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Westchester talks are on with developer for county's Grasslands site

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks during an

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino speaks during an event in White Plains. Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Westchester County officials have begun exploring the possibility of new construction that could someday transform its sprawling Grasslands Reservation into a biotech center anchored by a Main Street-style town square lined with shops, restaurants and more.

Greenwich, Conn., developer John Fareri's proposal for the 2.8 million-square-foot project in Valhalla would feature biotech research facilities along with a science museum for youth and a 100-room hotel geared toward families of patients at the hospital, which is part of Westchester Medical Center.

In addition to building on the county's 60-acre property, Fareri would include an adjacent 20-acre parcel that he owns to the west of the site that would be used to carve out a network of back roads to minimize traffic congestion in the hamlet of Valhalla.

"We are in the process of negotiating," confirmed county spokeswoman Donna Greene.

The developer submitted his plan in April after Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino issued a call for proposals. In addition to Fareri's 88-page submission, Chappaqua businessman Carmine DePalma filed a 22-page pitch for a one-stop autism complex that would bring together research and medical specialists who treat both children and adults. Neither bidder returned Newsday's calls for comment.

The latest round of talks marks yet another attempt by Fareri to build next door to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, a facility that was built with his fundraising support and is named for his 13-year-old daughter, who succumbed to a fatal case of rabies.

His interest dates back to 1984, when the county was preparing to develop the site with a different builder, who ultimately did not work out. At the time, Fareri submitted an alternative bid that also was set aside. In 2011, Fareri proposed building a science center on a parcel that he owns adjacent to the hospital.

Despite a dismal economy that has stalled development efforts, the county steadfastly has attempted to market Valhalla as a future biotech cluster. Already in the works is iBio, a biomedical incubator program to nurture entrepreneurs and scientists that will be headquartered at New York Medical College. The school just received a $1 million award from the state's regional economic development council to fund the project.

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