Discontent Over Form Based Code Spawns New Castle Write-in Candidate

The burgeoning controversy over the proposed Form Based Code has motivated a Chappaqua resident to organize a write-in candidacy for next week’s New Castle special election for the unexpired term of Supervisor Ivy Pool’s council seat.

Thomas O’Connor said he was prompted to run on short notice because town officials have thus far failed to properly analyze the complex issues behind the new code. The proposed code seeks to allow mixed-use development downtown to diversify the town’s housing stock and have more foot traffic in hopes of creating a more vibrant hamlet.

However, in recent weeks a groundswell of opposition has surfaced, with some residents upset at the possibility that five-story buildings could be constructed along the west side of South Greeley Avenue between Woodburn Avenue and King Street as well as on town-owned land at the train station should it be sold.

There is also concern that under the maximum buildout scenario, which the town is required to include in its environmental review under state law, 997 units of housing would be built generating a suggested 96 additional schoolchildren. However, some residents believe that the number of school children would be much higher.

O’Connor said watching last Monday’s joint Town Board-Chappaqua Board of Education work session that addressed the issue served as the catalyst for his 11th-hour candidacy. Two weeks ago, the school board hired its own consultant to analyze the impacts on the school district because it didn’t trust the projections from the town’s consultants.

The Town Board opened its public hearing last Tuesday on the proposed code’s Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS), and will reconvene the hearing on Tuesday evening.

“I hear legitimate factual questions that people want answers to before we go ahead with a plan that potentially will alter the character of the town,” O’Connor said. “The only reason why I’m running is that these answers aren’t being given and that a full dialogue hasn’t been achieved between the elected representatives and the constituents.

“I think that by running it opens up a forum so that we can really get to the bottom of what the foundation for the DGEIS is,” he said.

He is running against Democrat Lori Morton, who is the only candidate that appears on the ballot to serve the final year of Pool’s Town Board seat. Pool was elected supervisor last November.

Councilwoman Lauren Levin, a registered Republican, did not seek re-election after she failed to receive a cross-endorsement from the Democrats.

O’Connor, an attorney and an ex-Marine who has lived in town for 16 years, said the Town Board should slow down the process until the questions and concerns that school officials and many community members have are addressed.

“I just felt that that meeting (last Monday) showed the Form Based Code, it’s foundation has not been fully vetted,” O’Connor said. “So I think just like the school board was blindsided by it, I was blindsided by the response of the Town Board to the school board’s legitimate questions about the DGEIS.”

Morton said she was mildly surprised at O’Connor’s candidacy, in part because she wasn’t familiar with any previous involvement in town affairs on his part.

However, she disputed the sentiments of the code’s detractors, saying that the Town Board should move ahead as scheduled because that is how town officials and the community will learn more.

“I think that the current stage is the gathering of information and community input, which should absolutely continue,” Morton said.

O’Connor also mentioned that while the emphasis six years ago during public sessions related to the Comprehensive Plan update was on improving downtown, he and other residents did not recall any mention of the possibility of five-story buildings.

“There seems to be a disconnect between the code and what they want to enact now and what was discussed at that 2014 public engagement,” he said.

Pool declined to comment on O’Connor’s candidacy over the weekend.

Last Tuesday evening, she read a letter from the Town Board that was sent to the Board of Education, which explained that the town used respected methodology from the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research Residential Demographic Multipliers to project enrollment numbers from the code.

Pool said the town asked the district for that information but the data was not available.

“We suggest that before contracting with your consultant, CCSD may wish to consider participating in the SEQRA process as an interested agency and engaging with the town’s independent consultants who are ready, willing and able to work with you,” she said.