The Examiner

New Castle to Move Forward in Review of Proposed Form-Based Code

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After a nearly two-month delay caused largely by the coronavirus outbreak, the New Castle Town Board is preparing this week to advance the proposed new zoning code for downtown Chappaqua.

The board is poised to adopt the scoping document for the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) Tuesday evening that includes changes derived from public comments delivered during a pair of meetings this winter.

Town officials are moving forward with the next step despite some questions about how engaged the public is regarding the new form-based code, which could result in significant changes to the downtown zoning. A key goal of the new code is to help attract developers to the downtown and encourage a mix of residential units with retail to help reinvigorate the business hamlet.

It would also allow a more streamlined process for applicants by having the town’s Development Department handle more of the approvals. The form-based code stresses the appearance and form of the structures rather than dictating specific uses for each property in Chappaqua’s Retail Business and Retail Business & Parking zones.

Planning consultant Bonnie Von Ohlsen said there are still several steps to be taken before enacting a new code and opportunities for the public to participate in public hearings. Among the issues to be addressed are traffic, parking and sewer and water.

“There are opportunities throughout the process,” Von Ohlsen said. “This is really the starting point and this scope is more like a table of contents and saying these are things that we definitely want to study, but that doesn’t mean that if something comes up during the process that it won’t be studied later because you’ll have another (Environmental Impact Statement) to address some of these other issues.”

Concerns raised by the public in January and February addressed the potential for increased traffic on King Street, which would create difficulties for residents who live on streets off of that thoroughfare, and the impact on viewsheds if structures are allowed in many portions of the downtown to rise to four stories high.

There is also a limited area along the west side of South Greeley Avenue between Woodburn Avenue and King Street that would allow five stories, as well as in parts of the town-owned train station parking lots. There are no plans for the town to sell its land.

A change in the revised document that was presented to the board last week amended what would be the maximum buildout scenario to analyze impacts, one of the required elements in the Environmental Impact Statement. However, the full buildout scenario removed parcels such as the town-owned Recreation Field that will not be sold.

Councilman Jason Lichtenthal, who successfully pressed his colleagues last Tuesday to hold off approving the DGEIS until this week, said he was concerned that a significant portion of residents don’t fully understand the scope changes with the new code.

“It’s tough for people to absorb and what the change will really be,” Lichtenthal said.

One of a few residents to participate in the live-streamed meeting last week was Margaret Ferguson. Ferguson reiterated comments she made during the winter that the proposed code for the downtown represents too radical a change.

“If that existing zoning code could be changed, because I feel this proposed plan is very developer-friendly, and I think things can happen where you don’t see it now, but you end up with something you didn’t want because a lot of power shifted to developers,” she said.

In addressing concerns about making changes, consultant Patricia Adell of the Real Estate Solutions Group said despite the economic emergency currently facing the nation, the town needs to properly position itself when there’s a rebound so it can achieve the vision outlined in the updated Comprehensive Plan.

“From my perspective, a real estate perspective, I think you’re still in a good position and the code will respond to the market whenever it is, two years from now, three years from now, 10 years from now, and you’ve already established what it is you want to see from that code and how you want your buildings to look,” Adell said.

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