Responding , developer Conifer Realty has produced a traffic impact study, along with viewshed drawings, for its controversial affordable housing plan for downtown Chappaqua.
Officials representing the developer came with the new data and described it as part of a presentation to the New Castle Planning Board at its Tuesday meeting. The information was produced .
The project, called Chappaqua Station, calls for 36 apartment units and five stories, and would be situated on a narrow, 0.38-acre parcel between Hunts Place, the Saw Mill River Parkway and Metro-North train tracks. The planning board is acting in an advisory capacity to gather information and draft a memo for the town board with its feedback. The town board is expected to become the lead agency for reviewing the project and its approval for a special permit is required for building.
Study Finds No Major Traffic Impact, Consultant States
Traffic has been among the major concerns for people locally, with the site planned for a busy commercial intersection and its proximity to the Saw Mill's northbound entrance and exit ramps. The findings produced by Conifer, submitted by John Meyer Consulting, claim that Chappaqua Station will not hurt the traffic in the area.
Traffic quality in the study is graded like a school report card, with an A-F scale. An A means the lowest average delays - 10 seconds or less at a signalized intersection - and F, which is at the worst, is 80 seconds or more for a signalized intersection. The study found that none of the intersections it looked at would be downgraded from their current status as a result of the building.
The two areas studied were the intersection of Quaker Street (Route 120) and Hunts Lane, and the three-way intersection of Hunts Place, Hunts Lane and Hunts Lane, which are near the Saw Mill ramps. Sample times were done during "peak" morning hours, from 7-9:30 a.m. on March 13, and evening hours the same day, from 4-6 p.m.
The biggest traffic problem facing the area, according to John Meyer engineer Richard Pierson, is that there is not enough green light time for the Hunts Place/Quaker Street intersection, which can lead to queueing of vehicles as far back at the portion of Hunts that is near the Saw Mill ramps. The worst part is in the westbound direction, which has a "D" for its level of service, or an average delay of 35-55 seconds.
The solution, Pierson told the planning board, is to give more green time to that intersection. This would be done by reducing green time from Quaker's northbound left turn green arrow. Pierson said that this proposed change has been raised with New York's state Department of Transportation (DOT), which owns Quaker Street. The westbound portion of the intersection would be upgraded to a "C" for its level of service, which indicates an average delay of 20-35 seconds.
The findings also show that level of service will not be negatively impacted by the building regardless of whether the green light time is fixed.
“So regardless of whether or not the improvement is done, our site traffic does not impact the levels of service at the intersection," Pierson said.
Pierson also discussed the number of vehicles expected to enter and exit from the complex during the peak morning and evening hours. Data project that 16 will come or go in the morning and 17 will do so during the evening peak. The study assumes many residents will walk to the train station for commuting, and also applies as 25-percent "credit" to discount the traffic amount, to its location having alternatives to driving. Without that credit as an assumption, the respective numbers are 22 and 23.
Planning Board member Sheila Crespi questioned whether the evening portion of the study adequatly captured the intensity, saying that traffic heading north on the Saw Mill is "quite intense" after 6 p.m. I asked if a study could be done that extends the time to 8 p.m.
Responding, Pierson explained that similar locations in Westchester County, during this time, also have traffic activities within them that decrease. An example of this would be eastbound traffic coming from Hunts Place and to Hunts Lane or entering the Saw Mill's northbound ramp. Crespi replied that she does not just want an assumption. Conifer attorney Alfred DelBello said that the planning board could make this recommendation to the town for its review.
The finding were met with skepticism from members of the public.
Joan Corwin, who runs nearby - the Hunts Lane-based company has buses going through the corridors looked at - said that cars coming off of the parkway don't stop and that wasn't mentioned.
“They ignore the stop sign," she said.
Corwin also explained that looking at Quaker further up north, towards Kipp Street, also has traffic problems in the morning and that this was not looked at.
“It’s backed up," she said.
Another safety concern Corwin has is the proposed location of a bus stop near Hunts Place, fearing that kindergarteners would be allowed to cross.
“You’re really creating a disaster here," she said of that site.
Ed Frank was skeptical of the assumption that many Chappaqua Station residents would use the train.
“How does he know that?” he asked.
Frank, who said he's an engineer, also believes that numbers can be made to "say anything."
First Viewshed Renderings Are Given
For the first time, members of the public got to see in-house renderings showing how the project would affect nearby viewsheds and perspectives. Prior to the meeting, the only ones , a Pleasantville architect who is concerned about the project.
The points of view examined include Mill River Road looking north, Hunts Place looking east, Quaker Street heading east towards from the bridge, and from the Chappaqua train station's plaza.
Planning Board Chair Richard Brownell was blunt in his feedback.
“It’s big," he replied. He added that comments they had at the previous meeting about it are "still germane," and also noted that the renderings give a better understanding of what impacts could be noticeable.
The facade, a mix of brick and yellow-colored siding similar to Hardiplank, was described by architect Gary Warshaur, who is also Pound Ridge's town supervisor. The design, he said, includes architectural elements from several downtown buildings, including Tudor-style 1 King St. and the train station.
