major logistical challenges, however. Napoli, who does not own the properties that he wants to develop, will need to get leases from both New Castle, the Chappaqua school district and landlords of several existing retail buildings along South Greeley.

Another possible hurdle is the fact that the town only recently completed a costly renovation for the South Greeley parking lot, which included replacing the surface and underground infrastructure. The work also included securing easements from retail landlords, a process that took years, before the project could go ahead. What would happen to those easements if Napoli's plan were to move forward is not clear.

According to Town Administrator Penny Paderewski, the South Greeley parking project cost the town $918,239.50 for the work with the company it hired. However, engineering work for it cost about $89,000, and unexpected oil tank remediation cost about $221,000. Going out to bond will be done as a source of funding, according to Paderewski, and the town is expected to do so in the fourth quarter of this year.

The properties on the eastern side of South Greeley have multiple zoning classifications. Property closest to South Greeley is zoned for retail, business or parking use. Land that is set further back from the street, some of which includes Bell property, is zoned for quarter-acre residential.

At the meeting with Hull and Katchis, there were questions about what Napoli is asking for from the town and school district.

Katchis believed that it involves asking what is required and then figuring out if it can legally be done.

“Can we legally get it done, and then is the [school] board in favor of moving in that direction?" Katchis added.

Hull replied that the town would be asking the same questions.

“I’m sure everybody wants what the solutions this will be provide, but the question is what needs to be done in order for that to happen,” she said.

Katchis, who is supportive of the proposal's general objectives, told Napoli that there are three things that need to be accomplished: He has to know what he's being asked for, what's the financial plan and what is the logistical plan in terms of timing; the later involves disruption on school time.

“What do I give and what do I get, as a school system?” Katchis asked. He also brought up what could be legal obstacles, such as the transfer of school property to a private entity, liability and who is responsible for maintaining the property.

Responding to Katchis, Napoli asked about who does he talk to to do that.

“I need participation here," he said.

Napoli explained to the officials that he wants an inclusive process and has input from various people in the community.

“I’m interested in, I’m telling you what I need. I need your help. I need the town’s help in pulling this thing off," he said. Napoli added that he needs “you to be part of the conversation.”

At one point in the discussion, Hull believed that Napoli was asking the town to help develop a plan.

“I don’t know whether or not the town supports this," she said. Hull then gave an overview of what is typically done with proposals, where people come in fill out applications.

“I’m just telling you kind of in my world how these things typically occur," she said.

There was talk between Napoli and Hull about the process for presenting the proposal to the town board, which could be done at a work session. Hull replied that he would need to talk to Pederewski about scheduling an appearance.

Katchis offered to look into the legal aspects and work with the school board.

Fellow school board members' reactions have ranged from interest in the overall objectives to some skepticism.

“It’s all well and good, but there has to be a reason for someone to come in and do it, and in this market I don’t know who’s going to be able to do it," said bord member Alyson Kiesel at a June 28 meeting.

Board member Karen Visser, bringing up the issue of creating a new row of stores behind the existing ones, posed the question of why a retailer would want to be in a back store “that doesn’t have a whole lot of store frontage.”

Responding, Kiesel noted that the buildings would be newer. She also agrees with the intention behinad Napoli's plan, of supporting a more vibrant downtown.

“Something needs to be done.”

New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter said, “It’s a very ambitious plan,” but added “it has a lot of things to need to be resolved to see if it’s even feasible.”

Robert Diggs July 11, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Did you rip that lead straight from New Castle NOW?
Tom Auchterlonie (Editor) July 11, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Napoli has some status updates about the project, according to some comments he wrote Tuesday in a New Castle NOW story about his project: "The development team for the Hamlet Project is in place and listening to your suggestions I call the “citizen wish list”, (Keep it up please), while we explore all options to make vibrant hamlet," he wrote on the site."

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