11-Year Saga Finally Ends for Chappaqua Crossing - UPDATE
John Jordan | March 2016
CHAPPAQUA—A storyline that included a bankruptcy that changed everything, false hopes, staunch opposition, failed votes, litigation and in the end finally compromise ended with the groundbreaking of the controversial Chappaqua Crossing mixed-use project here.
The approval process took 11 years to finish to get to the point where shovels went in the ground earlier this month at the storied former Reader’s Digest headquarters. On Tuesday, March 1 Summit/Greenfield Partners were joined by local officials, including three former New Castle Town Supervisors, as well as Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the $50-million retail component of the project. Charney told Real Estate In-Depth that he now estimates it will take $175 million, including land acquisition, to complete Chappaqua Crossing.
The key features of the first phase of the project will be the development of a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods store (to open in 2017) as well as a 40,000-square-foot Life Time Fitness facility on the property. The retail component will total 120,000 square feet of retail space and will also include shops and restaurants.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with the town,’’ said Summit Development President Felix Charney, a principal in Summit/Greenfield. “This is a unique project—there is nothing else like it in Westchester. Not only will it bring great amenities like a Life Time (Fitness) and sought-after retail stores like a Whole Foods Market to northern Westchester, but it will provide luxury housing, as well as a cultural center and improved infrastructure that will benefit the entire community.”
Future phases call for the development of The North Village with 91 luxury townhomes to be built on a hilltop setting with landscaped terraces, gardens and walking trails. A total of 28 units of affordable housing will be developed at the property’s main cupola building. A total of 50 acres of the property will be devoted to open space. The project also features more than 500,000 square feet of rental office space at the former Reader’s Digest headquarters building. Current office tenants at the property include Northern Westchester Hospital and Mount Kisco Medical Group.
New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein said of the project’s long-awaited groundbreaking, “What started out as the longest and most controversial application in our town’s history, ended up as an example of the benefits of working together. Together we ensured the residents of New Castle the best outcome, amenities and aesthetics as well as the tax dollars we need.” Also in attendance at the groundbreaking were former New Castle Town Supervisors Janet Wells, Barbara Gerrard and Susan Carpenter.
Greenstein continued, “Chappaqua Crossing will once again provide a strong contribution to our commercial tax base, while at the same time creating new amenities for residents and preserving the character of the surrounding neighborhood. I look forward to continuing to work with all of our neighbors, including Summit/Greenfield to ensure that this development is in the best interests of the community.”
Charney during the ceremony quipped about the lengthy time it took from the initial residential community proposal to the current mixed-use plan for the project. The wheels began to come off the developer’s plans for the property when Reader’s Digest filed for bankruptcy in August 2009 and later moved its headquarters operations from Chappaqua to New York City. Reader’s Digest had signed a sale-leaseback deal with Summit/Greenfield for the property for $59 million in 2004.
He related that the project was similar to that of a political campaign. “This has been a campaign. It has been long. It has been expensive. It has been frustrating… It has been a process.” However, he said that in the end both the proponents and opponents of the project now have something to celebrate.
The developer, who at times quipped about the lengthy approval process, noted that the key to the project’s eventual approval was when he was approached about adding retail (and specifically Whole Foods) to the development. Although securing a deal with Whole Foods took several years, the project adding a much-needed grocer to the New Castle area was critical in moving the project forward, he noted.
Charney noted that partner Greenfield Partners had recently sold its interest in the retail component to Summit Development. No financial terms of the transaction were released.
The residential component of Chappaqua Crossing will now consist of a 111-unit residential layout on 30 acres of the site. The plan calls for a mix of fee-simple townhomes and condominium flats in the eastern portion of the site. A total of 32 units have been designated as affordable housing and are to developed in a portion of the upper two floors of the four-story Georgian-style, cupola-topped former Reader’s Digest building, which opened in 1939. The affordable housing component will be built to comply with the guidelines set forth in the fair housing settlement between Westchester County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It will include a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
Charney said after demolition of some of the office space and reuse to residential of a portion of the space, the office space component of the property will amount to approximately 500,000 square feet. The developer was successful in eventually removing what had been a restriction to a maximum of four tenants at the property, including one tenant occupying at least 250,000 square feet.
Charney was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors on Oct. 22, 2015 and revealed that he expected the project to break ground this year. He also joked about the lengthy approval process but did chide New York State’s regulatory process and told Real Estate In-Depth that after his experience in Chappaqua, he would not look to do another real estate development project in New York State.
In a rather candid moment at that session, he criticized the zoning and environmental approval processes in New York State. “It is so anti-development; there is no finish line. You have a start line, but you have this great middle called ‘the great abyss.’ The environmental impact statement process frankly discourages any kind of development and can be abused when it is chosen to be abused and we underestimated the significance of that,” Charney told the CID gathering. “To be absolutely honest with you the entitlement lesson I learned here with SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) is one that resonates. I started this when I was 50. I am now 61. I used to say fondly before the zoning boards that I want to get this approved before I can qualify to live in the 55-and over restricted housing. Now I want to get it done before I am dead.”
Photo Caption: From left to right: Turning the first dirt at the Chappaqua Crossing project were: Dave Walsh, Asset Manager, Chappaqua Crossing; Michael Sinatra, Public Relations & Public Affairs Director, Whole Foods Market, Northeast Region; Westchester Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett; Felix Charney, Summit Development President; New Castle Town Supervisor Robert Greenstein; Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz; Jeff Melby, Senior Vice President Life Time Real Estate and Development and Jake Grossman, co-President Grossman Companies. PHOTO: JOHN VECCHIOLLA