Residents at a Monday hearing slammed a town-led proposal to rezone Chappaqua Crossing's commercial portion to enable use of a supermarket and ancillary retail.
“I really do not understand why this town wants to take a beautiful campus like Chappaqua Crossing and turn it into a strip mall?” said Tina Fine, who lives on nearby Cowdin Circle.
Opponents, many of whom are residents who live near the site, argue that allowing for groceries and retail will lead an already packed Route 117 to take on more traffic, add quality of life issues such as rats attracted to the activity, and make the surrounding roadways more dangerous.
“I feel like this is so much worse than I thought it was and I know for damn sure that nobody else understands what’s going on here,” said Lisa Katz, who has started an online petition opposing the rezoning and collected more than 100 signatures from it.
The proposed legislation, which is coming from the New Castle Town Board, would create a new floating retail zone called an Office Park Retail Overlay District, which would be grafted onto the existing commercially zoned part of the former Reader's Digest campus; the official name for the office portion is known as the Research and Office Business District. The idea of a new zone was conceived in March by the town, less than a year after Chappaqua lost the D'Agostino grocery chain, which was its only full-service supermarket. The intent for the change, according to an explanation in the proposed text, is to help an area that's "underserved" by such retail and to improve New Castle's commercial tax base.
Within the overlay zone, a large grocery store of between 50,000 to 60,000 square feet must be built, while ancillary uses of at least 5,000 square feet each are allowed. A single use in the overlay zone can only have up to 40 percent of the floor area in it, while "any three uses" can have up to 60 percent of the zone's floor area. Ancillary uses can range from restaurants to fitness centers.
Lester Steinman, a town attorney who specializes in land use, explained that the rezoning process has two review steps. The first involves Town Board approval of a preliminary development concept plan, which outlines terms of the zone, along with specific site rezoning, for which part of the existing commercial area can have the overlay. The next step involves the Planning Board approving a site plan, and possibly elements such as environmental permits and subdivision, he said.
The review process, Steinman said, is similar to what has been used by the town for its reivew of site owner Summit/Greenfield's rezoning request to enable its proposed condominiums and townhouses. The Town Board's part of that review, which lasted for years during the late 2000s, ended with its April 2011 rezoning vote to allow for 111 out of 199 units that Summit/Greenfield wanted; the developer had more dense iterations ealier in the review.
Summit/Greenfield, meanwhile, is suing the town in federal and state courts over how the board's review of its rezoning request was handled; both cases are pending.
Warnings of a 'Third Hamlet'
Aside from site-specific concerns, opponents warned that the rezoning could create a third business district - downtowns for Chappaqua and Millwood being the other two - one that could provide unfair competition to existing merchants.
Rob Greenstein, who works with the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce and was vocally opposed to the residential rezoning proposal, warned against creating a "third hamlet," adding, “especially when you have a downtown that needs a lot of work.”
Greenstein, admitting that he was initially supportive of bring a grocery store to Chappaqua Crossing, is now opposed, citing the fact that other stores would go up with it.
“We have to build our, our town downtown," Fine said. "There are lots of merchants there who are great.”
Manny Areces warned that allowing the zoning change could undermine those who have been trying to help downtown Chappaqua.
“You know, this is ridiculous, because you’re going to destroy our downtown," he said, adding that it will impact the people who have spent years building and maintain the existing commercial district.
Opponents, however, did not simply say "no," as several proposed their own alternatives.
Greenstein reiterated an idea he's discussed publicly, and that is to have the town move its services to Chappaqua Crossing, which would free up land in downtown Chappaqua for development. As a better scenario, Greenstein also suggested resident Chuck Napoli's recent proposal, which would involve building a new row of stores and placing parking underneath a turf field in front of Robert E. Bell Middle School.
Katz suggested not only moving town service and police to Chappaqua Crossing, but also moving Bell to the site and then developing their respective downtown locations.
Several residents called the proposal "spot zoning," and there were calls for the town to update its master plan, which hasn't been done since 1989. Supervisor Susan Carpenter, based on comments this year, hopes to have the process for doing so start soon.
Another element of concern: lack of future control over the site. While the Town Board may have one vision, opponents cautioned that the place could look different because it will not be able to control the specific tenant mix.
“We can’t control that. You can zone it, but once you establish commercial zones, the tenants become a subject of negotiation between the landlord and the proposed tenant," said Victor Siber, who lives on nearby Cowdin Lane and has been outspoken out both the retail and housing proposals. Siber also accused the town of not being transparent with how it has handled the proposal.
Summit/Greenfield To Submit New Plan in Response, Wants to Extend Clock for Residential Rezoning
The developer's top officials, including partner Felix Charney and David Walsh, director of asset management for Summit Development, were present at the hearing by opted not to speak. However, through attorney John Marwell, Summit/Greenfield indicated that it will submit a new plan in response to the Town Board's proposed zoning change.
“We’ll get it in as soon as possible," he said.
In a related matter, Marwell confirmed to Patch that Summit/Greenfield has submitted a request for another 6-month extension to preserve the residential rezoning for 111 units. The rezoning only permitted for a 1-year deadline to get a site plan to the Planning Board's review process, but the developer is allowed for two, 6-month extensions, one of which the Town Board approved this spring., leaving an expiration date for next month. Should the second extension be approved, then Summit/Greenfield has until next April or else the rezoning expires.
Geoff Thompson, a spokesman for Summit/Greenfield, was asked why the developer would go ahead with submitting a new plan, given the developer's frustration over the residential rezoning review. Thompson responded that the idea is being proposed from the town.
Elaborating, Thompson described the idea as the developer being asking if they're interested and to show what can be done.
“We would be interested in that type of zoning. We’ll show what can be done," he said.
Top officials from Summit/Greenfield - it is a joint venture between Summit Development and Greenfield Partners - were at the hearing. They included Felix Charney, a partner at Summit, and David Walsh, Summit's director of asset management. While they were present at the hearing, they did not speak at it.
The Town Board voted to adjourn the public hearing to Oct. 30, while the Planning Board will hold a work session on Oct. 2 to give advisory input for the proposal.
Summit/Greenfield, meanwhile, has expressed interest in going through site plan review by the Planning Board for the 111 housing units the Town Board authorized in its 2011 rezoning vote. Thompson did not have a timeline for when the developer will act on the housing element.
Both sides are still in court regarding the lawsuits filed over the town's residential rezoning review. The federal suit is in the discovery phase, while the town is seeking to dismiss the state lawsuit.
(A COPY OF THE PROPOSED ZONING CHANGE IS ATTACHED TO THIS STORY AS A PDF FILE, INSIDE THE MEETING PACKET).