The Examiner

Chappaqua Residents Urge Postponement of Form Based Code Process

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Several Chappaqua residents called last week for New Castle officials to postpone consideration of zoning changes outlined in the proposed Form Based Code so commuting, student population and housing trends may be better scrutinized after the pandemic.

In the fourth session of the public hearing held on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) since October, some of the roughly dozen speakers, generally critical about aspects of the plan, pressed the Town Board to contemplate either shelving the plan or phasing it in on a piecemeal basis in certain areas of downtown until the pandemic ends or winds down.

Resident Robin Klein said life may be permanently altered with respect to work or where people want to live and the town should weigh that factor into its assumptions.

“I think the 2014 initiative and the survey was very well-intentioned back then in order to revitalize and make the town more vibrant, but I think it’s no longer relevant in the post-pandemic world,” Klein said.

The Form Based Code is an outgrowth of community engagement sessions six years ago that resulted in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan update. At the time, much of the focus was on revitalizing the town’s two business hamlets, most notably downtown Chappaqua.

However, the Form Based Code has received considerable pushback from residents the past two months, particularly since much focus has centered on the full buildout scenario, which estimates nearly 1,000 apartments in the downtown, but erating less than 100 schoolchildren, a number that has been disputed by the school district and some residents.

Town officials have said that the Form Based Code is a rezoning proposal and that there is no development plan. A full buildout scenario is also highly unlikely to occur because it would require the sale of town-owned land. The Town Board has already announced it has scrapped the possibility of five-story buildings in limited areas of downtown.

Another resident, Ben Herman, said the town should consider launching a new study that includes revisions to acknowledge potential changes in the real estate and housing markets and commuting practices or strongly consider zoning changes in a limited area such as North Greeley Avenue. Herman suggested “incentive-based zoning,” which could bring more affordable units to downtown than the 10 percent outlined in New Castle’s ordinance.

“Mixed-use projects on the Rite Aid site and the site to the north with a higher than 10 percent affordable housing percentage would help the town achieve one of its stated goals – diversity of housing – much faster than limited affordable housing created as larger projects are built,” he said.

Herman, who said he has a real estate background, also told the board that the town should limit the heights of buildings to three stories. He further explained that the town’s consultant’s multiplier for valuation derived from the capitalization rate is too low.

Resident Daniel Soloway said he is pleased that the town is examining its zoning, but cautioned officials to be wary of the impacts that maximum buildout could have on the community and the Chappaqua schools.

“I think that change is not always good; good change is good,” he said.

Raymond Sanseverino was the latest resident to point out that he learned about the proposed Form Based Code in October despite the town having community engagement sessions last winter before the pandemic. That has been a recurring complaint throughout the hearings.

Sanseverino said he was concerned that a flood of condominiums and rental units would generate many school-age children but would generate far less property tax revenue than single-family homes.

“It’s pure math,” he said. “You can’t get to $34,000 a student if you’re collecting only $5,000 from condos or rental units.”

One of the few residents to speak favorably about the plan was Jonathan Jaffe, rabbi at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, who is also a town resident. Jaffe said the town offers few housing alternatives for seniors, and as a result, there are fewer older, longtime residents.

“We do not have people in their 60s, 70s and 80s in the numbers at a house of worship one would expect because of the environment that we live in, which lends itself to a population bell curve, and because of that we do not have the wisdom of elders to pass on the traditions of generations to our children, and it would be amazing if we in this town could perhaps think about how we can allow a greater percentage of congregants to remain living here,” Jaffe said.

Supervisor Ivy Pool said that the Town Board will have a joint meeting on Jan. 13 with the Chappaqua Board of Education. At that meeting, it is expected the school district’s consultant will release estimates of how many school-age children the full buildout scenario would generate.

Pool mentioned that a fifth public hearing session has been scheduled for Jan. 19, after which the Town Board may close the hearing. Once the hearing is close, a 30-day period will remain open for written comments.

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