Developer Chides NY’s Approval Process
John Jordan | November 2015
WHITE PLAINS—For the majority of his recent presentation before HGAR’s Commercial Investment Division, developer Felix Charney kept to his word and was upbeat and at times humorous about his firm’s 11-year journey to obtain approvals and build a mixed-use development at the former Reader’s Digest headquarters in Chappaqua. However, he did lash out at New York’s approval process.
He concluded his remarks by advising attendees of the Oct. 22nd session, “The takeaway here is don’t ever underestimate neighborhood opposition.” The South Norwalk-based developer added, “Westport (CT) is not exactly a pro-development community. I built 17 buildings in Westport and I have been yelled at by everybody, but we always got it done. I just think you guys yell louder. But the other thing is you guys have really bad zoning regulations. 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.”
He related that the Connecticut approval process is much more streamlined, adding that developers there can learn quickly whether their projects will be approved or denied. He said slow approvals usually cause developers to go broke. Charney noted that his firm has spent $9.6 million on entitlements to secure approvals on its first and only New York State project.
When asked by Real Estate In-Depth that based on its arduous sojourn to secure approvals for Chappaqua Crossing would it consider another investment in New York State, Charney responded, “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.”
He continued, “So the answer is ‘No… I am an eternal optimist, but your process is flawed and so is your affordable housing process.”