If Chuck Napoli is successful, downtown Chappaqua could be dramatically transformed, potentially becoming a regional destination.
Napoli, who has been promoting his plan since the summer with presentations, gave the New Castle Town Board, at a Tuesday work session, a detailed look into what he has in mind.
The proposal involves filling in the existing municipal parking lot behind South Greeley Avenue with new commercial development and replacing an athletic field to the east, which is owned by the Chappaqua school district and next to Bell Middle School, with a turf field that would be at grade for nearby Senter Street but act as an overhead parking deck due to a declining elevation towards the existing shops. There would be 389 parking spots, an increase of more than 200 from the current lot.
The commercial space includes a 366-seat performing arts center that could host large plays, a European-style marketplace, shops, restaurants, office space and about 20 apartments. The buildings would be infill for where the current parking lot is, with a pedestrian walkway between the new structures and the existing shops that face onto South Greeley.
“If you want to relocate Spider Man, that's the sort of thing we can put in this theater," said Lester Himel, a friend of Napoli's who is helping with the plan's concept and co-presented it. "It's not just an auditorium.”
Napoli, who has been a fixture in the community since 1970 and worked on several project in downtown, has proposed his plan in some form since the 1980s. The key with the current concept is to try something unique, beyond simply building more retail. Napoli plans to raise capital to pay for the development and told the board that it could be done in phases, with the field and parking separate from the buildings.
“We don't want to suddenly create a series of strip malls," said Himel. "We don't want to create highrise buildings. We don't want to do things that change the nature of what we have necessarily, but there are some things missing.”
Himel added that what's missing is a “dynamic attitude within town," referring to why people shop and town and do they come.
The plan was also discussed in contrast to talk over having a supermarket and retail for Chappaqua Crossing, which the planning board discussed at the same time at a meeting in a nearby room at town hall. Some in the community are worried that the proposal could create a new business district that would compete with existing merchants.
Himel personally felt that the plan for Chappaqua Crossing would not be an issue and felt that what Napoli's proposal will offer is retail with a premium experience.
“It will enhance what you do at Chappaqua Crossing either way.”
The proposal will involve several major land deals, however. Much of the property that Napoli wants to develop is either owned by private property owners or the school district. Napoli would like to obtain leases but keep ownership of the buildings.
“We're going to control it as if it were a shopping center," he said, noting that leases for tenants would be intended to prevent them from doing things harmful to the business district.
Napoli told the board currently having title searches done for the private lots, but has gotten some interest from some owners.
Getting support from the school district is key, however. Napoli told the town board that he planned on meeting with the district's Facilities Committee the following day. The committee includes school board members Randall Katchis and Jeffrey Mester, along with Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow.
Mester, who confirmed the meeting was held, explained in an email that the board is open to the idea.
"While there are certainly many many questions that still need to be answered, it is safe to say that Randy, John and I will be recommending that Mr. Napoli be invited to a regularly scheduled Board meeting to present his idea which we hope will happen in the near future."
Mester added, "I think it is preliminary to list any concerns we might have. There would be some legal and regulatory hurdles to overcome as well as making sure that the best interests of both the students and taxpayers are addressed, but there were no “deal breaker” type issues that arose at Wednesday’s meeting. There are a lot of moving parts and interests to consider, but ultimately, a good idea will prevail under scrutiny. Conceptually, the facilities committee was satisfied that this should be presented to the entire Board."
Land use items not cleared up at the meeting include the fate of easements that the Town of New Castle has with property owners for the current parking lot and whether any zoning changes would be needed. The town is also on the hook for bonding hundreds of thousands of dollars in connection with a 2011 overhaul of the parking lot - it also included underground fixes - and there was no discussion of what would happen to it.
Town Board members seemed receptive to Napoli's plan
Councilman Jason Chapin said it has "a lot of potential," and told Napoli that there are still a lot of things to be worked out. He suggested Napoli keep an ongoing dialogue and encouraged the community to weigh in.
Deputy Supervisor Elise Mottel replied that she is interesting in hearing about responses merchants and the school board.
One quick item of disagreement involved Napoli's request to get an easement from the town in order to create a one-way entrance roadway into the parking. The right of way is off of King Street, between the Community Center and King Street Restaurant and Bar. He urged the board to grant him the deal as soon as possible, but board members replied that he has bigger items for the proposal to work on first.
Rob Greenstein, a member of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce, felt frustrated by how the town board reviewed the presentation, arguing that it's more interested in the Chappaqua Crossing grocery proposal.
“It seems like you guys are excited more about this crazy thing that's going on in that other room than you are about this project that would solve so many problems," he said. Greenstein also accused the board of shooting down the plan.
Board members maintained that they're open to the project.
Mottel felt that Napoli's presentation is the first of many and said that the board wants to hear more about it.
Supervisor Susan Carpenter snapped back, noting that she has been in touch with Napoli on the project.
“You really don't know what you're talking about when you say we're shooting it down," she replied.