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New Castle Abandons Form Based Code After Fiery Debate

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A heated exchange started off last week’s New Castle Town Board work session about the town’s Form Based Code that has long been a political point of contention. On the agenda was a resolution to formally abandon the Form Based Code which was supported by the previous town board attempting to create a vibrant downtown and pave the way for a mixed-used development with diverse housing in a 72-acre area.

After the November 2021 election, all town board members supporting the Form-Based Code were defeated; Councilman Jeremy Saland, a supporter of the code, occupied the only board seat last fall that was not up for election. Opponents to the Form Based Code claimed the code wouldn’t work for downtown Chappaqua because if would exponentially increase student enrollment and cause taxes to spike.

At the Aug. 16 work session, the contentious issue stirred an often-rancorous debate between Town Supervisor Lisa Katz and Saland, who blamed the board for being unproductive in addressing zoning issues for the nine months they have been in office.

“You have nothing to show on day 229,” said Saland. “What have you done to encourage more restaurants to open in the town?”

For almost 15 minutes, Saland listed a litany of objections to the board resolution declaring the Form Based Code null and void. “You are making it unnecessarily and potentially harder for the town, its residents, future developers both small and large as to what needs to be done and how we can get there,” Saland remarked.

Katz, who frequently engaged with her cell phone while Saland spoke and who at one point walked out of the meeting, accused Saland of trying to make the town board look bad. Often the two interrupted and spoke over one another.

Saland lashed out, accusing the board of discounting years of hard work done by the town’s engineer, planner and hired consultants who worked on the Form Based Code. “What is it in the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) that you object to?”

“You’re not understanding the resolution,” Katz said, clearly frustrated with what she called Saland’s “diatribe.”

Katz reminded Saland that he was absent for the last few meetings when the discussion focused on the Form Based Code’s analysis of underlying data and how it was considered suspect and wouldn’t be accepted.

“Anyone that wants to develop can come in,” Katz explained. “They can present the underlying data to the town board, but any analysis associated with (the Form Based Code) is not going to be accepted.”

Siding with Katz was councilmember Christian Hildenbrand. “For two years the prior board pursued a poorly conceived, poorly articulated, poorly communicated, poorly executed Form Based Code plan,” Hildenbrand said to Saland. “No one is saying that the work that was done was improper. We’re saying the analysis and the conclusions are the things we want to finally put to bed. We didn’t need a Form Based Code.”

Saland asked if the proposed resolution to abandon the Form Based Code included specific language to insure which specific underlying studies would survive. “You’re creating uncertainty and you could have created an opportunity to put that language in,” Saland said. “That language would make it clear that those underlying studies are valuable.”

The majority of the board voted to formally abandon the Form Based Code. Saland was the one opposing vote.

Correction: In the print version of this article, it incorrectly stated that Councilman Jeremy Saland was the only Form Based Code supporter not defeated in last year’s town election. He was not up for re-election in 2021.

 

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