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Town, Chappaqua Crossing Owner Reach Lawsuits Settlement [UPDATE]

New Castle's Town Board voted Tuesday night to green light to approve a settlement with Chappaqua Crossing owner Summit/Greenfield. Under the deal, lawsuits would be suspended, then dropped if retail rezoning is approved.

Taking a surprise vote at about the end of their Tuesday night meeting, members of New Castle's Town Board agreed to back a settlement reached with Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield stemming from its 2011 lawsuits over how the town handled its residential rezoning application.

The vote, which was to authorize Supervisor Susan Carpenter to sign the settlement, was passed 4-0. Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel, whose law firm has a business relationship with an affiliate of the developer, recused herself.

The settlement has already been signed on behalf of the developer, Town Attorney Clinton Smith said.

Under the terms of the settlement, Summit/Greenfield has essentially agreed to suspend its state and federal lawsuits in exchange for the town approving rezoning for some form of the developer's proposal to build retail space and a grocery store, as well as getting site plan approval from the Planning Board. If the developer does not get the requisite approvals, then it reserves the right to re-activate the lawsuits, which were filed in February 2011 and were about how the town reviewed its rezoning request for 199 townhouses and condominiums.

Additionally, the deal has “certain milestones” in it, Smith said, because Summit/Greenfield wants to be on a "set schedule." The term includes a timeline for going forward, he explained. 

At the meeting, Smith referred to a rezoning approval as being one “that meets certain characteristics.” While whatever is approved can diverge from what is currently proposed, Smith explained that it has to for something deemed to be economically feasible, a status that could be determined by a third party such as a court or an arbitrator.

“They're not going to commit to walking away until they have the right to put a shovel in the ground," Smith said.

Councilman Robin Stout, noting the town's review of the retail plan, said that “we didn't want to have the old litigation hanging over our heads.”

The town is not legally obligated to go with an approval, Smith noted, nor is it required to abide by the milestones. If Summit/Greenfield were to re-activate its lawsuits, Smith explained that it would simply mean bringing back what has been the status quo.

Talking to reporters after the board meeting, Smith compared the deal to a game of freeze tag.

“We're frozen," he said in describing the status of the lawsuits.

Summit/Greenfield reacted favorably to the deal in a statement sent out later Tuesday night.

"We are pleased that a settlement of the ongoing litigation with the Town of New Castle has been reached and look forward to completion of the review process for the retail zoning on the site," the statement, which was sent out by spokesman Geoff Thompson, reads.

The developer, which bought the property from Reader's Digest in 2004, proposed several iterations during the late 2000s for a residential housing on the site, with 199 having been its last version proposed. Adding the proposed residential units, however, required a zoning change.

The Town Board, Summit/Greenfield, in litigation, claimed that the town undermined the economic use of the property and engaged in a "sham" review process. The federal lawsuit, which also included a claim that the town was hostile towards affordable housing, originally contained Town Board members as co-defendants but they were removed from the case by the judge in July. The state lawsuit was dismissed earlier this fall but quickly appealed by the developer.

Summit/Greenfield has proposed rezoning for, and building 120,000 square feet of retail space on the south end of its property, which it unveiled in October and did so in reaction to a similar proposal from the Town Board. The town's idea, unveiled earleir this year, was merely legislation for creating a retail overlay zone on top of the site's existing commercial space.

Additionally, Summit/Greenfield has agreed to pay the town $905,000 in connection to fees owed during the town's residential rezoning review. The town brought a counter suit on the matter after the developer filed its litigation, claiming that is was owed roughly $1,500,000. 

The settlement was presented to the town board in an executive session held earlier on Tuesday night, Smith said. He declined to comment on how long both sides were in settlement talks.

Smith also said that the deal does not affect several outstanding challenges that Summit/Greenfield has to its property tax assessments, which include its assessed values from 2008-11.

The story has been updated to include more information, including comment from Summit/Greenfield.

Billy T December 12, 2012 at 05:10 PM
What do complaining people on Chapp Moms Facebook expect? The Town Board and community have our backs up against the wall. Through one group or another everything that this developer has proposed has been rejected, obstructed and delayed. It has been years! No doubt lawyers have been consulted and the Town Board has been advised that we must play ball with the developer or risk further litigation. Think about it- First Summit Greenfield will stop paying taxes altogether claiming they have been denied usage of their property. They will easily be able to demonstrate that everything they have tried has been rejected and they have been unable to use their property. The towns only defense is that Chap Crossing is not zoned for those purposes. But lawyers and courts recognize that zoning laws are flexible and often change to accommodate owners. This owner will easily prove that they have been stonewalled at every turn. Our Town Board (with guidance from lawyers) understands that we can no longer block everything and we must start to accommodate. We sent a petition around demanding a supermarket, most people want a supermarket, so SG has a plan with a supermarket but we say no AGAIN. It will not hold up any longer. We stand to loose all taxes and the litigation expense and distraction will be unbearable. AND the developer (lawyers) will site a recent school board meeting where the board said we desperately need commercial tax revenue and this is the only site it can come from.
Jane B December 12, 2012 at 05:18 PM
This is very good news for New Castle Homeowners. We need a grocery store, especially since both D'Agostinos and the Stop N Shop on the corner of 172 and 117 have closed in the last couple of years. And New Castle can finally start to rebuild the tax revenue they lost when Readers Digest close. I know the town board was under a lot of pressure from the merchants in downtown Chappaqua not to build competing retail space, but this settlement will benefit those of us who own homes and pay property taxes.
Patty K December 12, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Thank you Jane B and big thanks to the Town Board for their courage and commitment. We complain when our taxes go up. We complain when our school budget goes up. We complain when services are cut like garbage pickup and reduced DPW crews for storm cleanup. We complain when we lose our supermarket. We complain that we have too many nail salons, banks, real estate brokers. The only viable site to utilize to generate additional tax revenue is Chapp Crossing. Summit Greenfield may not have acted as many of us would have liked in the past but we now have the opportunity to cease litigation and move forward. They have a right to utilize CC in a way that can be in harmony with our community and generate the tax revenue our town and schools need. We must fund our schools and our infrastructure and the tax payer- homeowner can not continue to foot the entire bill. I am sympathetic to merchants but our taxes can not continue to skyrocket. Objections from residents near CC are understandable but there was a time when Readers Digest was a busy bustling place and Grand Union had a regional distribution center down 117 in Bedford Hills. It was busy with traffic and trucks. It may be again.
Billy T December 12, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I anxiously await what petition(s) will be circulated next. Maybe it will demand removal of elected officials. Perhaps it will encourage another lawsuit. Maybe the petition will claim that Summit Greenfield intends to build a nuclear waste facility next to the fictional sewage treatment facility.
Patty K December 13, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Is that what has become of Mr Greenstein? He is commenting on Chappaqua Moms Facebook? What next - kissing babies at the local supermarket? Oh that's right we don't have a local supermarket. Perhaps if we work together to solve problems and find solutions we can find appropriate and proper usage for this 100 acre sight and get the taxes we so desperately need.
Michele December 13, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Good news finally. I'm sure progress will be slow but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It's a shame that when you own property you have to be taken to the cleaners and rung out to dry before decisions are made. It not only happens with commercial property but private property.
Bassett December 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM
The tax benefit to individual home owners is miniscule, but do not let the facts dissuade you from you opinions.

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