New Castle Sees Slow Progress in Reviewing Form Based Code

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New Castles town board in a 2019 file photo

New Castle officials once again were peppered with comments by opponents of the proposed Form Based Code last week, with some questioning why the Town Board continues to pursue studying the entire downtown Chappaqua business hamlet.

During last Tuesday’s board meeting, officials reviewed two more sections of the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) – natural resources and cultural resources, along with the table of contents – that had been returned by the consultants. Two weeks earlier, the board reviewed the first two sections.

However, most of what is expected to be nearly a 1,000-page document has yet to be submitted to the town.

Councilwoman Lisa Katz, who has criticized the proposed code, also pressed her colleagues to include the municipality’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals when the FGEIS is ready to be made public.

The FGEIS, prepared by the consultants, is responding to several hundred substantive comments and questions made during the public hearing on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement from October until February on myriad aspects of the proposed code.

The slow pace of the consultants’ work irked some who spoke during public comments at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting. Some critics continued to question why the FGEIS will include all 72 acres of the downtown study area after officials announced it would only consider the six acres along North Greeley Avenue for a rezone, believing it would fast-track subsequent downtown rezoning.

“That was the decision that collectively we came to,” said Chappaqua resident Roger Klepper of the move to focus on North Greeley. “The right answer is to have a findings statement that corresponds to what you plan to do. This seems like an epiphany but in some ways it’s the obvious answer.”

Katz said it allows a future Town Board to move forward with additional rezoning rather easily, since the state Environmental Quality Review will have been complete.

“The point is the next Town Board could move in, apply this to all 72 acres,” she said. “The point of the Form Based Code is to expedite development, which means it will happen someday and somebody can come in and apply it to the Form Based Code.”

But Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said the town is establishing the environmental thresholds, but given the configuration of most downtown properties, it will be difficult to have major development.

“Without the combination of lots, it is impossible for certain lots of a certain size – a majority of the lots – to take full advantage of the Form Based Code you’re preparing because you have legislated or have prepared legislative requirements they cannot meet because of the size of the lots,” Hull said.

Others wondered whether the Town Board intends to rush the review in hopes of staying on course with its tentative schedule of voting on whether to accept the FGEIS as complete on Aug. 30. That schedule would call for a vote on the code in November, before a newly-elected board is seated.

Resident Margaret Ferguson said with only 19 pages submitted by the consultant for last week’s meeting, she demanded to know the board’s plans.

“The community has a right to know what the schedule is,” Ferguson said. “If it’s not feasible, tell us. When are we going to be told?”

Earlier in the evening Hull said the town will receive the bulk of the FGEIS in time for the board’s Aug. 30 work session.

“This is a lot of information,” she said. “There is a set limitation of how many hours are in a day. I can tell you that we – between myself, counsel, several counsel, and the consultant team – we are spending many hours and minutes of each day trying to get this together for you.”

Katz said it’s unlikely the board will act on the FGEIS on Aug. 30.

“Given only that we discussed 19 pages there’s no way we can vote on it,” she said.

However, her push to include the Planning Board, ZBA and possibly other boards reached a roadblock.

Acting Supervisor Jeremy Saland said that it isn’t feasible to refer hundreds of pages of answers to multiple boards.

“If we forward every question to see if it was adequate or not, you’re going to have some people say no matter what we say it’s not adequate,” he said.

Councilwoman Lori Morton added that she worries it “triggering a never-ending loop” of feedback.

Town Attorney Ed Phillips said the Town Board is the lead agency and only it can determine the completeness of answers.

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