The Examiner

Life Time, Developer Granted Zoning Amendment at Chap Crossing

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The New Castle Town Board narrowly approved a zoning amendment Tuesday night that would allow Life Time Fitness to leave Chappaqua Crossing after three years and potentially sublease its space to various types of retail.

In a 3-2 vote on the controversial issue, the board majority of Supervisor Robert Greenstein and council members Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky voted in favor of the change. Each explained that they feared a vote against the zoning amendment requested by Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield would result in delays and jeopardize the arrival of Whole Foods.

Katz, who voted against the December 2014 rezoning to allow 120,000 square feet of retail at the former Reader’s Digest property, was the deciding vote. She said that she wanted to ensure the best outcome for the town and that was to make certain that the long-awaited Whole Foods will open.

At the time of the December 2014 rezoning, the town required at least 25,000 square feet of the retail space to be dedicated to health and fitness uses. Along with the 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods, it was reasoned that the presence of the two anchor tenants would limit competition for the downtown merchants.

“Since this project is going forward, it should be as good as possible,” Katz said. “Losing Life Time Fitness, but more important potentially, losing Whole Foods and adding additional retail now will make this project worse, not better.”

Summit Development President Felix Charney had said that Life Time Fitness would not sign its 20-year lease for a 40,000-square-foot, two-level custom-made building unless it had the sunset provision in place. If Life Time were to leave Chappaqua Crossing after three years, it would need to search for health and fitness subtenants for at least six months. If that effort failed, the company could then court a much wider variety of businesses for all or part of the space.

Without having signed leases in place, Summit/Greenfield risked not obtaining the necessary financing to build. Whole Foods had given the developer a firm Jan. 2, 2017, deadline to deliver the new supermarket, Charney said.

Greenstein said Summit/Greenfield needed to have a backup plan in the event Life Time Fitness went out of business. He said he was unwilling to risk increased competition for downtown and losing Whole Foods by being inflexible.

“My concern with that approach is the ripple effect it would have on Chappaqua Crossing,” Greenstein said. “If Lifetime walks, Summit/Greenfield would need to revise its Preliminary Development Concept Plan to the pre-Lifetime configuration, with multiple smaller fitness uses totaling 25,000 (square feet) and 15,000 traditional retail. That would mean approximately 10 additional retail stores, 10 additional stores that will compete and threaten our existing downtown.”

Charney said after the vote that he was delighted that officials were willing to work with him and his team to make sure that the project is successful. With everything in place except for permits from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the New York City DEP, he expressed confidence that Whole Foods would be delivered on time.

He also was pleased that Katz was willing to recognize the crossroads facing his company and the town despite her prior opposition to the project.

“I’m pleased because it shows that all the work we’ve done together has been in good faith between us and that detractors can be supportive,” Charney said.

Council members Hala Makowska and Jeremy Saland lodged their objections to the change. Makowska said she opposed the lack of long-term commitment on Life Time’s part. Although the health club would be obligated to fulfill its 20-year lease even if it moved out after three years, it would present ongoing uncertainty at Chappaqua Crossing.

Furthermore, if Life Time were to leave and unable to find health and fitness subtenants, there could be up to an additional 26 retail shops. She said that with local operators Saw Mill Club and Club Fit interested in the space, the town would likely be able to fulfill its 25,000-square-foot requirement well into the future without taking that gamble.

“I believe that this represents an enormous potential risk and it’s a risk that’s being transferred from the developer to the residents and the local business owners in the town,” Makowska said. “It’s not a risk I’m prepared to support without further study.”

Saland pointed out that the town’s planning board reluctantly recommended the amendment. It potentially changes the mix of retail at Chappaqua Crossing several years down the road, which could undermine the fundamental principles of the campus’s retail zoning law.

“It’s not incumbent upon me and this board to take care of the developer,” Saland said. “It’s incumbent upon me to take care of this town.”


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