New Castle Outlines Potential Changes in Form Based Code

The New Castle Town Board reviewed some of the potential changes in the proposed Form Based Code last week based on some of the public comments received by the town on the controversial code.

During a rescheduled work session to discuss modifications to the document, which at times turned tense, the town’s Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull walked the board through some of the issues that have been identified that dealt with process rather than environmental-related analysis that is being completed in the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS).

The town and its consultants must still complete the environmental impact process before the board can adopt any legislation, she said. Under a tentative schedule outlined by town officials about a month ago, there will be another work session on Aug. 10 before the board can vote on the FGEIS as complete on Aug. 30.

While the study includes 72 acres through much of the downtown Chappaqua business hamlet, the board is currently zeroing in on potential zoning changes only for the North Greeley Avenue corridor.

Hull said the town would have a checklist that applicants looking to redevelop in that corridor would have to comply with, such as architectural details and location on lots.

“It either meets with the standards or it doesn’t,” she said. “This is very prescriptive. You’re creating legislation that has details and thresholds. Does it meet with it or not?”

Currently, there are eight issues that Hull said the town has focused on. One requires that any property in the area where the Form Based Code would be enacted that is at least a half-acre and where properties are combined must be referred to the Planning Board for site plan review. Otherwise, the review will be done by the town’s Development Department as part of a three-step pre-application review process.

Aerial view of houses
Last week, the New Castle Town Board reviewed some of the potential changes in the proposed Form Based Code.

Hull said the standard of at least a half-acre derived because of potential community impact.

“What you can put on a tenth of an acre other than visual appearance is not as impactful for the community as something on a half an acre,” she said.

Another proposed revision would be to require two members of the Architectural Review Board to be part of the application process to ensure that the architectural goals of the Form Based Code are achieved, Hull said.

An applicant who disagrees with the decision of the Development Department can appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals, as is the case today, she said. Requests for special permits will also be handled similarly.

Initially, all reviews under the proposed Form Based Code were to be decided by the Development Department.

Building heights cannot exceed four stories, with the requirement that the top story be recessed to limit visual impact.

For multifamily housing proposals under the code, three-bedroom units would be limited to a maximum of 6 percent of the project.

There would be at least a 30-day notification period for any neighbor that abuts property where there is an application, according to Hull. Any neighboring property owner would have the chance to meet with the Development Department to pose questions and get more information.

Councilwoman Lisa Katz, who has been a vocal critic of the Form Based Code, said a major problem with the code is that unless properties are combined, there is no Planning Board review. For example, the vacant Rite Aid property could be developed with an impactful project reviewed only by town staff.

“My concern is anyone can develop under this Form Based Code and basically any developer can develop as of right,” Katz said. “While they need to comply with the Form Based Code, they don’t have any Planning Board approval, there’s no significant resident input that has any teeth to it.”

Councilwoman Lori Morton responded that the code has specific parameters of what is allowed.

“People can’t build whatever they want,” she said. “The code defines what they can build, but then the parameter of what can be built changes if lots are combined.”

Hull said applicants can either adhere to the Form Based Code or try to get a project approved through the existing process.

While the work session did not allow for public input, during the public comments portion of the regular board meeting several Form Based Code opponents criticized aspects of the plan. Chappaqua resident Suzanne Chazin said four-story buildings are excessively large for downtown Chappaqua.

“One of the big problems with this is that you’re (at) four stories, more than 50 feet in height, which will change the vistas, change the character of the town and significantly increase it,” she said.

Furthermore, the diminished input from other boards and the public is problematic, Chazin said.

Another Chappaqua resident, Ben Herman, said a concern wasn’t whether multifamily developments would have three-bedroom units but whether the town had been underestimating the potential for two-bedroom apartments rather than studios and one-bedroom units.

Herman also mentioned he was troubled that some lots of at least a half-acre wouldn’t be subject to Planning Board review.

“The resulting building in either scenario would be significant in size, and while I appreciate the Form Based Code intending to create a framework, there are some unknowns the larger the project is,” Herman said. “I ask you to consider Planning Board review for any project over a half-acre irrespective of whether a subdivision is done.”

The meeting began with fireworks when Katz was told to leave Town Hall because she had recently come home sick from being out of town, which contributed to the postponement of the meeting from its customary Tuesday evening time slot.

She produced two negative COVID-19 test results, but because of town guidelines that require quarantine for seven days, Katz was required to join the meeting virtually while sitting outside in front of Town Hall.

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