Greenburgh Pursues Ferncliff Despite County Opposition

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The Greenburgh Town Board has received six responses to its request for proposals to develop the WestHELP property.
The Greenburgh Town Board has received six responses to its request for proposals to develop the WestHELP property. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Despite the Westchester County Board of Legislators voting against Ferncliff Manor as a viable developer for the WestHELP property, the Greenburgh Town Board has still included Ferncliff on its list of respondents to its request for proposals.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said he doesn't want to wait any longer to lease the site, and Ferncliff, which is looking for a facility to provide schooling and housing for children with developmental disabilities, is still the town's best option because it is promising $500,000 to the town every year.

County legislators have expressed opposition toward Ferncliff's using the six-acre site, which sits at the Knollwood Gate entrance to Westchester Community College, because it would not provide affordable housing to the public — as promised for that particular site.

Ferncliff also plans to knock down the existing buildings, which are only 20 years old and which Mount Vernon planning consultant Richard Hyman, who oversaw a similar housing project in Mount Vernon that is still in use today, said would be a waste of a good building.

"It's a facility worth keeping that has a lot of useful life," Hyman said. "To tear down such units is a mistake."

Greenburgh has 19 years left under its lease of the property from the county. County Legislator Michael Smith (R-Valhalla), who lives near the property, has been the only legislator to vocally support leasing to Ferncliff, which is currently based in Yonkers.

The board also laid out the five other respondents to the request for proposals:

  • Group MRH LLC and The Richman Group Affordable Housing Organization, which offered $100,000 per year on a 20-year lease to provide affordable rental housing.
  • HarborView Properties, which offered $125,000 to $165,000 per year on a 20-year lease to provide affordable housing to 20 percent of units.
  • Marathon Development Group, offering a $200,000 initial payment and a lump sum of $2 million at the 20-year contract closing to provide affordable senior housing, with a preference for veterans.
  • Community Housing Innovations, which offered $350,000 per year on a 20-year lease for affordable senior housing. It would also open the administration building for community use, such as for the relocation of the Lois Bronz Children's Center.
  • Westhab Inc., offering $600,000 upfront and $200,000 per year on a 52-year, three-party lease between the town and the county to provide affordable housing.

Feiner has set Dec. 20 as the deadline to choose the site's developer, because the lease will affect the town's 2013 budget.

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I don't know why I always say I'm amazed when it comes to Feiner's actions. This man has absolutely no respect for the law and does only what it is in his best interest. This is yet another attempt by him to placate the Mayfair Knollwood neighborhood who faught, and unfortunately won, in this instance to not have affordable housing in their back yard.

The WestHelp campus was a shining example of what affordable housing should look like. The units were beautiful. And, up until the Town lost the lease with them, they were well maintained. I will correct myself, the Town didn't lose the lease, they took every step possible to not renew the lease with the County.

Like the immature moron that he is, when Feiner didn't get his way with the County to raze the building for private use he took the low road and let the units fall into disrepair so that they would have to be razed. Is it just me? I don't understand why every citizen in this Town is crying foul. This is how Feiner operates time and time again. When he doesn't get his way he takes every opportunity to do things in an underhanded way so that it has to work out his way, legal or not. It was the same with Fortress Bible. He wanted a fire truck (a truck that even the fire department didn't request) in lieu of property taxes because the Church is exempt. He destroyed evidence in the case and was found guilty of this by the State courts. Has anyone pursued this? At the very least the State Attorney General should have reacted to the Court finding that Feiner and Company acted illegally. Not only should he have been removed from office, he should have faced criminal charges. Could it be the fact that his wife works for the NY State AG that blocked the course of legal action? Probably.

The fact that he has allowed a million dollars of income fly out the door in this case with WestHelp is yet another example of his poor management of our Town. The fact that he has allowed the structures to deteriorate is shameful. 2013 will be two years in a row now that he has not allocated one single penny in the Town budget towards the upkeep of this facility. The County should sue the Town for the costs to renovate and break the lease with the Town. I say this as a taxpayer and know that it will cost me but the law is the law is the law. At some point even Feiner should be made to respect and abide by the laws that govern all of us.

