New Castle Takes Stock of Form Based Code With Break in Hearing

New Castle officials pledged last week to collaborate with the community on a version of the Form Based Code that invigorates downtown Chappaqua but also respects the public’s reservations about the plan.

After more than two months of hearings and passionate arguments from community members about various aspects of the proposal, Supervisor Ivy Pool said the current draft will be revised and the Town Board will continue to listen to residents to eventually adopt a code that is effective and has wide support.

“The Form Based Code is still a draft,” Pool said. “The town is fully committed to taking the time to get it right. We are listening to the input, to the feedback from all of the members of our community and from all of our interested agencies, and we are taking all of this to heart.”

The comments came during a portion of the board’s final work session and meeting of the year last Tuesday where officials assessed the sentiment of the public on the issue. It came several weeks before a scheduled Jan. 13 joint meeting with the Chappaqua Board of Education where potential impacts of the Form Based Code on the schools, including enrollment and tax dollars, is the anticipated focus. A fifth session of the public hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 19.

Officials said a key task is balancing a code that is outdated for the current-day hamlet but doesn’t sacrifice the best features of the town. Councilwoman Lisa Katz said the board wants to diversify housing stock and enhance downtown Chappaqua without jeopardizing the town’s bucolic nature and what residents like most about the hamlet.

Much of the opposition to the proposed Form Based Code centered around the maximum buildout scenario, which the town is required by the state to show in its proposal. It stated that a future full buildout on the 72 acres of municipally and privately owned land in the study area would trigger development of nearly 1,000 one- and two-bedroom apartments but generate less than 100 school-age children, a number that has been intensely disputed.

Deputy Supervisor Jeremy Saland said that the draft is the first iteration of the plan but also the downtown needs change.

“I don’t think anyone in the community wants to see that maximum buildout of 1,000 units as depicted in what we’ve seen of the design, but nevertheless, it’s not going to happen to that extent, and we want to, for the lack of a better way to describe it, shrink it back,” Saland said.

However, pace of approvals and construction has also been a source of frustration for many in town, said Councilwoman Lauren Levin. The proposed code would help expedite some approvals if builders conform to the zoning by having their application evaluated by the town’s Development Department.

“I think what people have to understand is we have a current zoning ordinance that is incredibly obsolete,” Levin said. “People don’t want to read that document, and because it is dense and we want to provide a mechanism so it is straightforward and we can preemptively set guidelines so that people understand what our residents want this town to look and feel like.”

Board discussion last week also included potential strategies to have more affordable and workforce housing downtown.

Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said the town has to work on writing a code that encourages that type of development on an appropriate scale for the hamlet. Also, various incentives can be offered.

“We have some work to do to really flush out what is meaningful between the goals of the community and the code,” Hull said.