The Examiner

Opposition Stiffens to New Castle Form Based Code at Hearing

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Opposition to New Castle’s proposed Form Based Code continued to swell last week as most residents who spoke at the reconvened public hearing objected to potential zoning changes to portions of downtown Chappaqua.

For the second week in a row, a clear majority of speakers who participated in the resumption of the hearing on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) last Tuesday evening stressed that the rezoning would likely lead to unfavorable changes downtown and hurt the Chappaqua School District with an influx of students. Some questioned whether it would produce a financial boon.

Several of the 40 speakers who participated in the hearing urged town officials to wait until the school district’s consultant has completed his review on the enrollment and financial impacts on the schools or until the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down before moving ahead.

“These changes would forever change the character of our town,” said 12-year Chappaqua resident Scottie Guerney. “I also believe that the analysis that only 96 students would be added with 1,000-plus (residential) units is flawed and that would put a tremendous strain on our school district. I do not believe that taxpayer-owned land should be rezoned for mixed residential buildings in our town.”

Town officials have proposed the Form Based Code that would allow for mixed-used development with ground-floor retail and apartments upstairs to enliven downtown and revitalize the hamlet. During public engagement sessions to update the Comprehensive Plan in 2014, improvements to Chappaqua’s downtown emerged as the key item.

However, critics of the Form Based Code have zeroed in on the possibility of four- or five-story buildings in certain areas of the hamlet and on a full buildout scenario that would produce 997 residential units, virtually all of which would be one- and two-bedroom apartments. Board members and the town’s consultants haver repeatedly stated that a full buildout is highly unlikely and is included in the plan because it is required by the state’s environmental review.

Significant skepticism has also been expressed by many residents and the Chappaqua Board of Education that the units would only produce 96 school-age children.

Supervisor Ivy Pool announced before the resumption of the hearing last week that the Town Board would hold at least a third public hearing session on Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. and pledged to accept written comments for up to 30 days following the hearing’s closure. She said there is no timetable to close the hearing as long as substantive comments are still being received.

“The Town Board, interested agencies and the public, we are all reviewing the DGEIS together right now, and please understand that the Town Board may, and very likely will, decide to make further changes to the legislation prior to considering for adoption,” Pool said.

However, her reassurances did little to quell opposition. Resident Adam Liebman said not only does the Form Based Code pit the interests of current residents versus potential future residents, but the expedited project review process is too developer-friendly.

“We should not hand the keys to this town to developers,” Liebman said. “We need to protect the value of our schools from the interest of developers.”

Some speakers agreed that the downtown needs revitalization, particularly the filling of empty storefronts, but like the feel of a quieter hamlet. Chappaqua resident Samantha Block said nearby communities such as Armonk, Katonah and Pleasantville have reinvigorated their commercial districts without massive developments.

She urged officials to limit new development to two or three stories.

“I don’t necessarily think our town needs to be totally sleepy,” Block said. “A little bit of a more vibrant downtown is great, but I implore you, please don’t compare us to Greenwich, please don’t compare us to Rye, please don’t compare us to Scarsdale. We’re much smaller than those towns and I think five stories in town is way too much.”

Despite a strong tilt against the currently proposed code, the Form Based Code has its supporters. Resident Oana Scholl suggested capping the height of buildings at four stories. The town should also consider tax incentives.

“I really love the idea of revitalizing our downtown,” Scholl said. “I think it is desperately needed.”

Roger Klepper said he is supportive of the plan but was concerned that if it’s too large it could have a negative impact on traffic. He indicated that perhaps the town should contemplate a similar change but on a smaller scale.

Former supervisor Robert Greenstein, who was still in office last year when the first iteration of the code was introduced in November, said the downtown hasn’t lived up to its potential as other communities in the area have looked to remake their commercial zones to attract businesses, restaurants and attractions.

While the schools are the biggest draw for families to move to town, Chappaqua needs to offer more, he said.

“We can’t just rely on our schools,” Greenstein said. “We’re paying a lot in taxes and if you’re just going to rely on our schools, it’s a mistake. We need to have a vibrant downtown to go with our schools. When you pay a lot in taxes, you’ve got to give people more.”

Multiple speakers asked for the board to consider holding a referendum, but Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis said since the proposed zoning is legislation there’s no mechanism for a public vote.

If the town was to ever sell town-owned land for development, such as at the Chappaqua train station, the transaction would be subject to a permissive referendum.

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