Warshauer told the planning board that an attempt was made to break up the mass of the building “to the extent that we can.” He also said they were able to achieve a residential scale.
Replying, Brownell felt that the structure looks like an office building. He also said that the coloring makes it stand out more.
The structure is still being reviewed by the town's architectural review board - it also has an advisory role to the town board - DelBello noted.
“You have our un-architecturally based comments," Brownell said in reply.
During the public comment period, local architect Bill Spade described himself as being "flabbergasted" that the board was spending time on other aspects than on analyzing the impacts. He called for there to be a more substantial impact study.
Brownell responded and by saying "I'm sorry you're flabbergasted," then noting that they asked for visuals. He also said that the role of screening for the site may be a recommendation, referring to the memo that will be given to the town board.
Firematic and Safety Talks Start
Conifer is now working with the Chappaqua Fire Department on safety feedback and had a recent meeting with their officials, DelBello confirmed to the board.
Warshauer, who was at that meeting, told the board that they were told the firefighters could either stage their vehicles on the Saw Mill's northbound exit ramp for western site access, or opening up the site's parking area for northern site access. He stated that traffic would be stopped during this.
Crespi, who has about using the Saw Mill exit ramp, reiterated her point. She worried that a fire truck pulling up to the exit ramp could be involved in a collision with a vehicle traveling on it. Crespi guessed that an alternative way to get on that ramp, by going down to a Pleasantville entrance point and driving north before taking the ramp down, would add 10-15 minutes in the response time.
“I think there are real safety issues there," she said, and stated that she has problems with both ways of accessing that ramp.
Addressing the safety aspect, Warshauer stated that Westchester County police - they patrol the Saw Mill regularly - could coordinate with the emergency responses.
Warshauer also told the board that if the firefighters need to respond to the east of the site, then Metro-North could shut down train service and shut down the third rail, which is electric.
Other topics discussed with the fire department included making water sources redundant, such as hydrants, and sprinkler location.
Gerard Curran, a planning board member who also is part of Chappaqua's volunteer ambulance corps (CVAC), raised some of his own safety points. He stated that Chappaqua firefighters have a 75-foot ladder, and that working angles have to be discussed with the fire chiefs. Curran also asked for work on factors such as building collapse zone, as well as evacuation.
Responding to the feedback, Warshauer told the board that windows near exit stairs could be used to gain access to the building. He also explained that there is discussion about adjusting the parking spaces to make emergency access easier. Additionally, it was discussed that the entrance to the building's ground floor for a vehicle has been raised to about 10 feet, in response to a concern Curran rasied at the last meeting about an ambulance not being able to fit. At Tuesday's meeting, Curran asked that it be made higher, like 10 and a half feet.
Opponents Say Project Could Isolate & Stigmatize Residents
Residents opposed to the plan, in addition to worrying about safety and design, have often argued that prospective residents of the site would not have a good quality of life in the development.
This argument was frequently brought up, as folks stated that it would go against the intent of Westchester County's federal affordable housing settlement. Opponents were repeatedly met with applause at the end of their comments.
During his public comment, Spade outlined criteria presented by the monitor overseeing the county's compliance with the 2009 settlement, which requires the building of 750 affordable housing units over a seven-year period in communuties that are mainly white, which includes New Castle.
Among the criteria the proposal misses, Spade argues, is that the plan would isolate and stigmatize residents and being low income, and does not seemlessly integrate with the nearby residential areas.
“This is a site that is completely isolated from the community.”
Spade also stated that the plan violates the monitor's desire for the site to not have negative environmental features, such as noise, railroad or vehicular hazards.
“People are looking to move out of ghettoes to green space, not another stigmatized ghetto," said Ed Frank.
“You’re going to feel isolated and discriminated against," said Theodore Anderson, who added that kids living there will feel it in school.
Wally Toscano, another local architect, stated that a horn from railroads will also be a noise problem.
Going Foward: What's Next?
When asked to react to the concerns raised, DelBello said,
“We hear the people, hear what they’re saying. We understand where they’re coming from."
He added, “Whenever you put affordable housing project up you get opposition.”
At a later point in the meeting, around the time of a work session, planning board members discussed what to do.
Brownell said that there were a lot of good comments made. He also felt that zoning compliance needs to be reviewed, describing the property as a “very constrained site.”
Issues being considered so far to the advisory memo to the town board include pedestrian access, viewshed, landscaping, noise and air quality, Brownell explained.
One legal issue raised during the review process so far is whether the special permit, which calls for some exceptions in the property's zoning for the building's mass and size, can go without variances. This concern was raised by resident Peter Davidson, who argued that variances are needed in addition to the permit.
During the town board's work session, which was held down the hallway at town hall from the planning board's meeting, Town Attorney Clinton Smith told them that Conifer would in fact need to get variances. An appearance before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals would be needed, he explained.
Planning Board members hope to have the memo for the town board done by the end of the month, according to Brownell.
A copy of the traffic study's general overview is attached to this story.