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New Castle Supervisor Q&A: Rob Greenstein

Rob Greenstein is the Team New Castle candidate for supervisor and is running on the Republican and Independence ballot lines. His is a co-founder of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce and is a personal injury attorney with his own practice. This interview was edited for formatting:

Patch: Tell me about yourself?   

Greenstein: I was born in New York City, and raised in Rockland County.  I am 46 years old.  My wife is Cindy.  She was co-chair and then chair of the WestOrchard PTA.   Our three incredible children, ages 10,10 & 11, attend Seven Bridges Middle school.  I started my old law firm 18 years ago, 2 years out of law school.  I currently have 17 employees.   I serve on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. I am the founder and President of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with approximately 170 members

Patch: Why should people vote for you next month?
Greenstein: I believe we need change.  After 25 years of one party rule and many years of uncontested elections, I feel we need “A New Approach”.   We are a bi-partisan ticket. I am a registered Democrat, as is Lisa Katz.  Adam Brodsky is Independent,  and Stuart Miller is Republican.  We believe that party affiliations have no place in local elections.   We have been endorsed by both the Republican and Independence Parties because we are the right candidates to put community over party. We are hard-working, small business owners.  We will remove politics from the governance of New Castle, increase transparency, improve communication and better involve the Town’s residents.  We love New Castle, and we believe in collaboration, participation and an open process to make New Castle even better. We will bring a fresh perspective!

Over the years we've witnessed giant missteps..........Hunt's Place, Chappaqua Crossing and properly updating the Master Plan.   Two years ago, the Democrats ran on their experience.  Look where it got us. We've experienced two consecutive failed Town Board administrations and we do not need a third.

Ask yourself if this is the type of experience that we want?

If you think we are going in the right direction then stick with the status quo. If you think we need to remove party affiliation from the governance of New Castle, increase transparency, improve communication, better involve the Town’s residents and bring a fresh set of eyes, fresh views, fresh ideas, fresh perspective & a bi-partisan Independent slate then they should vote for me, and my slate


Patch: You have been against the Chappaqua Crossing retail plan. How would you like to see the site developed?  

Greenstein: I would deny the retail rezoning.  We need more information to make an intelligent decision. I definitely don’t approve of the process. We are still waiting for the tax analysis of this proposal.............will this result in increased tax revenues?  We are still waiting for studies to determine if this retail project will negatively impact values of neighboring residential properties, studies to determine if this retail project will negatively impact commercial tax revenues from downtown Chappaqua and studies to compare any projected increased revenue from this project vs. any projected decreased property taxes of the surrounding residential values and decreased commercial tax revenue from downtown Chappaqua.

When this idea was introduced the community was promised vigorous input. The only input the Town Board has seen is opposition, and a FOIL [freedom of information] request revealed very little support in correspondence.  The problem is that the Town Board never clearly understood the problem. There’s no doubt that people would like a supermarket. The questions is where would they prefer it and the second question is are they willing to have that supermarket at Chappaqua Crossing if it comes with 10 to 15 chain box stores. To date, that question has never been asked. And the Town Board is about to make sure we can’t ask it through the master plan process, either.  I’d like to see a survey presented to the residents to determine if any projected increased revenue from this project is worth the negative impact to the character of Chappaqua &/or a survey to determine if any projected increased revenue from this project is worth the negative impact to downtown Chappaqua.

While we wait for these answers, we should allow the master plan steering committee to consider this proposal for retail development at Chappaqua Crossing.  During the master plan process we should have been able to ask residents, “Would you rather see a supermarket at Chappaqua Crossing with 14 chain box stores—or a high-end grocery at the Rite Aid location?” These are the kinds of discussions we should be having during the master plan review process. Everything is perfectly aligned for that discussion: the process is about to begin, the Walgreens is about to open and an election’s about to occur. It’s a perfect opportunity to get the discussion going, but instead the town board is removing that decision both from the master plan process and from the election process.

To this day, the town board and our opponents have never provided a reasonable explanation as to why the decision to create a third retail district was removed from the master plan process.


Patch: If the town board approves rezoning and changing the master plan for the retail proposal before you take office, would you support repealing the changes?

Greenstein: If residents bring an Article 78 Proceeding against the TB for amending the Master Plan in an arbitrary & capricious manner, the next Town Board would have to address the pending proceeding.  If I am on that next Town Board, I would absolutely consider settling the Article 78 Proceeding.  This would effectively hit the “reset” button on the Master Plan review process.  Let’s do it properly, and include the decision to create a third retail district in the master plan process.   

 

Patch: You indicated at a recent forum about Chappaqua Crossing that you would favor resuming the town's litigation with developer Summit/Greenfield. Why would you be willing to do so?

