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Newcomers Clash in Race for New Castle Town Board

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Four first-time town board candidates are featured in this year’s New Castle elections next Tuesday.

While they’re each running for the seat for the first time, all either have become involved in various aspects of the community or have longstanding ties to the town.

Running on the Republican-endorsed Team New Castle 2.0 ticket with incumbent town Supervisor Robert Greenstein, is Eileen Gallagher, who chaired the Coyote Management Task Force, one of two committees that submitted recommendations to the board earlier this year on how to handle increased coyote sightings, and newcomer Seth Chodosh, who has recently returned to town after graduating from Horace Greeley High School in 1990.

On the Democratic side, Hala Makowska, the chair of the Millwood Board of Fire Commissioners, is joined by Jeremy Saland, one of New Castle’s three town prosecutors. At the top of their ticket is Victoria Alzapiedi, who chaired the Coyote Awareness and Safety Advisory Committee.

Seth Chodosh

Chodosh, 43, said he entered the race after he signed Greenstein’s petition one morning at the train station on his way to his Manhattan dog jogging business.

They began talking, and since the Republicans were looking for another candidate to round out the ticket, Greenstein asked him to consider joining Team New Castle for the election.

Chodosh said he was caught by surprise, but after thinking about the offer decided to give it a shot, a decision made easier because he has been impressed with Greenstein’s style and substance during his nearly two years in office.

“I like all the things that he was doing, he has a certain personality that maybe I can see some people not liking, but I like him,” Chodosh said. “In my opinion, he can get things done.”

Improving the downtown hamlets’ infrastructure and making them more pedestrian friendly so the business centers are more attractive for merchants and shoppers is the most important issue for Chodosh. Downtown Chappaqua, which he remembered growing up, lacked the vitality that was present a generation earlier, he said.

Then he went with his wife to Armonk and Chodosh said he couldn’t believe the difference. Armonk’s downtown was hopping and he wondered why Chappaqua couldn’t be similar.

“Sometimes little things are not as well done and for Chappaqua that shouldn’t be the case,” he said. “The Armonk thing is what set me off and then I thought maybe you can do something, maybe you can’t, but let me give it a shot.”

One of those small things to attract business, and ultimately more revenue, is a more walkable community with better sidewalks.

“That would be my first thing, because with that, retail stores might be willing to pay a higher rent,” Chodosh said. “You can bring in that traffic flow, the pedestrian traffic flow, and that’s what we need.”

When Chodosh was going to Greeley, he remembered a bustling Reader’s Digest campus. Chappaqua Crossing has replaced that, and it has been a monumental struggle for the developer and the town to reach this point. Although hardly a perfect plan, Chodosh said ultimately increasing the commercial tax base is a top priority and is a better option than building more residential developments.

“If you have to do something, I think having Whole Foods and having all the stores, they have to be a certain size limiting the stores so you don’t have a strip mall,” he said. “I think that is a good thing, I guess.”

Like all of this year’s candidates, Chodosh is opposed to the Conifer affordable housing project at the cramped Hunts Lane site. He would have liked to have seen the project in another location, such as the town-owned Washington Avenue site, although that presents other obstacles.

He praised the ability for the town to obtain state grant money to extend sidewalks and crosswalks around Millwood Plaza, a key component of a plan to revitalize that hamlet.

A self-described fiscal conservative, Chodosh said he would also be equipped to make the hard decisions about how to save money in the budget.

One project that Chodosh said he would propose is a dog park somewhere in town. While it’s great exercise for dogs, it’s also a good venue for residents to be sociable.

Eileen Gallagher

Active as a volunteer in the schools, at church and in the community, Gallagher said she was approached by the town’s Republican Committee earlier this year and decided to join Greenstein on the ticket.

She has been a regular visitor to town board meetings, in part because of her affiliation with Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing (CFRAH), and also as a freelancer for Inside Chappaqua, so she is no stranger to Town Hall.

Gallagher, 50, a former accountant and teacher, became ensnared in the coyote controversy last winter when the two committees were unable to bridge many of their differences. That episode, however, failed to dissuade Gallagher from running, and she said ultimately the town now has excellent guidelines that will enhance safety for residents and pets and increase awareness of the issue.

“I can either say no if I want to keep out of the political fray or I can say I’m not going to let that stop me and do what I think is right, and I really feel that I will assist the town,” Gallaghers said of her decision to run.

Regarding Chappaqua Crossing, Gallagher said while there are residents who are unhappy that a retail center will be part of the site’s redevelopment, Greenstein and the current board were able to get the best possible resolution for the site. Getting a Whole Foods for the town – Chappaqua currently does not have a supermarket – is a net gain, she said.

Compromises rather than continued threats of litigation is a positive for New Castle.

“I think they did a very good job with that,” Gallagher said. “I’m happy how that turned out, I’m happy we’ve worked with Summit/Greenfield instead of continuing an adversarial relationship. We’ve come out with something better and I think it will benefit the town.”

Having affordable housing units in the cupola building will be another benefit, Gallagher said, although she would have liked to have seen several workforce units mixed in. It is preferable to have integrated housing, she said.

The Conifer site on Hunts Lane, however, runs against everything that the affordable housing agreement sought. Gallagher said she was also disappointed that Conifer refused to consider another location, such as Washington Avenue.

