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Town Board Hears What is Included in Downtown Chappaqua Charrette

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An intensive process to determine how stakeholders may want to see municipal land used in downtown Chappaqua could take three to nine months, but New Castle officials are confident that that timeline could be condensed. Town Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull told the Town Board last week that she contacted the National Charrette Institute at Michigan State University to learn more on how a formal charrette is conducted after the board indicated last month that it wanted to create a Request for Proposal to find a planning consultant to do the work.

Hull said the process, as outlined by the institute, is a three-phase approach to have a community come to a consensus on complex public policy matters. The first phase, which would take the bulk of the time, would be to identify the stakeholders and who would lead the process and to decide which data and resources are used, she said.

The next phase would be a series of meetings over a three- to seven-day span where the identified stakeholders would share their perspectives regarding potential changes to town-owned property in the Chappaqua hamlet, Hull said. That time period would also allow the general public to contribute their input.

“This is an intensive week where the consultant or the charrette professionals would work with the community, would interview the community and come up with approaches or solutions to the different interests that we’re hearing regarding development on public lands,” Hull said.

The final phase would be implementation, which could take an unspecified number of days, months or even years, Hull added. However, when a charrette is launched, the community should realize that action should be taken on the agreed-upon result.

“The intention is when you start a charrette process, you have to be willing to implement a solution that comes out of that charrette process,” Hull said.

Cost estimates for a charrette can range from $150,000 to $250,000, depending on the length of time it takes to complete the process, she said.

A major sticking point for opponents to the ill-fated Form Based Code was that the town failed to conduct charrettes to get input from a wide cross-section of the community.

Hull and Town Board members said that because the town is not starting from scratch, having updated its Comprehensive Plan in 2017, which provides a good general framework for what it would like to achieve downtown, along with prior community engagement, the time frame should be shorter than prescribed by the institute.

“We’ve identified community stakeholders in the past and in different contexts, not even just on the Town Board, so I can’t imagine that would take months to identify,” said Councilwoman Victoria Tipp.

Supervisor Lisa Katz said the town could probably determine the stakeholders within a two-hour meeting.

Hull agreed, stating that stakeholders would likely include residents who live near downtown, merchants, commuters and the Chappaqua School District, among other constituents.

“I think we are in a very good position to take that three- to nine-month process and make it more like a maximum three-month process, if that,” Hull said.

Councilman Jeremy Saland, however, said that in order for a charrette to be productive the board would have to be amenable to implement changes that could be unpopular with some segments of the community. If the community arrives at a consensus for a certain type of use for a portion of the town-owned land, for example, but it would require a parking structure that some stakeholders would be opposed to, it would end up being a waste of resources, he said.

“Because if we’re not willing to consider that, then this is a waste of time and money,” Saland said.

But Katz responded that the process is designed to make sure that unpopular options are not pursued.

“The point of doing this is to bring the whole community together to reach consensus as to what we may want to do, so if you take that to its logical conclusion, there will never be something that’s wholly unpopular that the Town Board would adopt because you’ve now got community consensus,” Katz said.

Hull reminded the board that even if there are disagreements, charrette participants, including Town Board members, will need to be willing to come to the table, respect one another’s differences and hear what the stakeholders have to say.

“While everyone’s input is important, the decision-makers going into the process have to be willing to live with the end product,” Hull said.

Katz said the town would devise a comprehensive list of community stakeholders.

“It’s going to be representative of every walk of life in the community,” she said.

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