The New Castle Town Board accepted the environmental review for the proposed Form-Based Code as complete last week, another step toward enacting the code and potential zoning changes for a portion of downtown Chappaqua.
Despite continued heavy criticism from a contingent of opponents, the board voted 3-1 to accept the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS), with Councilwoman Lisa Katz the dissenting vote.
The board will now work on the language to be included in the findings statement over at least the next two weeks with the adoption of zoning legislation possible by December.
“I sincerely believe that ultimately, when we get there, the Form-Based Code on North Greeley (Avenue) will facilitate the type of growth that is advantageous to the community, and we’re open to further modifications,” Acting Supervisor Jeremy Saland said moments before the vote. “The zoning code will guide any future developers in understanding the parameters what they can and cannot build.”
Town officials have sought to invigorate downtown Chappaqua by allowing for mixed-use development that would bring people to live downtown, a strategy meant to add vibrancy to the hamlet.
The proposed Form-Based Code, proposed for the Retail Business and Retail Business & Parking zones, stresses appearance over uses and would expedite approvals for many applications on less than a half-acre.
Acceptance of the FGEIS followed marathon meetings for the past several months, where code critics had strenuously argued the failings of the responses from Kimley-Horn, the town’s consultants, to hundreds of comments and questions from residents who had participated in the public hearings.
Before last Tuesday evening’s vote, Katz echoed similar sentiments that outspoken opponents had posed for months, including the consultants’ failure to adequately address traffic and parking issues, potential enrollment and taxation consequences for the Chappaqua School District, and the lack of meaningful financial impact analysis on services and infrastructure.
Although the board announced earlier this year it will limit the scope of any zoning legislation to the six acres of commercial property on North Greeley Avenue, Katz and other critics continually argued that the study area for the FGEIS should also be reduced to that scope. Otherwise, a future Town Board could quickly make sweeping changes without further state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) study.
“The Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement is not sufficiently detailed to allow the Town Board as SEQRA lead agency and the public to adequately assess the potential adverse environmental impacts of the proposed Form-Based Code,” Katz said. “In fact, we are not even in the ballpark to being close to complete. There is simply no way that any rational, fair-minded representative of this town could have sat through the engagement sessions and come away with the conclusion that the document is complete.”
Councilwoman Lauren Levin said she was satisfied with the efforts by the board and the consultants.
“We’ve been through this process for two years now and I think that the questions that were posed in the document as well as the answers that were provided by our consultants are sufficient and adequate,” Levin said. “So I can think we can finalize this.”
Speakers lined up pleading with the board to wait until they received more detailed answers on key issues or stop the process altogether.
“The Form-Based Code can be halted right now and restarted for only the North Greeley Avenue corridor, which eliminates citizens’ concerns that a future Town Board could implement the Form-Based Code process for South Greeley Avenue, King Street and areas limited around the intersection of King Street and Bedford Road,” said resident Ed Frank.
Resident Roger Klepper said the town has manipulated SEQRA by relying on factors outside of the process, such as references made to mitigation as a result of limiting the area of focus to North Greeley Avenue.
He said the findings statement is a legally binding representation of the board’s opinion of what they think is acceptable for the downtown, and by failing to do proper analysis, minimizes the future importance of findings.
“To me, it’s a gross misrepresentation, it’s legislative negligence and you’re minimizing the importance of this findings statement, (which), can be used by a Town Board in the future to implement this,” Klepper said.
Others took the board to task for disregarding the Chappaqua School District’s projections for the number of students that could be generated and what that cost would be.
“Our schools are our number one asset and I’m appalled at how the concerns of our district have been continuously dismissed by this board,” said resident Sarah Shapiro. “I mean, you’re making an enormous mistake ignoring their input.”
The board did agree to include the Oct. 11 letter from the school district’s attorney as an addendum to the FGEIS, which projected each new student at a more than $35,000 cost.
While Councilwoman Lori Morton voted to include the letter, she called it “disappointing” that the district failed to complete “a real analysis.”
“I agree with the people that it defies logic that every student incrementally increases the budget by $35,000,” Morton said. “That does not make sense to me.”
Town Board work sessions on the findings statement have been scheduled for this Wednesday evening and Tuesday, Oct. 26.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/