In their first joint work session to discuss creating a hamlet plan for downtown Millwood, New Castle's Town Board and the Millwood Task Force agreed to tackle changes that are doable for the short term as part of revitalizing the hamlet.
The work session was held at , which is almost a stone's throw from Millwood, rather than at town hall in downtown Chappaqua.
Supervisor Susan Carpenter suggested looking at items that can be dealt with sooner, such as adding improved crosswalks to Route 100, which cuts through downtown Millwood but includes fast-moving vehicular traffic.
Task Force members are receptive, and some also pitched ideas for Route 100 that include extending sidewalks about 1-2 miles north, along with getting the speed limit lowered. Because 100 is a state-owned road, the town would need the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to approve such changes.
“These are things we should immediately be looking at," said Task Force member Michael Stern. He noted that interest in improving connectivity across Route 100 has come from feedback he received from businesses such as , l and Millwood Hardware.
The next steps appear to involve the task force putting together a list of suggestions for the hamlet as a starting point. Eventually, town board members would like for task force members to mobilize members of the public who interact with the hamlet, such as merchants and residents, to brainstorm what the downtown should have for the long term. The dialogue occuring now is in response to a preliminary placemaking study by Project for Public Spaces (PPS). That report addressed generalities about Millwood, such as demographic data, shopping trends and connecting parts of the downtown better.
Some western New Castle residents met the report with skepticism, questioning why it was needed when it stated things they felt are already known. At the same time, the focus on developing Millwood's commercial base is something requested amid a growing focus on Chappaqua's commercial properties. Overall, there is an increasing interest among New Castle town officials to broaden the commercial tax base as a way of providing relief for residential taxpayers.
“I have not heard at one time, this town board try to promote Millwood as a business district," said Task Force member Jordan Schiffman. "I hear , but I haven’t heard anybody say go shopping in Millwood.”
He added: “You know, promote this town. Take a negative and try to make it a positive. I have not heard that from this town board. I didn’t hear it from the previous town board.”
Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel responded by saying the study was to “really get us jumpstarted.” She noted that the town has focused on implementing a hamlet plan for downtown Chappaqua - this has included the overhaul of the South Greeley parking lot and planned underground pipe replacements for South Greeley Avenue and lower King Street - and there is now a focus on making one for Millwood.
Town Planner David Brito, who is leaving at the end of this week, described the initial study as providing a foundation, including economic and demographic data.
Getting residents involved in the process is also a major component, as the intent is to get ideas from the public in proceeding further.
“We have to find a way to engage the rest of the community in this process," Carpenter said. She urged folks to reach out to residents who live in the hamlet proper, who she described as most likely to be interest in the development. She also offered to speak with residents at some of the local housing developments.
At times, some Millwood and West End residents appeared unsure as to what the scope of the town's requested efforts from them are. Discussion also included questions from residents over whether or no the town will fund further efforts. The board approved $6,000 for the initial PPS study.
Sara Brewster, a West End resident and former planning board member, said that the task force needs the leadership of the town board to do things. She also said that if you make expectations too much, “it gets to be defeating.”
At another point in the work session, West End resident and fellow ex-planning board member Thomas Curley urged folks to be realistic in terms of what stores can be expected to come into Millwood's downtown. In 2009, Curley, who is an architect, prepared an imaginative plan for developing the hamlet, which can be found here on New Castle NOW.
At times, dialogue shifted towards looking at bigger fixes in the long run, such as a desire from residents to extend a nearby trunk sewer link through the downtown, thereby increasing the commercial viability of properties in the hamlet. A sewer extension requires county approval.
“Everything changes if we had a trunk sewer in Route 100, right in front of the Spaccarelli’s site," said Task Force member Donald Weisstuch. "Until that question is answered, we really, realistically, can’t make intelligent decisions.”
Weisstuch also reiterated his desire to see the town's master plan updated, which was last done so in 1989. The town and planning boards are just starting the process for doing so.
Lou Russo, a fellow task force member, asked about the status of the town's current sewer extension efforts, which involve bringing the trunk line through the neighborhoods of Random Farms, Yeshiva Farm and Riverwoods to replace on-site sewage systems that deemed harmful to the nearby New Croton Reservior. The extension will not include connections for downtown Millwood properties but the trunk line may run through the hamlet.
In December, the county legislature and county executive extending the sewer district to those neighborhoods. Town Attorney Clinton Smith said that there will have to be a vote in the county board of legislators on appropriating money from a special fund, which as set aside by New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) - the city owns New Croton - for environmental improvements in the watershed.
While town officials are sympathetic to the desire for bringing sewers to Millwood businesses, the feeling is that the politics of extending the sewer district again make it difficult for the short term. This includes opposition from Yonkers politicians because they fear more sewage contributes to odor problems at the treatment plant in their city, where the waste winds up.
Along with getting more feedback from residents, the town may consult PPS to do a second study with more details.