New York Times: In Tuxedo, N.Y., Breaking Ground on a Decades-Long Project

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TUXEDO, N.Y. — After almost three decades of fierce community debate, work on a large residential and commercial development called Tuxedo Farms is now underway and anticipated to almost double the size of this small town of about 3,600 residents over the next 10 to 12 years.

First proposed in 1989 by a group led by the New York City-based developer Related Companies, Tuxedo Farms, formerly called Tuxedo Reserve, has changed substantially over the years.

Approved in 2004, after detailed environmental and economic analyses, the plan for Tuxedo Farms now consists of 1,195 homes — mostly detached single-family homes, but also townhomes and apartments — along with just over 100,000 square feet of retail and community buildings, including a Y.M.C.A.

The 1,250-acre building site is hilly, rocky terrain, currently being blasted and leveled for roads, that’s situated less than 35 miles northwest of the George Washington Bridge. The site abuts the wealthy Village of Tuxedo Park, a gated cluster of about 300 houses, many of them 19th- and early 20th-century mansions, on 2,300 acres of rolling forestland.

The town of Tuxedo, sandwiched between two state parks, is more than 70 percent protected parkland. The Related Companies, now the sole developer of Tuxedo Farms, has agreed to leave 800 acres of the building site undisturbed and will put a conservation easement restricting future development on the land, said Stephen M. Ross, the company’s chairman and founder.

Related is the master developer of Tuxedo Farms, meaning the company is developing the infrastructure, home lots and amenities, for a total of about $250 million, he said. However, Related will sell a dozen different sections of Tuxedo Farms to builders who will then sell and construct the homes.

Home prices may eventually be around $450,000 for a 2,000-square-foot townhome, with single-family homes ranging up to $1.5 million. The entire development will very likely cost more than $1 billion, Mr. Ross said.

Still, Tuxedo Farms is much smaller than the subdivision developers proposed in 1989, which had 2,856 homes and more than one million square feet of commercial space. While Mr. Ross and his partners began planning the site in the 1980s, Related didn’t buy the land from Tuxedo Park Associates until September 2006, after the subdivision was approved.

The development is a departure for Mr. Ross — who made his name developing subsidized housing — and for Related. The development company is known for building multifamily high-rises and luxury apartment complexes in urban areas. Mr. Ross said he had stuck by the Tuxedo Farms project through the decades because “we’d like to see it get done right.

“This would be the only one we’re doing like this, and frankly, I never have an interest in doing another one,” he said. “I’m now 75 years old. I thought I was going to be a young man when I started this job.”

Over the years, Related has had pitched battles with some Tuxedo residents and faced an unsuccessful lawsuit, resulting in a very thorough development plan for Tuxedo Farms. Besides homes, the community will have a “Village Green” with a 39,000-square-foot Y.M.C.A.; a swimming pool; a 6,500-square-foot community building with a roof-deck, mailboxes and business amenities; playing fields; playgrounds; tennis courts; platform tennis; and a dog run.

Related will build and donate the roughly $12 million recreation center to the Y.M.C.A. of Orange County. Tuxedo Farms will not be a gated community, and the Y.M.C.A. will be open to the public.

At the development’s southern entrance on Route 17, a 60,000-square-foot retail center built by Related will offer a specialty grocer and other “grab-and-go” stores, said Andrew Dance, a vice president at Related.

“We also have bought recently Jessie’s Bagels,” an existing business at the south entrance, he said. Related is working with the operator to transform the business into a country market, with a striped awning and pots of fresh-cut flowers and herbs from a neighboring nursery. It will most likely have a new name, such as “Jessie’s Market,” he said.

“We want to just use who’s already in place here, the people who’ve been here a while, and kind of make it feel right,” Mr. Dance said.

Related is spending money to revitalize the town through two new local development corporations that will fund infrastructure improvements and spruce up the business district. The Tuxedo Farms Local Development Corporation, formed earlier this year, issued 30-year tax-exempt bonds for a total of $30 million. The bonds’ net proceeds, $20 million, are funding a new wastewater treatment plant for the town and Tuxedo Farms.

The debt for the wastewater system will be paid off by future Tuxedo Farms homeowners, who will have a special assessment of about $53 to $151 a month, depending on home size, Mr. Dance said. Homeowners association dues will be about $97 a month.

However, Tuxedo Farms homeowners will also get a discount on the roughly $1,000 annual family membership at the Y — probably about $500, Mr. Dance said.

The Tuxedo Local Development Corporation has $2 million in grant money and a $250,000 small business revolving loan fund, both donated by Related.

About $125,000 of the $2 million fund was used in 2009 to restore the historic Tuxedo train station, and an archway being designed will greet city hikers arriving on the train beginning in late 2016, Mr. Dance said.

Related is widening part of Route 17, which has narrow 9-foot lanes, and adding turn lanes and traffic lights at both subdivision entrances. Upon issuing the first home-building permit at Tuxedo Farms, probably this spring, Related will donate 40 acres and $2.5 million to the Tuxedo Union Free School District, Mr. Dance said.

And once the town raises money for a new library, Related will donate a half-acre of land for that building, he said.

Related, which owns about 2,500 acres in the Tuxedo area, will also donate 961 acres to the town of Tuxedo and village of Tuxedo Park, on which there will be a conservation easement held by the Orange County Land Trust, Mr. Dance said.

The concessions that Related has made and the developer’s work with businesses in downtown Tuxedo have gone a long way toward winning over Tuxedo residents. Some residents said they viewed Tuxedo Farms as a boon to a town that has stagnated in recent decades along with its struggling school district.

“It’s a big project,” said William A. Sweet, an eight-year resident who has a local financial planning business and serves as president of the Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce. “But I think a lot of the concerns and questions of the local population over the past 35 years have been answered or addressed. There’s never going to be zero environmental impact, but I do think that the project is going to be responsible, and the folks in charge seem to have the right mind-set.”

Other residents said they had been largely supportive of the project as approved in the 2004 permit, but in recent years Related has applied for numerous changes, which have been granted by the town board. Some of those changes include increasing the multifamily housing and commercial space in Tuxedo Farms, and allowing home development in the environmentally sensitive area around Mountain Lake.

“The approval in 2004 was something that was fiercely negotiated and worked out, and it was their decision not to build,” said Kristy Apostolides, the president of the Northern Tuxedo Residents Association. “My main concern is them pushing back against many of the things negotiated, which they did in the 2010 revision. I want to make sure we aren’t giving them carte blanche to make a lot of changes.”

Other objections center on the donation of 961 acres by Related to the town and village, said Dena Steele, a resident of Tuxedo Park. Though the town will gain land for possible recreational use, it will lose the tax revenue at a time when its 2015 fiscal year budget has a $1 million deficit.

“It would be much better to give the land to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which oversees Harriman State Park and Sterling Forest State Park, and is probably the biggest taxpayer and landowner in Tuxedo,” she said.

Tuxedo Farms’ homes, which will be built in three phases, with the first phase containing 716 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, can’t be constructed until roads and infrastructure, like the wastewater plant, are finished. Ground was broken in September on the wastewater system, which should take about 16 months to complete.

Y.M.C.A. construction will begin in April, with anticipated completion in 2018, Mr. Dance said. Work on Route 17 is planned for next summer, as is the delivery of the improved Jessie’s Market or Cafe, he said.