EnvironmentGovernmentThe Examiner

Form-Based Code Criticism Continues as New Castle Eyes FGEIS Vote

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Form-Based Code critics repeatedly told New Castle officials last week that the town’s consultants’ responses in the draft Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) failed to address many of the public’s key questions and comments.

Opponents of the effort continually argued at the Sept. 21 Town Board meeting that issues raised during six sessions of public hearings last fall and winter were either ignored or were outdated, or irrelevant information was provided.

The public comments came after the final five of 13 categories cited in the proposed Form-Based Code were reviewed by the board. A public engagement session was postponed from last Thursday evening to this Tuesday night. The board could potentially accept the FGEIS as complete this Thursday evening.

Similar to previous meetings, there was a long list of inadequacies pointed out by speakers who addressed the board. Resident Dora Straus said a key example of the consultants’ shortcomings was their failure to use a valid multiplier that reflects the high quality of the Chappaqua School District to calculate the projected number of students in a full build-out scenario.

“While the consultants do admit that the excellent public school district is a strong factor in attracting new residents to Chappaqua, they still do not incorporate this critical factor into their projections and merely repeat their reliance on the Rutgers multiplier, which did not take into account the high quality of the school district,” Straus said.

Furthermore, the consultants failed to mention new housing that has recently been completed, such as the project at 91 Bedford Rd. or the Conifer affordable housing projection on Hunts Place, both of which may impact school district enrollment.

Earlier in the discussion, Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said that the town’s consultants had projected 114 additional schoolchildren in a full build-out. Meanwhile, the school district’s consultant concluded that there would be 150 additional students using the town’s breakdown of one- and two-bedroom units, and up to 256 more students by incorporating a greater number of two-bedroom apartments into the calculation.

The Chappaqua School District had 3,556 students last year, about 700 less than its high during the 2007-08 school year. However, the town’s consultants said that within six to nine years, without additional construction, Grafflin Elementary School and Robert E. Bell Middle School are projected to reach capacity.

Another resident, Ben Herman, cited a letter from the owner of the vacant Rite Aid property on North Greeley Avenue that indicated the construction of up to 50 units at that location would likely generate as many as 170 residents and 70 children for the schools, a rate that is about six times the calculation in the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS).

“There are so many unknowns with this you can’t accept that this document is adequate and complete,” Herman said. “There are so many unknowns, and that is part of the problem with accepting an FGEIS for the entire hamlet. There are so many unknowns and this is just one example.”

Resident Ed Frank urged the town to halt the process for the entire 72-acre study area and concentrate only on North Greeley Avenue. Earlier this year the Town Board said any rezoning legislation would be limited to the roughly six acres on North Greeley in the face of stiff opposition, but the town would continue the environmental analysis for the larger area.

“That eliminates citizens’ concerns (that) a future Town Board can implement the Form-Based process for South Greeley Avenue, King Street, and the area located in and about the intersection of King Street and Bedford Road,” said Frank, who mentioned that that could trigger an Article 78 from opponents.

The issue of deficient responses has been echoed on numerous occasions in the review of the draft FGEIS by Councilwoman Lisa Katz, who has repeatedly stated that the town’s consultants have been relying on assumptions rather than evidence to support various statements.

“This code is inappropriate,” she said. “Yes, the town could use some increased development, of course. Anyone with an eye can see that. But I don’t think this Form-Based Code happens to be appropriate for our town, but more importantly, I don’t think this FGEIS, which is what we’re actually talking about today, is complete.”

However, Councilwoman Lori Morton called the draft FGEIS “a very thorough document because there have been so many contributors.”

The meeting also featured a verbal dust-up between Acting Supervisor Jeremy Saland and resident Warren Gottlieb, a former chairman of the New Castle Republican Committee. After Gottlieb’s initial comments about the failure of the consultants to address numerous comments directly, Saland referenced comments made on social media about the Town Board majority’s handling of the Form-Based Code. Saland said there had been words and comments used such as the board is “corrupt,” “follow the money” and “we’re on the take.”

Gottlieb then returned to the microphone to confront Salad, saying he never used those terms with him.

“You’re doing exactly what I told you is bullying,” Gottlieb said. “You’re not going to claim I called you corrupt, sir. That’s a lie, and this community is sick and tired of your bullying, Jeremy.”

Saland responded that he wasn’t referring to Gottlieb but how some online commenters were the ones acting like bullies.

“I apologize if you think I was referring to you,” he said. “I was never doing so. I was reading a statement because you said I was bullying people. It’s not what’s going on. We can agree to disagree. I am responding to some people’s comments. I am responding to what I see and I do not allow things that are not accurate to be posted.”

Town Board meetings are now taking place at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center at Chappaqua Crossing.

An earlier version of this online article incorrectly identified Warren Gottlieb as the chairman of the New Castle Republican Committee. He’s a former chairman. We regret the error.

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