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Developers Unveil New Plans For Reader’s Digest Property

Last week, a three-member team from SG Chappaqua LLC—the new owners of the Reader’s Digest property, located at 480 Bedford Road—unveiled their revised plans for developing the site at a joint meeting of the New Castle town board and planning board.

Filled to capacity, the spacious Assembly Room at the town hall teemed with 100-odd town officials, residents, and others, eager to listen to the modifications made by the developers, after their initial proposal was scuttled by the town board, in December, 2006.

On the one hand, the “two-pronged” plan reduces the number of residential units by 20 percent, conforms to the town’s existing zoning regulations, and offers affordable housing. On the other, it asks for a variance that’ll allow the developers to lease to multiple business tenants.

Unlike the former plan, the “evolved” version, altogether scraps the idea of creating an entirely new zoning district. Instead, it proposes the rezoning of the 64.3 acres of the 120-acre property—now known as Chappaqua Crossing—to the town’s existing Multifamily Planned Development District, enacted in 1979.

This portion of the property will house a cluster of 278 housing units, down from 384, as originally suggested. Of these, 32 will be non-age-restricted, affordable, workforce housing, open to municipal workers, and emergency service volunteers.

A set of 24 units—comprising two and three bedroom condominiums—will also be affordable, but will be age-restricted, to be occupied by at least one resident age 55 and above, with no children under 18 to be allowed. The bulk of 222 will be senior housing and will be available at the market-rate.

While the affordable units are expected to carry a price-tag of $250,000, the others are tagged at $750,000 or more, said Geoff Thompson, spokesman for SG Chappaqua. In all, there will be 56 affordable units.

“These will count towards the town’s 255-unit affordable housing allocation, as established by the Westchester County Housing Opportunity Commission,” said John S. Marwell, an attorney for the developer.

49.4 acres will be commercially zoned and will contain 520,000 square-feet of office space. By 2004, when SG Chappaqua—a partnership of two real estate firms, Summit Development LLC and Greenfield Partners LLC, both of South Norwalk, Connecticut—bought the Reader’s Digest property, the one-time publishing giant had downsized significantly.

Corporate restructuring had whittled down its workforce to 800 employees, who were occupying only a third of the 700,000 square-feet Georgian-style office complex.

After selling off the property, Reader’s Digest moved in as a tenant with a 20-year-lease. That left the developers with about 475,000 square-feet of empty space to develop.

But the town’s initial “single-user restriction” allowed it to have only one commercial tenant other than Reader’s Digest, thereby preventing it from utilizing two-thirds of the building, says Thompson.

In mid-2005, the town granted its request for three more tenants. But SG Chappaqua says, it’s facing still more hurdles, claiming that the current four-tenant and square-footage restrictions “significantly hindered” its “ability to effectively market and lease the property.”

“While a lot of businesses are actively seeking to rent, they aren’t interested in leasing sprawling 30,000 square-feet blocks, but smaller, more compact 5,000 to 15,000 square-feet plots. We’re confident that the entire space will lease up reasonably quickly, if we can make available smaller pieces rather than big ones,” says Thompson.

With businesses nationwide, streamlining their operations, there’s an increasingly less need for elaborate structures, he explained.

So, in July, this year, SG Chappaqua put in an application to the zoning board of appeals, requesting a variance to lift the restrictions on the number of tenants.

It’s scheduled for public presentation later, this month, on September 26. The company has picked Cushman & Wakefield, a Manhattan-based firm to advise it on office-leasing.

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