CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- It took Felix Charney more than a decade to start work at Chappaqua Crossing, but on Tuesday morning the veteran developer marked the beginning with a public groundbreaking.
The event, which was attended by scores of current and former New Castle town officials and members of Charney's project team, is for the retail portion of the site, which was once the home of magazine publisher Reader's Digest. The retail project will include 120,000 square feet of space, which will be anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store and a Life Time Fitness that will each occupy 40,000.
Charney is the president of Summit Development, who co-owns the property with Greenfield Partners through a venture known as Summit/Greenfield. When Charney's joint venture purchased the property from Reader's Digest in late 2004 for more than $50 million, he did not realize how long it would take before Tuesday's moment.
The purchase was the start of what would be a decade worth of heated exchanges, multiple project changes and litigation, which are borne out in scores of town records and news stories from those years.
“It's been expensive, it's been frustrating," Charney said about the journey. "I recall a couple of a couple of town hall meetings – there may have been some hecklers. It's been a process.”
For the second half of the 2000s and into 2011, Summit/Greenfield proposed building a sizable amount of condos and townhouses. The first iteration had 346 units, which the town board rebuffed in 2006, the second was introduced in 2007 and called for 278, while the third was announced in 2010 and had 199.
The housing garnered opposition from neighbors worried about traffic and from residents who were concerned that the condos would lead to an influx of new school children whose educations would not be adequately paid for due to the lower per-unit tax revenues that condos generate compared to single-family homes. In 2011, the town board, led by then-Supervisor Barbara Gerrard, unilaterally approved rezoning for just 111 units, while Summit/Greenfield filed lawsuits against the town over how the review process was handled.
In 2012, under then-Supervisor Susan Carpenter, the town and Summit/Greenfield settled the suits, with the condition that the town board and planning board would review a retail proposal. If the boards issued denials pertaining to the project, then Summit/Greenfield had the right to reactive the lawsuits.
The retail project was also controversial, as neighbors again worried about traffic, while others argued that retail competition would negatively affect existing merchants. Rob Greenstein, who criticized the earlier project versions, was elected in 2013 on a slate that promised to stop what was then an auto-centric proposal.
Greenstein would later work with Charney to reshape the plan so that it was more like a pedestrian-friendly town center. In doing so, he encountered frustration from some local opponents. However, he told Daily Voice that approving a revised plan would be beneficial in order to broaden the town's commercial tax base, while approving the earlier version or returning to court were not desirable.
Looking ahead, Charney praised his team and the town's for advancing the project.
“Today we're really here to celebrate that but i'm here to thank you all.”
The town board voted in late 2014 to rezone the property for retail, while the planning board granted the project's site plan in December.
In contrast to the shouts and incredulous laughter that marked the public meetings over the years, Tuesday's ceremony was upbeat. Reaching across the proverbial aisle, Charney complimented Councilwoman Lisa Katz, a persistent project critic who lives near Chappaqua Crossing and who cast the lone vote against rezoning.
“It's like the sweetest 'no' you ever got.”
In an interview, Charney acknowledged the concerns that neighbors have had about impact. He also believed that the mood has calmed down.
“I think the rancor has ebbed. I think that some of the neighbors who are opposing us have come to us for, you know, adjustments and with suggestions and I think that the environment is positive.”
Charney still has to approval from the state Department of Transportation and site-plan before the project can be complete.
However, he decided to do the groundbreaking since early work on the site, such as demolition of an ancillary building, is starting soon.
“It's time to tell the world, the town, our tenants, and everyone else that this is starting.”
Whole Foods is expected to open next year, according to Charney, who expects steel for the building to rise by May.
Aside from the retail, Chappaqua Crossing will include 28 affordable-housing apartments in the site's historic cupola building, which will be developed by Wilder Balter; the developer will take possession of its housing space in May or June, according to Charney.
Additionally, Charney's firm will buy out Greenfield's ownership stake in the retail portion of the site, with the deal expected to close in May. The companies' venture will continue to own the eastern portion of the site, which is now intended to have 91 townhouses. Charney expects to have an application submitted to the planning board for the townhouses within 60 days.
Video of the groundbreaking, along with remarks from speakers, is attached, along with photos.