Residents Challenge Consultants’ Projections in Form-Based Code Debate

Opponents of New Castle’s proposed Form-Based Code for downtown Chappaqua continued to express skepticism over assumptions and responses from the town’s consultants last week, this time mainly concerning traffic and developers’ return-on-investment projections.

Two more sections of the consultants’ responses to the public’s comments and questions from public hearings were reviewed by the Town Board during its Sept. 14 work session and meeting – traffic, transportation and parking, as well as alternatives.

The board is working its way toward potentially accepting the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) as complete by Sept. 30. There are two more work sessions and community engagement sessions scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday evenings this week.

During last Tuesday’s meeting, several speakers warned officials about traffic problems currently in the hamlet and that there should be mitigation measures before significant new development is considered.

Resident Warren Gottlieb pointed to the projected 37 percent increase in Chappaqua hamlet traffic under the maximum build-out scenario. Even if the town were to do nothing, a 10 percent traffic increase is forecast, he said.

“You don’t first increase traffic by 37 percent, only to look to alleviate a problem that should never have been exacerbated in the first place,” Gottlieb said.

While town officials are looking to complete the environmental review for the entire 72-acre downtown study area, earlier this year they announced any zoning legislation following the review would be confined to the roughly six-acre North Greeley Avenue corridor. A theoretical maximum build-out scenario for the entire area projected 997 units, although, with the elimination of five stories in selected locations, that is reduced to 963 units.

Public land would need to be obtained by private developers and merged in order to achieve that level of development, town officials have said.

Another resident, Roger Klepper, said that under the current code if a developer proposes a project that would be deemed to be impactful on traffic, the applicant would be forced to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement. But if the FGEIS is accepted and the town approves a findings statement, it makes it much more difficult for the town to reject a proposal under the Form-Based Code, he said.

“Right now, if we file a findings statement we’re saying that a thousand units would result in traffic that is approvable,” Klepper said. “When you’re doing that, think about it, what does it mean for the future?”

Resident Scott Le Vine recited a laundry list of what he characterized as inconsistencies in the traffic section of the draft FGEIS, including possible low-balling of traffic assumptions at three critical intersections with South Greeley Avenue – at Quaker, King and Woodburn. He said the intersection capacity analysis for the streetscape project makes traffic volume assumptions that are 7, 21 and 69 percent higher than for the FGEIS.

“I do know that the effect is that including less existing background traffic in the EIS’s analysis, makes it appear that there is a larger amount of unused capacity to accommodate additional traffic from future development,” Le Vine said.

In addition to discussing traffic, transportation and parking, the board had Bruce Murray, the director of Real Estate Solutions (RES) Group, a real estate consulting firm, participate for part of the work session to explain the rationale for certain return-on-investment scenarios.

Murray said that when his firm conducted interviews with some current commercial property owners, there was general agreement that it is more difficult and costly to build in New Castle.

Six percent, and later, 6.5 percent, return-on-investment for developers were the numbers used in the firm’s calculations. The latter would make Chappaqua more in line with neighboring communities, he said.

“By and large, they felt that Chappaqua and New Castle (presented) a higher risk because the approval process is somewhat cumbersome and a little bit hard to define in terms of the length of time required to obtain approvals, and the lack of development in the downtown Chappaqua area generally supports that feedback from developers,” Murray said.

But resident Ben Herman, who said he is a real estate professional having been involved in numerous projects in other portions of the tri-state area, said projects have been built in the area and are successful with assumed rates of return that are less than 6 percent with only three stories, not four stories as is being considered in most areas of the hamlet.

“I appreciate your consideration of lowering heights to three stories,” Herman said. “Obviously, I feel that should be the threshold throughout the hamlet.”

He also said that projected rents based on square footage are also far under what new construction at Chappaqua Crossing and 91 Bedford Rd. are charging.

The final four of 13 sections are expected to be available for public review this week: infrastructure and utilities, community facilities and services, socioeconomics and miscellaneous.

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