By Lindsay Emery
The New Castle Town Board began internal discussions last week on the proposed Form Based Code, looking to work through some of the more contentious issues that have been raised by residents.
Board members re-emphasized that the current iteration of the code is a draft and pledged to work collaboratively with the Chappaqua Board of Education. There has been some dissension between the two boards since September when the Town Board approved the code’s Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) and the school board voiced skepticism regarding the code’s full build-out scenario, which the document states could result in nearly 1,000 units in downtown Chappaqua but just under 100 school-age children.
The school district has hired its own planning consultant to analyze the town’s projections.
Both boards will hold a joint work session on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. to review and discuss the results of the school district’s consultant’s work. There is an additional public session that has been tentatively scheduled following the Town Board’s Jan. 19 work session. Deputy Supervisor Jeremy Saland said last week that the Town Board isn’t ignoring the potential influx of students in the school district.
Supervisor Ivy Pool said there are five initial areas of discussion that will be considered by the board, although the categories – administration and process, regulating plan, housing and retail, impacts and development and architecture regulations – may still change with additional feedback from the Town Board or the public.
For the administration and process section of the discussion, Town Board members deliberated how the approval process can be streamlined to allow for expedited review of certain applications. The board also tried to decipher how to determine which types of projects could trigger a different type of review. Pool mentioned the possibility of having the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement clearly compare and contrast what currently exists in town and future build-out scenarios.
Town officials also addressed the prospect of expanding the neighbor notification area and developing a website page for future development projects related to the Form Based Code.
“If it’s just that they get notified and they come in and talk but no one’s really listening because it’s already basically been approved, that’s not so helpful, just a notification,” Councilwoman Lisa Katz said. “They need to be able to come in and potentially change the project.”
Katz then questioned whether it was possible to limit the number of open permits in the hamlet. Pool also wondered if it was feasible to consider a phased approach to limit the rate of development downtown.
“You’re not concerned about the number of projects, you’re concerned about the impacts, whether that impact is from two projects or from six projects,” Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis said.
Ward-Willis explained that all property in the 72-acre study area must be included within a zoning district, whether it is municipally owned or not. Rezoning public land has sparked some concerns in the community that the town could be motivated to sell some of its land for development or entice a developer.
Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said that the reason there are parcels in the Form Based Code zoning district is because they were in the previous zoning district that the town is looking to replace.
During the recent public hearings on the proposed code, building height was one of the more contentious points of discussion. Katz, Pool and Councilwoman Lauren Levin agreed that five-story buildings are not in character with the Chappaqua hamlet. The Form Based Code has proposed five-story structures in limited areas of the hamlet – the west side of South Greeley Avenue from Woodburn Avenue to King Street and a portion of the town-owned parking lot at the train station.
Pool said that she would prefer to see four stories as the maximum height with perhaps the top floor being recessed to make the buildings appear less massive. Levin introduced the idea of a transitional buffer known as the neighborhood compatibility clause in the Form Based Code that protects residents at 149 King St.
The public hearing on the Form Based Code was adjourned on Nov. 10 until the Town Board’s Dec. 8 meeting. The board also plans to once again extended its downtown Chappaqua moratorium for another six months while the town continues to receive comments on the DGEIS proposed Form Based Code. The moratorium was originally enacted in late 2018.