The Examiner

Rt. 117 Roundabout in Jeopardy; Chap Crossing Delays Possible

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The New Castle Town Board huddled with the town’s planning board and representatives from Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield last week to discuss the New York City DEP’s refusal to grant a variance to allow for a Route 117 roundabout.
The New Castle Town Board huddled with the town’s planning board and representatives from Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield last week to discuss the New York City DEP’s refusal to grant a variance to allow for a Route 117 roundabout.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) opposes granting a variance for the proposed Route 117 roundabout, which could force a return to a T-intersection at Roaring Brook Road and construction delays at Chappaqua Crossing.

Representatives of developer Summit/Greenfield told New Castle officials last week that the DEP informed them in late August that it would not relax its regulations to construct the roundabout over the watercourse despite the agency acknowledging that mitigation efforts could be achieved at the site.

“The DEP came back late this summer and said upon further reflection they were unable to grant the variance because one of the criteria they need in order to grant the variance is showing substantial hardship by the applicant,” said Andrew Tung, project planner for Summit/Greenfield.

Since the town had previously approved the standard T-intersection about two years ago, the DEP does not perceive that there is a significant hardship posed to the developer, Tung said.

Last year, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) had recommended Summit/Greenfield reconfigure the intersection into a roundabout to reduce the speed of traffic and increase pedestrian safety. Town officials approved the roundabout, which was incorporated into the applicant’s final approval last December.

During a Sept. 6 joint meeting between the town board and planning board, Summit/Greenfield requested the town board now approve either intersection plan so it can obtain a DOT permit, the final hurdle needed to begin construction at the 114-acre former Reader’s Digest site.

The town has scheduled the start of a public hearing for tonight (Tuesday) to amend the retail Preliminary Development Concept Plan (PDCP), which is required to accommodate the proposed change.

Without that permit, which is also needed to get a town building permit, construction would have to be delayed and the start of on-site work would be postponed until after winter, potentially jeopardizing the developer’s standing with anchor tenants Whole Foods and Life Time Fitness, said Summit Development President Felix Charney.

“Getting started this fall is pretty important to us,” Charney said. “If we miss this fall, then I think the whole project pushes back at least two quarters and we lose all our pricing and everything that’s been done. It’s just a problem and it’s a problem because of this circle.”

Charney said his company is committed to build and pay for whichever intersection receives approval from all of the permitting agencies.

Town officials, who have preferred the roundabout, said they will press the DEP to reconsider its position, hoping to convince the agency that the roundabout is the superior option. Planning board members expressed skepticism at DEP’s protection of a watercourse that they described as a manmade “ditch” where there are nearby residential septic systems and impervious surfaces that cause runoff.

“The DEP, for some reason, is acting like this watercourse is something significant,” said Planning Board Chairman Robert Kirkwood. “I think, first of all, that’s highly questionable. It’s not a pristine area, it’s affected by (road) salt all the time.”

The town’s environmental consultant Steve Coleman said the DEP has a very strict interpretation of its watercourses. An agreement between the DEP and Westchester gives the agency the authority to make decisions on matters within the New York City watershed.

Suggestions including an appeal to DOT to sponsor the roundabout were raised last week, but Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull said the DOT hasn’t sponsored a road project that was privately built.

Construction for intersection improvements under either scenario would not be done before next spring or summer, enabling the town to make its case to the DEP for the roundabout in the ensuing months, Charney said.

Further complicating the situation was last week’s announcement that the Roaring Brook Road grade crossing near the Saw Mill Parkway would be one of several train crossings targeted for a trial run of a new pre-emption system. The technology would trigger nearby traffic lights to change to red when a train is approaching, potentially backing up traffic in the area, said town Supervisor Robert Greenstein.

With conditions out of the town’s or developer’s control around the site, a hardship could be argued, town officials said. Town traffic consultant Michael Galante said it was too early to determine how the system would affect traffic.

“If we give (Summit/Greenfield) two options to get past go, then we could still press for our preferred option and also to cover any changes that could come,” Greenstein said.

But Councilwoman Hala Makowska said she was concerned that if the town board approved both options it would decrease the chances for the roundabout even if it successfully argues it’s a safer option.

“I also feel that if we approve both, in essence, it undermines any hardship argument we have with the DEP,” Makowska said.

Les Steinman, the attorney for the planning board, and Town Attorney Ed Philips said a carefully crafted letter would have to accompany any approval to explain the town’s reservations regarding the T-intersection.

The public hearing on the proposed amendment to the PDCP is part of Tuesday night’s regular town board meeting, which is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m.


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