Greenstein: Yes, I am in favor of resuming the town's litigation with developer Summit/Greenfield.  We should let the lawsuit run its’ course through the Court system. Summit Greenfield’s state lawsuit was already dismissed (that dismissal is now being appealed). While the Federal lawsuit is still pending, the burden is higher in Federal Court.

When Summit Greenfield’s state case was dismissed, Judge Loehr wrote “it is clear that [Summit Greenfield] has not been deprived of all economically beneficial uses of the Property. From the date [Summit Greenfield] acquired the Property to the date it commenced this action, it was free to lease the commercial portion of the Property and to develop the residential portion of the Property if only for single family homes: on its face, something of no insignificant value. Viewing the full bundle of [Summit Greenfield’s] rights, it was never permanently deprived of all economically beneficial use of the Property.”   

Despite the fact that Summit Greenfield’s state case was dismissed and we were negotiating from a position of strength, our Town Board capitulated.  Consider the terms of the settlement:

The benefit to the town: Summit Greenfield agrees to pay the town $905,000 to resolve a continuing dispute over $1.5 million in consultants’ fees and other expenses it owed as a result of Summit Greenfield’s prior application ending in approval for 111 residential units. Summit Greenfield agrees to suspend its lawsuit.

The benefit to Summit Greenfield: Summit Greenfield pays the town $905,000, instead of the $1.5 million in consultants’ fees and other expenses it owed. A $600K savings. A gift from our Town Board to Summit Greenfield. Summit Greenfield merely suspends its lawsuit. Typically, when a case is settled, the parties sign a Stipulation of Discontinuance. The settlement brings closure. Here the lawsuit is merely suspended. Suspended over the Town Boards head..

Summit Greenfield was incurring legal fees. Our legal costs were paid for by insurance.

Summit Greenfield continues with their certiorari claims seeking a reduction in its property’s assessed value for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010—from $11.1 million to around $5 million in each case..

We lost control of guiding the process. We were controlled milestones, and make no mistake about it, those milestones forced the Town Board to rush their decision.  The Town Board did not listen to the recommendation of the planning board.  The Town Board did not follow the Planning Board’s suggestion that adding 120K new retail space should only be done in conjunction with updating our master plan.   The concerns of the residents, merchants & the Planning Board were ignored. The fate of our historic downtown is in jeopardy. And traffic on 117 will be a nightmare.

Leadership is not capitulation.  What we need is a Town Board with the guts to allow a reasonable development of the Chappaqua Crossing site, balancing all the competing issues of traffic, school, zoning and yes….needed development.


Patch: Would you support either a repeal of Conifer Realty's affordable housing special permit or a planned Article 78 lawsuit from local opposition?

Greenstein: Yes, as a last resort, I would be in favor of repealing the amendment.   I would prefer taking steps to find a way to relocate the building being proposed for Hunt’s Place and putting it on the Washington Avenue site instead.   Our town has so many intelligent and talented people in all fields—especially architects like Wally Toscano, who came forward with a great solution that’s better for our town financially and better for our reputation and for the families who would live there. The location along Washington Avenue would have generated revenue for our town and would have provided the families with a location we could be proud of as a community. Instead, Toscano’s plan was ignored.  We should consider taking the Hunt’s Place building and put it on Washington Avenue, and repeal the Special Permit approval on the Hunts Place site.

Because of the deliberate steps the Town Board has taken on this project to date, this should be done in a manner to minimize any potential liability for the town. However, outside of an outright repeal, there are still a number of ways to prevent this project. 

My understanding is that the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) must still approve the variance applications: the project requires variances for height & setback. [I am not sure this is true given the shady way they wrote changes. I think they may have given themselves the power to waive certain variances which could keep it away from the ZBA].

New Castle Building Inspector must still be satisfied with the Means of Fire Service and Access issues.

The property is contaminated. If it cannot be cleaned up to the satisfaction of DEP, the Conifer people will not be able to move forward. 

The Conifer group must also get easement approvals from MTA and DOT before they can move forward.

I think that each of these additional steps will be incrementally more difficult for Conifer to achieve if it is clear to outside agencies that the project does not have the support from the newly elected Town Board.


Patch: From what I have read, the town board's practice has been to interview volunteer board applicants in executive sessions, which are closed to the public. For example, I understand that was a contentious topic in a recent New Castle NOW story about the lack of a planning board appointee. In contrast, Mount Kisco's Village Board of Trustees does interviews in what are essentially ad-hoc work sessions, before regular meetings and before they're recorded. Would you support adopting that model, or do you feel the current model is superior?