It is odd that all this fuss to "choose" a tenant is now racing against a Town self-imposed December 20 deadline. WESTHelp has "left the room" since September 30, 2011 (2011) and the facility has been vacant ever since, not producing one penny of income for the Town while Feiner has allowed the property to fall into disrepair ever since. Furthermore, the Town Board members assured themselves today that the County lacks the grounds to call the Town's Master Lease with the County in default. So what's the real truth?
There are numerous recent examples of from Feiner citing fictitious revenue for the purpose of making a balanced budget appear to bear fruit. So to need to wrap things up speedily to legitimize only $100,000 of revenue (rent) as it appears in the Budget for 2013 is quite a fanciful stretching of accounting rules.

And what is meant by Feiner when he says choosing a "developer"?
Does this mean that in the minutes remaining the December 20 choice, the terms of the Lease will be accepted by the Town Board, the County and all work done on the property will be done in a timely fashion by the wave of a wand? How much of what is quoted as annual rent will actually be received by the Town in 2013? Probably not even 10%.

Readers with any memory cells intact will recall a similar mad rush to amend State law so that the Town could lease some of its Veteran Park sited tennis courts to an operator and this would bring similar visions of sugarplums dancing in residents' wallets.
The legislative remedy was achieved in the 11th hour before June recess and then...residents will just have to wait for good news next year (or never) as Feiner's re-election campaign swings into force BECAUSE no tenant has emerged and this winter's lease revenue has vanished.

Time after time, event after event, controvery after controversy there is a clear pattern. Feiner creates a problem, builds his own hurdles then blames other governances for not swinging into action to solve the problem.
WESTHelp is gone because Feiner, the white knight of Mayfair-Knollwood only, didn't act quickly to renew the WESTHelp Lease (don't instructed Mayfair-Knollwood), lost the $1.2 million in annual rent that it was paying to the Town and then launched a losing campaign to install Ferncliff on a site they had no right to occupy because it was not the proscribed use AND required the destruction of the existing 108 units.. While that battle has raged, Feiner kept the property vacant forgoing any revenue in the intervening 15 months with the counter still rising. Meanwhile in today's Town Board Work Session they actors agonize over $800 in expenses in the 2013 Assessor's Departmental Budget.
Don't get sucked into the Ferncliff is "good" and the County Board is "evil" misdirection that Feiner is promoting. Ferncliff IS good and apparently its current host Yonkers and every other municipality in Westchester are "bad" because there is only ONE site which satisfies both Ferncliff and Mayfair-Knollwood and that is the WESTHelp LAND which must demolish the 108 units and administration building to make room for Ferncliff. If this smells rotten; it is because it is rotten.

Meanwhile, Ferncliff's ability to build its campus and pay rent is based on verbal assurances from State politicians -- if we believe the Ferncliff advocates.
The loser in all of this is the parents of the Ferncliff children who are being used as poker chips in Feiner's game. Ferncliff IS a worthy institution and it provides a function that a humane society endorses. The pity is that they got caught up in Feiner's double-dealing which is nothing more than his attempt to try to recoup some of the $1.2 million in revenue that he so willingly gave up to placate Mayfair-Knollwood and Mr. Smith. Perhaps without Feiner's assurances that he could make it happen Ferncliff would have pursued other choices (even if less attractive but still doable). Despite wanting to believe their lack of success in finding a suitable site (in a down real estate market, no less, with home, commercial properties and banked development sites all in the toilet or in foreclosure) this one user was unable to find a 6-7 acre piece of land to build on. Sorry, call me heartless, but I don't buy it. Again, think downtown Yonkers, Mount Vernon and parts of New Rochelle. Not one suitable site for a student body that doesn't wander off unaccompanied.

Meanwhile, Ferncliff is saying that if it doesn't find a site soon, they will be forced to close (implying imminent) or move out of Westchester. What is the proof of this? "Don't tell me show me."
Sharp readers with a memory will remember the Greenburgh Health Center which was also going to have to close because a bank was going to take over its Tarrytown Road location. With its Lease expired and with no construction about to start for 2-3 years (no financing) miraculously they were able to stay (where they still are until the new building opens) undisturbed.

To concerned Ferncliff parents who will feel driven to protest this statement are requested to submit to The Daily Greenburgh written proof that Ferncliff will have to close by (date) unless they have a deal. In the meanwhile, I will continue to agree with County Legislator Michael Smith of Mayfair Knollwood who invoked today that there is nothing more disreputable than politicians who use disabled children as poker chips.
On this matter, Mr. Smith and Mr. Feiner are "All-In".
Hal Samis