After 15 years of meetings, hearings, revised plans and two federal lawsuits, the New Castle Planning Board last week granted the Chappaqua Crossing application its last final approval, officially completing its review of the 91-townhouse East Village.
Votes for subdivision and site plan approval seemed anticlimactic over Zoom after years of periodic tension between the applicant and the town as well as residents who opposed various aspects of the myriad plans. Representatives for developer Summit/Greenfield and Planning Board members exchanged a few humorous comments after the votes were recorded.
“It’s taken a few moments and there’s been a few meetings, but I appreciate all the volunteers who have worked so hard and on this, all the consultants,” said Summit Development founder and manager Felix Charney. “There were many times I was hoping you were going to run out of paper or numbers or whatever it was, but we’re at the end and we’re very grateful to finally be there. It hasn’t quite settled in yet, but thank you.”
Planning Board Chairman Robert Kirkwood said there are still dozens of conditions that the developer must comply with containing various deadlines, some that must be satisfied before construction may begin and others before a Certificate of Occupancy may be issued.
Many of the conditions are administrative or legal, but others involved various agencies at multiple levels of government, Kirkwood said.
“The town was comfortable with how the proposal plan looked and with the conditioning of these problems,” he said.
Summit/Greenfield has partnered with Toll Brothers to build the 91 townhouses. Throughout site plan review for the East Village, as the townhouse component has been identified, the applicant and Toll Brothers indicated the units are to be built in phases that will last a period of years largely dictated by demand.
Summit/Greenfield bought the former 114-acre Reader’s Digest property in 2004 and submitted its first application for an all-residential plan of more than 300 units in 2006.
Over the next few years, contentious public hearings were held that twice whittled the number of units to 199, but strong community opposition continued, with concerns over traffic and the impact on schools among the chief issues.
The two sides seemed were at an impasse by 2010 as Reader’s Digest vacated the campus. A former Town Board reduced the number of units to 111, prompting Summit/Greenfield to file two federal lawsuits.
While the litigation was thrown out, it appeared to spark a search for alternatives for the campus, which was virtually empty.
Eventually, a plan for a campus that included up to 500,000 square feet of office space, 120,000 square feet of retail, 64 units of market-rate, workforce and affordable housing in the signature cupola building and a scaled-down 91-townhouse was proposed. However, the retail component spawned concerns that it could damage downtown Chappaqua, which had been struggling since 2009 with the effects of the Great Recession and the Route 120 bridge project.
Town officials eventually devised a plan where there would need to be two 40,000-square-foot anchor tenants to account for two-thirds of the retail space, which turned out to be Whole Foods and Life Time Fitness, to limit competition with downtown.
As part of the evolving plan, the town asked Summit/Greenfield to sell them the Wallace Auditorium with its more than 400 seats for $1, so it could be turned into a cultural venue with theater and musical performances.
“We’re happy that that auditorium got a second life and we hope that the community enjoys it, and in years to come, maybe we’ll all meet there, under a set of circumstances that don’t involve an application,” Charney said.