At their Tuesday work session, New Castle Planning Board members made it clear that they have concerns with the Town Board's proposal to rezone Chappaqua Crossing to allow for a large supermarket and ancillary retail.
Prominent among the concerns is a requirement for having a large supermarket in the zone, which must range from 50,000 to 60,000 square feet in size.
“I think it would be unlikely that our local population would generate the kind of revenue for a grocery store of 50,000 square feet, the kind of revenue that would be necessary for a grocery store of that size to stay in business," said board member Sheila Crespi, who wanted to know more about the clientele for such a supermarket.
Fellow board member Douglas Schuerman asked why can't demand from the market dictate square footage, noting that there are stores that use less than 50,000.
“So why the minimum amount?” he asked.
Board Chairman Richard Brownell was sympathetic to the concern, saying he think it's a "fundamental question" that they have.
In contrast, it was noted that the former D'Agostino in Chappaqua, which closed last year, was less than 15,000 square feet. One of the closest supermarkets which a size comparable to the proposal, it was explained is the Mount Kisco A&P, which comes in at 50,000 square feet.
At the meeting, board members also questioned the Town Board's rationale, placed in the draft copy of the rezoning legislation, stating that the retail can help a town that is underserved.
“I don’t really see us as an underserved market area," she said.
Brownell agreed, saying text needs to be re-worded.
Board members also had sentiments that the wording for maximum square footage on the site is not clear enough. Theoretically, according to planning consultant Joanne Meder, the proposed retail overlay district - it would only go in Chappaqua Crossing's existing commercial zone - could accomodate up to 165,000 square feet of space. This is because the Town Board would have to authority to allow for up to 25 percent of the underlying commercial district's square footage to be devoted to the retail zone. Meder's number is assuming a total square footage of 662,000. Site owner Summit/Greenfield, in its most recent mixed-use residential/commercial proposal, called for retaining that amount out of the existing 700,000, with some space being demolished.
Board members discussed the potential for the site to compete with existing merchants in the downtowns of Chappaqua and Millwood.
“I feel that this is introducing a third commercial center into New Castle, which is something that the master plan didn’t anticipate, and I know that part of this process would be amending the master plan," said board member Sheila Crespi. She felt that consideration such a change should include broad community input with events such as visioning sessions.
Others questioned the potential mix of tenants that would come.
“It’s like a Woodbury Commons," said Schuerman, referencing the large Orange County development.
Board member Gerrard Curran, referring to the possible mix, said he gets the sense that "it’s more like a strip mall.” Responding, Brownell said they have to be clear that they do not want a strip mall. Rather, they want buildings in the zone that will conform to the same architecture as existing buildings on the site.
The board members' questions are not much different from those of residents who came to a Sept. 24 public hearing held by the Town Board. At it, they blasted the proposal, arguing that it will have a harmful traffic impact, lead to the creation of a strip mall and create unfair competition with existing businesses.
Meanwhile, Summit/Greenfield has announced that it will soon present a new plan that takes into account the Town Board's rezoning proposal.
At the meeting, Brownell asked Town Planner Sabrina Charney Hull for an update on the Town Board's interest in overhauling the master plan, which last received a major update in 1989. She replied that Westchester County's Department of Planning has been in talks with the town to work on developing base documents for the process. She also said an expedition of the master plan review for its commercial part is being looked it.
In terms of procedure, Crespi called for there to be a thorough review of the proposal, possibly with an environmental impact statement, to look at the potential impacts of traffic, the market area for such a destination and what kind of stores would have use of ancillary space that, under the rezoning, must be at least 5,000 square feet each.
The proposed rezoning legislation, which merely creates the process for establishing the zone, calls for having the Town Board to review a rezoning application and approve what is called a preliminary development concept plan. The Planning Board would then decide whether to grant site plan approval for the application.
“But once it’s on the books the pressure is there to move forward on something," she said.
Fellow board members agreed that there should be more review, particular traffic. Meanwhile, Lester Steinman, a land use attorney for the town, told the board that the Town Board will have to go through an environmental review, but also explained that the scope of what is to be done in consideration is not yet known.
Other questions included the placement of retail signage, including street-side, and adequacy of parking.
The debate over rezoning the site for retail is the latest in a saga at the property that has lasted for nearly eight years. The developer, which bought the property from Reader's Digest in 2004 and spent years in the mid-late 2000s trying to build condos and townhouses on the site, got Town Board rezoning approval in 2011 for 111 out of the 199 units it proposed. Summit/Greenfield took the town to state and federal courts over how the review was handled. The state lawsuit was just dismissed, while the federal case is still ongoing.
The Planning Board will have another discussion on the proposal at its Oct. 16 meeting, with a feedback memo in place before the Town Board reconvenes a public hearing on the proposal on Oct. 30.