Greenstein: I would absolutely support adopting Mt. Kisco’s model.  As you know, I ran for Town Board in 2011 on my own party line, Transparency in Government.  Back then, I wanted to run on my own party line since I believed that ideology in politics gets in the way of reason and generates bad policy.  I wanted to be an independent voice.  I felt New Castle needed representation chosen by the residents, not local political leaders. I believe government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and encourages government representatives to provide information to residents-in plain English-about the issues that affect them

It’s been almost a year finding someone for the open Planning Board position.  The town is  filled with so many qualified applicants.  With an open process, we can remove the politics from the process. 


Patch: What changes would you like to see for downtown Chappaqua and downtown Millwood if you are elected?

Greenstein: Over the years, I’ve put on the table many suggestions to revitalize the downtown. Chuck Napoli’s plan is a good starting place for discussion. Chuck Napoli isn’t the only one who’s had this parking-below-a-field idea. In 1998 the town commissioned a study by Ralph DiBart, which mentioned a development opportunity: the report noted that the topography of the Bell field made “decking” a good solution for increasing parking and preserving the field. Chuck’s idea to use the field side of the parking lot for more retail not only increases the retail density and mix of stores, but also adds market rate apartments with some workforce housing This is the kind of mix of uses that our downtown desperately needs.

Also, in 2007 the town commissioned the Project for Public Spaces. They talked about a performing arts center as an anchor destination for the town. So talk about vision? How great would it be for Chappaqua to not only have a great reputation for schools, but to have a reputation as a hub for performing arts and restaurants?

All these studies and ideas should be thrown on the table and let’s talk about them as a community. We should bring in residents with experience in these areas. We have developers, architects, engineers. We have people with great vision. Some ideas will be good, some bad. But we need to discuss them all.


Patch: The town board is currently considering participation in a multi-municipal property revaluation effort. Would you support having New Castle participate?

Greenstein: Yes.  There’s only one thing that’s been ignored more than the master plan, and that’s property revaluation. It needs to be done. I understand that some people’s taxes may go up, but other towns’ experience has shown that, in general, in a revaluation one third of assessments go up, a third go down and a third stay the same.  Revaluation is about fairness and it should be done regularly. I think there’s no doubt any town-wide revaluation will cause some people anxiety, which is why the town board has to educate residents about the need, the process, and the outcome, to ease their concerns. If residents are part of the process and understand it, they’ll be more accepting of the results.


Patch: What is your position on the potential acquisition of the Twin Oaks Swim and Tennis Club property? If you support the town buying it, what use would you like to see on it?

Greenstein: I do not support purchasing the Twin Oaks Swim and Tennis Club property.   I was initially under the impression that there was a deed restriction for recreation use.  That is not the case.  Since the property can be used for residential use, I would prefer to see homes built so we can generate some additional real estate taxes, instead spending 2M for the property & the cost of operation & maintenance. 


Patch: What is your position on The Spa at New Castle, which is the proposed mix of condos, hotel rooms, spa and restaurant for the former Legionaries of Christ site off of Route 128?

Greenstein: It definitely sounds intriguing.  We must make sure we have adequate fields to accommodate the septic.  As well, since this area is on well water it may not be able to handle the strain put on the water table.   I am also concerned about the buffer for the Tripp Street corridor.   It must be screened sufficiently for the residents bordering the property.  So far, I have been very impressed with the developer.  Last year they made a preliminary visit to the Town & Planning Boards and basically said is this something you can live with.  Unlike Summit Greenfield’s handling of Chappaqua Crossing, they are not trying to ram this down the community’s collective throat.


Patch: Do you support extending Westchester County's sewer district to downtown Millwood? If so, what measures would you take to persuade county officials and lawmakers to approve it?

Greenstein: The sewage issue in these areas has been an important matter for decades. Our petition to the county has been held up for years for political reasons.  We have finally been able to gain the political support of the county.   The problem is that Millwood business district is not part of the Croton Watershed - they are not eligible for 10M that county is willing to put into this.  New York City gave millions to the County to prevent contaminated surface water from reaching the Croton reservoir—drinking water City and Westchester county residents.  Chappaqua Crossing, Yeshiva, Riverwoods and Random Farms are part of the Croton Watershed.   Other areas petitioning for sewer districts would find them costly to finance. 

There is no doubt that septic disposal in Millwood has been a significant hurdle for development, and an undesirable limitation on our commercial base.   The full potential of the Millwood hamlet cannot be achieved without connecting to sewers. But, Millwood would have to pay their own way.  I think they would find it prohibitively expensive.   I do not support amending the pending petition.  I would like to Chappaqua Crossing, Yeshiva, Riverwoods & Random Farms added to the sewer district then we can explore our options for Millwood.


