Members of Chappaqua's school board expressed general interest in boosting commercial activity at Chappaqua Crossing but stopped short of taking positions on the proposals to bring a grocery store and retail to the site.
Board members made their early interests known during a rare joint meeting with the New Castle Town Board, held Tuesday at Horace Greeley High School, when talk between the two shifted to the future of the town's commercial tax base. The intent of rezoning the former Reader's Digest property, first proposed by the Town Board earlier this year and then developer Summit/Greenfield in October, would be to do just that.
School board President Victoria Tipp felt that the lack of commercial development, at least in general, is causing “a lot of the hardship involved," noting the impact of the tax levy cap and rising costs on the district. She noted that the percentage of taxable value in town for commercial property is just in the low single digits, as is the amount of taxes paid out by commercial properties.
“We really need it and we need it now," she said. At the same time, Tipp said that she also cares about how the revenue is built up, and that she would be comfortable having a study of the town's commercial situation done, one that could be separate from the town's planned update of its master plan.
New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter responded by noting that a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) given to the town by Summit/Greenfield will be reviewed and how it will fit into the town's current master plan will be addressed.
On having more commercial in general, School board Vice President Alyson Kiesel, a Greeley alum who also grew up in town, said that “we needed it yesterday.” Noting the changing times, Kiesel said “we can't pretend that this is 1970," and talked about how the revenue is needed to offset rising costs. Kiesel, who said she cares about preservation of the town, did not take a specific position on the retail proposals.
While not taking a specific position on the plans, school board member Jeffrey Mester said that his board's goal “is to maximize commercial revenues.” He noted the board's previous opposition to Summit/Greenfield's earlier proposals to put condominiums and townhouses on the property because many of the units would have been taxed using an assessment formula that would result in revenue being less than that of single family homes. The feeling was that with this formula, the costs of more kids in the district would become a financial problem.
Town Councilman Robin Stout, responding to Mester's recap on the residential plan, noted that the Town Board reached "a compromise" on it. The board voted in April 2011 to only approve zoning for 111 out of 199 proposal housing units, with preservation of the site's commercial zone cited as one reason. Summit/Greenfield sued the town in federal and state courts over how the review of its proposal was handled and both cases are still pending.
Town Councilman Robin Stout noted that commercial development opportunities outside of the downtown hamlets of Chappaqua and Millwood is limited. He noted that during the town's last master plan update, in 1989, the two major commercial properties eyed were Reader's Digest's site and a former IBM-owned parcel on the West End that is now the Hudson Hills Golf Course.
The school board, as a collective entity, has not taken a position on either proposal, Tipp said.
The Town Board's version would create an overlay retail zone for the commercially zoned part of the property, permit a grocery store of 50,000 to 60,000 square feet with ancillary retail of 5,000 square feet each. Summit/Greenfield's version would place retail specifically on the site's southern portion would include a grocery store of 36,000 to 66,000 square feet and four ancillary tenants of 5,000 square feet each. Some in town have blasted the idea, citing traffic impact to neighbors, fear of it becoming an unattractive strip mall and possible competition with existing merchants.
Aside from Chappaqua Crossing, there was also talk about Chuck Napoli's proposed commercial complex for downtown Chappaqua, which would mean building in-fill retail and a theater where the current South Greeley Avenue parking lot is, and then building a turf field over a current district-owned grass field that would double as a deck to shelter parking underneath it.
Mester gave a recap of Napoli making a recent presentation to the district's facilities committee, which he sits on. He said there are "missing details" that they would like to hear about, and outstanding issues include legal advice to the district and possible revenue to it. Conceptually, however, Mester is open to the idea.
In terms of procedure, the town, through its staff and consultants, is reviewing Summit/Greenfield's SEIS. At a Town Board work session held at town hall after the joint meeting, Town Attorney Clinton Smith was asked by Stout about when a public hearing could be scheduled for it. Smith replied that the board would need to decide whether the SEIS is complete, meaning it would have enough details in it to have a hearing. Smith anticipates the Town Board having a chance to weigh in on completeness at a meeting later this month.