“Another location was presented to the town board but (Conifer) chose not to consider it,” she said. “It’s disheartening to me when I hear that, when people say, ‘Well, there’s no other location.’”

Gallagher said she would like to see more emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle movement through the hamlets. A big step in that direction would be if the town could develop the Chap Line, a proposed connection that will go from downtown Chappaqua to the area near Chappaqua Crossing.

Driving crowds to downtown Chappaqua, such as with the farmers market and the Art Under the Bridge on Saturdays, has been a big help to the hamlet.

A key for Millwood to realize its potential as a hamlet depends on whether sewer capacity can be increased. Gallagher said the town should remain persistent in its fight to but also search for alternatives that would allow for some additional development.

Hala Makowska

Of the four candidates for town board this year, Makowska is the only one with experience in elected office. In 2007, she won a race for the Millwood Board of Fire Commissioners and currently serves as its chair.

In that time, the board oversaw successful development of the plans and passage of the nearly $14 million Millwood firehouse, which opened last weekend. The commissioners also oversee a roughly $1.6 million annual budget.

Makowska, 56, a Millwood resident for 16 years, said she had been asked to run twice before, declining both times, but didn’t believe it was right to turn down the offer a third time.

“I kind of feel that if someone asks you three times they see something in you, perhaps, that can make a difference,” said Makowska. “There are qualities that I can bring to the table.”

She said Millwood and the West End are tight communities with many longtime residents who are very protective of their neighborhoods. The West End has Teatown and Kitchawan while Millwood offers numerous amenities in a small area, such as a grocery store, a post office, a hardware store, a deli, a restaurant and a jeweler, among other businesses, so the potential for revitalization is there, Makowska said.

The challenge is getting additional sewer capacity, which is a political landmine at the county level. However, advances in technology could provide an alternative solution, she said.

“I think that a cost-benefit analysis might warrant investing in a modern wastewater treatment plant and may actually pay off in terms of increased commercial access, which is an important thing,” Makowska said.

Makowska said she would not have supported the decision to move ahead with the comprehensive plan without including Chappaqua Crossing. Downtown Chappaqua faces the hurdle of potentially having to compete with that project and it will be important to learn the full scope of businesses beside Whole Foods and Lifetime Fitness.

“I know that the retail mix is of great concern to people and I don’t have an answer for that but I have been thinking about it because it says something,” she remarked.

Makowska is concerned that traffic not only on Route 117 but crossing over the Saw Mill and the train tracks will pose safety concerns.

Makowska agreed that the cupola building is a good location for affordable units although like all others on the ballot, she criticized the Conifer project, calling it a poor location. The so-called micro projects, which includes Habitat for Humanity having been approved for purchase last summer to renovate a house on King Street, is another example of integrated affordable housing, she said.

She also would support more workforce housing in town for single people and seniors.

“People have now had two years of what a new administration is like and I think the voters of New Castle are intelligent,” Makowska said. “I think they care deeply about their hamlets and I think there is concern about, there’s concern that the downtown hamlets are at a tipping point and that it can go better or worse.”

Jeremy Saland

The son of a former state senator Saland, makes his first run for public office. Between the family ties and his own public service, which included seven years as an assistant district attorney under longtime Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau and more than five years as a town prosecutor, Saland is familiar with the public sphere.

However, he saw his father’s political career end when as a Republican he supported the marriage equality vote.

“You do the things because it’s well-thought out, processes are followed, all sides are analyzed and you come to a conclusion,” said Saland, 41, now a criminal defense attorney. “If my father could sacrifice his career for that, to make the right decision, which ultimately some people may agree or disagree, there’s no reason on a lesser scale on other issues that it can’t be done.”

Saland sees this year’s town election as a critically important crossroad in the town’s history because he views Greenstein as someone who tries to control the board rather than working with his colleagues.

“He is the mouthpiece for Team New Castle and that is why I feel it’s extremely important to be involved,” he said. “Our town board is not Rob Greenstein. We have four town board members and a supervisor and be continues to be the only voice and the most powerful voice and that is problematic.”

Saland said he would not have supported the current iteration of Chappaqua Crossing because of serious concerns about traffic and the impact on property values for the surrounding neighborhoods. A 40,000-square-foot two-story building that is custom made for the fitness center could also turn into an albatross for the town and the developer.

He said he would have preferred a significantly downsized version of the project that had some retail but much less than 120,000 square feet.

Of most concern is the impact on the two existing business hamlets. Saland said while there’s only so much control the town government has regarding the types of businesses, he and his running mates are proposing other features for downtown Chappaqua.

First, they support “a destination playground,” a new and improved children’s play area, which could attract families. He also advocates moving the art center from Hardscrabble Road to downtown. Finally, in the warm weather months there could be an “Evening Under the Stars” at the train station, with outdoor seating, food and other activities.

“No one’s going to come here or think about coming here if we don’t fix the traffic and make this a physically aesthetically pleasing area,” Saland said.

While the proposed streetscape looks good on paper, the town must also give the public reasons to arrive, stay and walk around the downtown, he said.

Saland again criticized Greenstein for campaigning against the Conifer project and spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, but the town likely will be hosting the project as long as the applicant complies with its conditions for a building permit

A key issue for Saland is ethics reform and he has charged that this administration manipulates the Code of Ethics, he said.

“I really believe that ethics reform is so essential and is one of the reasons why I’m running,” Saland said.





















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