Greenburgh Town Conflict Resolution Procedure: Set Up Collusive Lawsuits.
Municipalities should not get sued all that often. But Greenburgh does, and frequently by parties who desire the same outcomes as the Town. The Town has utilized this seemingly collusive strategy at least four times over the past few years in connection with the incorporation petition and other disputes. Just last month, the Supervisor set up yet another lawsuit with the Shelbourne developer.
As followers of the Shelbourne matter well know, the Town has laws that would prevent Shelbourne from being built at the developer’s desired Sprain Brook Nursery location within a residential area. Town Code section 285-10 (A)(4)(f) requires that assisted living projects: “…must be within 200 feet of, and have access to, a state or county right-of-way, other than parkways and interstate highways. Such access must be direct or via a side street and shall not be accessed by a circuitous route.”
Anyone who has passed by the Sprain Brook Nursery, or even looked at a map, knows that the site does not meet the 200-foot requirement. Nonetheless, the Town Zoning Board voted 4-3 to grant an unprecedented 3000% variance, effectively re-legislating the law.
At the same time, Shelbourne altogether ignored one aspect of the Town code by neither requesting nor receiving a variance for the requirement that the route be direct and non-circuitous.
Unfortunately, by then, the Town had already painted itself into a corner—as it too often does—by overpromising. Prior to permit approval, the Town had:
- counted the building fee revenue in budget projections;
- publicly promised to support the development; and
- assured the owners of the nursery that the best use of the land was as an assisted living facility.
This became problematic not only because of that pesky Town zoning law, but also because of the concerns raised by the Greenville Fire District and Edgemont residents about noise, public safety, and potential service costs.
Facing conflicting interests, the Town went to its playbook: making a show of listening to residents, but leaving the door open for a lawsuit in which the Town could predetermine the outcome by deliberately losing. Through that approach, the Town can wash itself of responsibility by telling residents it was the court’s decision, while still enjoying the financial result it initially desired.
In Shelbourne, Mr. Feiner has said he will deny the special permits if Edgemont residents protest. As a sound bite, that sounds like Mr. Feiner has our back, right? Wrong. Mr. Feiner knows that public opposition isn’t a legally valid reason for denial. He also knows that making such a statement opens up the Town for another developer lawsuit in which the Town would be unable to defend its decision.
Collusive lawsuits may sound like conspiracy, but we’ve seen this tactic repeatedly with the illegal WestHELP payments (click here for the Court's ruling granting residents' motion to intervene upon finding the Town couldn't adequately defend itself as a result of statements made by the Paul Feiner), the Dromore development, the second incorporation Article 78, and even once before with Shelbourne, too.
In June of 2016, Edgemont residents submitted a petition and implored the Town to study the noise and safety data on Underhill Road before taking any further action on Shelbourne. Mr. Feiner agreed to change the Town's position on studying the data, but ultimately his reason was not the data itself but rather the outcry from residents (which, again, was not a valid reason). All interested parties—including individual residents, the ECC, and the developer itself—forewarned Mr. Feiner that changing positions for an invalid reason would result in a lawsuit. Yet the Town passed the resolution, and a lawsuit from Shelbourne followed.
So here we go again.
Mr. Feiner is pandering to unsuspecting Edgemont residents by attempting to convey he’s unbiased on the project. But don’t be fooled by this dubious tactic: Mr. Feiner has publicly made statements indicating full-throated support for Shelbourne.
Our Town board should deny the special permits for the simple and valid reason that the project meet the requirements of the Town’s own zoning laws. And the Town should clearly explain its denial for that reason, not for some other, invalid reason. If the Town does not take that specific and lawful action, the Town should explain why it's taken action that knowingly invites litigation, which is an abuse of the court system and costly to taxpayers.
This behavior of the Town is shameful.
If only the Town had followed its very own law, by now the nursery property would have a few houses on it and the owner would have sold for millions; local municipal budgets would be enjoying tax revenue; the Town would have received some permit revenue; and Edgemont residents might feel that their Town Board is really looking out for them.