Patch: What do you think of the town board's current relationship with the Chappaqua school board, as well as the school boards of its other overlapping school districts? What changes, if any, would you like to see for relations?

Greenstein: When I ran for Town Board two years, ago, I ran on a platform of working closely with the school board.  I suggested then, and still believe, that the Town Board create a liaison to the school board to focus on identifying and enhancing synergies and efficiencies between us.  I said back then, and still believe, as budget pressures mount, we must work together on issues such as long-term mandate relief, switching employees to a more realistic, manageable retirement benefit systems, modifying the Triborough Amendment, managing accelerating health care costs and, along with other municipalities and school districts, pressing for local control.  I believe it is also time to establish a “Five Year Plan” for our hamlet, encompassing town and school board issues.  This could be a great mutual project for the liaisons to chair - a Five Year Plan for New Castle - and for both school and town boards to produce together.  A Five Year Plan allows the community to beginning discussing and evaluating, in a thoughtful, orderly and strategic manner, our projected student enrollment trends and the options we might have to address mutually beneficial solutions to problems.   Our platform is very clear…….we will work closely with the school board! 


Patch: Do you anticipate a time in the next two years when the town board may to vote to override the property tax levy cap?

Greenstein: Never say never.   The Town is not permitted to exempt capital costs from the cap.  This places a huge burden on the Town to maintain its infrastructure while staying within the cap.  But, I  can guarantee you one thing, it would not be a decision made lightly.


Patch: What do you think of the master plan update process as it's arranged now? What changes, if there are any, would you make to it?

Greenstein: I think Sabrina Charney is hoping, as she should, that the master plan review process will have broad community involvement, but it’s hard to excite residents about a process when they feel that the most significant projects affecting the town’s future have been taken off the table—Hunts Place affordable housing and a third retail district at Chappaqua Crossing. It’s like going into Tazza, ordering a muffin top, which they sell, and instead having them serve you the bottom of the muffin. It’s not what you wanted and it’s not the best part of the muffin.

Instead of having the town board remove two of the biggest decisions from that process, I would do my best to hit the reset button so that the master plan can be done properly. Residents deserve the top of the muffin, not the bottom—meaningful input, not token participation. We should let the steering committee do the work they were appointed to do.   We should let them include in their review process whether the community wants a third retail district at Chappaqua Crossing.   As well, with community input, we can decide on acceptable locations for affordable housing

We need to take a step back.  It’s been 24 years since our master plan was updated.  This is our vision for the community we want to live in— what our town will look like five, ten, twenty years down the road.  We need to start the process by asking what is our brand?  What image will attract property owners, non residential investors and be a source of pride for our residents?  How do you want New Castle to be viewed as   We all know that education is important to our community.  We certainly have a reputation for great school.  But why stop there?   What about our downtown business districts?   Did you know that Millwood is the center of Westchester.....seems like a great slogan to me.  What about downtown Chappaqua?  Do we want our downtown to be known as a pleasant walking village with great shopping, restaurants and a strong sense of history?   Do we want to add arts, culture and entertainment?   Do you want our downtown to be a magnet for families with lots of activities for kids?   Once we have a brand then we should focus on all solutions  that are consistent with our brand. The brand conversation must precede Comprehensive Planning. 



Patch: You were among those who helped start the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce. What lessons from your involvement do you think would apply to being supervisor?

Greenstein:
 When I ran 2 years ago, I ran on a platform of the revitalization of our downtown business districts and the need for a Chamber of Commerce.  Although I lost that election, true to my word, I still formed the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce.   The chamber has been in existence for a mere 16 months.   We have approximately 170 members.  We have introduced tons of new community events such as Taste of Chappaqua, Fall Festival, Tails to Trails Pet Fair, Movies in Millwood Park, Holiday Stroll, Chamber Champs.   We took the summer concert series to a whole new level......a level that is worthy of our great community.   We have a mobile application waiting for approval from Apple, and a web site being developed.  We started a Shop Local Campaign, and May Madness.  We started a Shop Local Campaign.  

We are finally heading in the right direction but we have A LOT more work to do.  The Town Board must take the lead.

I believe we need a different attitude towards our downtown business districts, and our merchants.  A downtown should be the heart & soul of a community.  We need our merchants, and they need us.  We need to attract and retain a diverse range of  businesses.  We must all work together to make our two hamlets more vibrant.  This will lead to an increased sense of community and increased commercial revenues.  I have worked closely with, and know all of the merchants & landlords. I have demonstrated  my willingness to stand up for our small business owners.  I believe I have earned their respect.  I believe they trust me, and know I am in their corner.   I feel confident that I can best work with them to revitalize our downtown business districts.  

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