The Town of New Castle concluded its public scoping session last week on the proposed form-based code that officials hope will lay the groundwork to help revitalize downtown Chappaqua.
Speakers raised issues such as encouraging greener building practices for new development and the impact of taller buildings downtown would have on viewsheds during the second scoping session on Feb.11. There was also a fair amount of skepticism from a few residents who questioned whether the town was pushing ahead with a plan that is wrong for the community.
Making downtown Chappaqua a vibrant destination was one of the key sentiments from the community during the public outreach sessions that helped shape the updated Comprehensive Plan in 2017.
That has led to proposing a code for the Retail Business, Retail Business and Parking, Designed Business and Planned Industrial zones in the hamlet that could eventually lead to bringing mixed-use development, including residential, to generate more activity and foot traffic. To help achieve that, most of the downtown commercial zones would allow up to four stories, with the exception of King Street, which would remain two to three stories, and properties on the west side of South Greeley Ave. from King Street to Woodburn Avenue, could reach five stories.
Development at any of the municipally-owned train station parking lots would also be allowed to reach five floors.
The new code could have an assortment of other changes related to building setback from the curb and architectural standards.
“We know it’s a goal to create the kind of hamlet that becomes a destination for people, so there are things that you can do after 8 p.m., whether it’s to go out for a date night or to grab an ice cream cone,” said Supervisor Ivy Pool. “These are things that we’re trying to accomplish through the process that we’re doing right now, that are built off of those conversations that we’ve been having for years.”
Chappaqua resident Philip Holub urged officials to include LEED Platinum or Passive House standards to help the town be on the forefront of fighting the climate crisis. He suggested the town consider retaining a specialized sustainability consultant, if necessary.
“Chappaqua should be forward-thinking and incorporate high-performance Passive House buildings into this new code,” Holub said. “This board has a unique opportunity to drive the ship in the giant paradigm with the energy-efficient buildings of the highest order.”
King Street resident John Priscintelli reiterated concerns from him and his neighbors from the first session two weeks earlier about how taller buildings downtown could harm their views.
“We’re happy you have an open mind but developing North Greeley (Avenue) the way you want to consider it is going to have a huge impact, a negative impact on us, from an aesthetic standpoint of living there comfortably with our neighbors, to the standpoint of our view being blocked,” he said. “So there’s really a lot going on and I hope you think about it really, really hard before you make a decision.”
Among the skeptics were Chappaqua resident Philip Werbel, who warned the board that despite the town’s current efforts the downtown is likely never going to be a place where people shop and gather because of how the town is laid out.
“Nothing you’re going to do is going to make this town better in terms of getting people down there to shop,” Werbel said.
Another local resident, Chuck Napoli, said he believed the town is making a mistake by creating a code without having an idea of a development plan.
“You’ve got to create a plan before you go any further and nibble around the edges of what you’re calling a form-based code because you can’t have a code without a plan,” he said.
Resident Margaret Ferguson criticized officials for moving forward with a code that could bring unwanted changes to the downtown. She described it as “developer friendly,” in part because the Downtown Working Group, which has helped shape the proposed code, includes two landowners and an architect.
“So the deck is leaning towards this happening in a developer-friendly way,” Ferguson said. “That may be what you want but that’s going to bring a lot more activity into the town.”
Board members said that other than the train station, which no one has proposed selling, the remainder of the land is privately owned. Therefore, the code would allow property owners the flexibility to make changes but no owner is forced to redevelop.
“It’s not a carte blanche to come in and do what you want here,” Pool said. “We have a form-based code that is very prescriptive about what can and can’t happen and what these forms will look like. In fact, it gives us a level of protection that we don’t have today.”
The town’s consultants and Development Department will take the comments from the two public scoping sessions and create an Environmental Impact Statement, which will be circulated to the public. There will be additional public hearings scheduled, likely in the spring. Officials hope to have the code adopted later this year.
The public can still provide written comments to the Town Board until this Friday, Feb. 21 at noon. For more information about the proposed draft and to e-mail comments to the board, visit www.mynewcastle.org.