Guest Columns

Zoning Discussion at Chappaqua’s 50 North Greeley Ave. in Need of a Reset

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By Tom Curley

There’s a leviathan in the water. It breaches occasionally over in New Castle, eyeing its prospective new home, the long dormant Rite Aid site in Chappaqua.

This property, dominant in the underdeveloped North Greeley corridor, is under review for residential development by the New Castle Town Board. There is a need for multifamily housing in our town, and the Rite Aid property owner’s request to build an apartment building is in itself a good thing.

But, at 50 units per acre, the owner’s proposal is more imposing and more disruptive to community character than anything yet conceived, even in the publicly rejected Form Based Code. It’s overly aggressive, planned without the Town Board steering it to the public interest.

Developers and landlords, of course, are in business for profit; this is how buildings get built. But towns, villages and hamlets get built by communities, and we exercise our values through consensus-built devices, like inclusive, well-considered zoning.

Or we don’t, or we won’t. In our case, the site’s property owner has come forward with a rezoning proposal that would increase his property’s development capacity eightfold. It’s clear that the gift to him of such outsized incentives will yield more housing. What’s also clear is that the community isn’t getting enough public benefit for it.

In my view, this building will quash efforts to make North Greeley a new neighborhood our town could delight in. The Town Board, on track to approve this proposal, is supporting a false perception: either we accept this invasive plan, or nothing gets built. This, of course, is categorically untrue. Even a five or sixfold increase in zoned capacity will drive redevelopment; basic land economics guarantee it.

I am a decades-long serving architect/town planner on the New Castle Planning Board. We are a board of professional architects, planners and engineers who support responsible development of the site. We have since February been urging the Town Board to pause, reset and start with a vision for the North Greeley neighborhood. We have been urging them to enact zoning that confirms that vision, and then let zoning do for us what zoning is meant to do – shape our community accordingly. Our Planning Board has provided the Town Board with plans and images of a neighborhood such zoning could promote, but to no effect.

The Town Board’s rezoning vote is set for one day in early September. Three of their five votes will be our legacy here. On that day in Chappaqua, there’s little the public can do but watch the white whale breach again. In pursuit of it, the Town Board may lash us all to it. Book or movie, that ends badly.

Tom Curley is a New Castle resident, a professional architect and town planner and a longtime member of the town’s Planning Board.

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