The New Castle Town Administrator requested that this article be written by the TownPlanner to kick-off the Master Plan community engagement process -check out www.plannewcastle.org.
By Sabrina D. Charney Hull, New Castle Town Planner
It's been 24 years since the Town of New Castle has updated its Master Plan. This year, the Town has begun the three phase process to update the 1989 Town Development Plan. You may ask WHAT IS A MASTER PLAN? Or in New Castle's case a "Development Plan"A master plan is a long-range plan intended to guide growth and development of a community. In general, a master plan includes analysis, recommendation and proposals for the community's population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities, environmental features, infrastructure and land use. A master plan is a general blueprint for the community that can be re-shaped and molded to changing times.
Now that you know what a Master Plan is, WHY SHOULD IT BE UPDATED? The easy answer to that question is because the existing plan is out of date! The Town of New Castle's fist Development Plan was produced in 1958, subsequently updated in 1968. In 1984 the Town began planning what is our current 1989 Town Development Plan. Much has happened since the current Development Plan was created- various studies such as the Adopted Area Design Plans (1993/1999), the Hamlet of Chappaqua Comprehensive Plan (2003), the Report on Residential FAR Recommendations (2004), the Downtown Chappaqua Placemaking Strategy for Revitalization (2007) and the New Castle Recreation & Parks Master Plan (2007) have been developed. We have a newly formed Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce, a very active Millwood Taskforce, and a Downtown Chappaqua Hamlet Committee. In addition, the Town Board is consistently being approached to undertake legislative changes to meet the needs of affordable housing, redevelop large lot properties and the like. That's just what's been going on in Town. Let's just say on a broader scale we now have the internet, social media, emergency planning, etc. The need to synthesize the various studies, stakeholder groups and examine planning in our community today in regards of what we want in the future is evident.
So now I bet your wondering WHAT IS A MASTER PLAN PROCESS? The New Castle Master Plan update is a process within which an updated set of guidelines on which to base New Castle's future (development, environmental protection, community services, etc.) will be created. These guidelines will relate to present conditions and the anticipated nature of future pressures and will give consideration to pertinent changes in land use, the environment, demography, fiscal conditions and legislation that have been underway since the 1989 Town Development Plan Update. There are typically three distinct phases to a Master Plan Update- Background Studies, Visioning, and putting it all together by Writing the Plan.
In early 2013 the Town of New Castle was lucky enough to be selected for the Westchester County Comprehensive Plans Base Studies Assistance Program whereby the Westchester County Department of Planning is working with the Town Development Department to examine the existing conditions of our Town.
All of the data collected and synthesized through the Background Studies (the existing conditions) will support the visioning process The Background Studies provide the groundwork to determine where the town is and help us to decide where we want to go.
The background studies are typically utilized for the Visioning Phase. Visioning is a process whereby various "topical" workgroups are established to discuss the community at large. For example, the commercial workgroup would discuss the commercial aspects of the Town (Millwood, Chappaqua, etc). They would utilize the existing plan recommendations, determine if they were implemented and discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT Analysis) in relation to commercial uses within the Town. The workgroup would then set direction (new –or old- recommendations) for the updated Town Development Plan. The 2013 Master Plan Update Steering Committee identified 5 Work Groups:
1. Commercial Development and Hamlets- This work group will examine commercial land
use throughout the Town. The Chappaqua and Millwood Hamlets will be examined in
relation to what they are to today and where we want them to be in the future.
2. Housing-This work group will examine the issue of affordable housing, accessory
apartments, subdivision and building regulations and oversized lots in the context of whether
or not we want to maintain our overall development pattern.
3. Public Works Infrastructure- This work group will look at the Town's government
services, libraries, emergency services, sidewalks and pathways, address cell phone towers,
maintenance and depreciation of infrastructure, transportation and the like. Issues related to
paper streets, and above ground utilities will be discussed.
4. Environment, Habitat and Scenic Resources- This workgroup will examine the current
environmental regulations, determine is areas of our environment are not adequately
protected, discuss whether or not the existing regulations are to burdensome to property
owners, how better to create trail and habitat linkages, identify and protect scenic resources,
5. Public Services and Recreation- This work group will focus on the general areas of
passive/active recreation, senior services, library and education. The goals and policies from
the existing background documents will be reviewed, use inventories will be conducted, and
historical resources will be explored.
The remaining component of the Master Plan Process is actually putting all that has been learned, visioned and analyzed to paper- Writing the Plan. The Plan must be written in accordance with New York State legal requirements which enable the Town to plan, including environmental review laws. Once the Plan is written, it should be adopted by the New Castle Town Board.
SO WHAT IS MINDMIXER ALL ABOUT? A great master plan relies on the voice of the community. Historically the community has been involved through meeting at Town Hall or the Library. These meeting are typically attended by the same civic minded community members who are already in the know. My goal is to get the rest of the community involved. As a career-minded professional with a family, I am hard pressed to find the time to get involved with my community outside of the realm of the school system. Mindmixer is a social media experience whereby people can log on from their smartphones or computers and contribute their ideas about the community while sitting on the train, watching t.v. or even having coffee. Don't worry, the Master Plan will most certainly host public meetings and continue with the traditional outreach strategies, but we are trying something new to reach a large segment of the Town's population which may not have the time to come to a meeting.
Lastly, HOW LONG DOES THIS TAKE? A Master Plan Update is not easy process. Some plans take years to produce. We are hoping to have a draft of our background studies from Westchester County by the end of the year. We have begun searching for dedicated volunteers for our work groups which will meet on a bi-weekly basis from midOctober to mid-January and then the Steering Committee will begin the hard part of putting the plan together. I am optimistic that we can complete all this in 2014, but much of it has to do with hearing from the community and having folks get involved.
The Town Administrator, Penny Paderewski, is asking residents to check out the Town's website www.plannewcastle.org and sign up for a workgroup or join Mindmixer-Let
your voice be heard! Get involved checkout "www.plannewcastle.org"