|EMBATTLED MAYOR ELECT RICHARD THOMAS|
Last night, over 40 Mount Vernon taxpayers came out to the planning board meeting to protest against a developer seeking to put up a building in the middle of Wilson Woods Park.
The project, a hideous and poorly designed 120 Unit multi family building, was voted in favor for by Mayor-Elect Richard Thomas. Mayor-Elect Richard Thomas has a habit of voting for controversial projects and then disappearing into thin air when it hits the fan.
While on the City Council, Mayor Elect Thomas praised the project as one of the best developments on the drawing board in the City of Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon taxpayers disagree. One after the other, residents took to the podium to vent their frustration with the developer, The City Council, and the Industrial Development Agency.
Some residents even cried fouled and called for a federal investigation into the business relationship between Mayor Elect Richard Thomas and the attorney representing the developer, Mark Weingarten, of DELBELLO DONNELLAN WEINGARTEN WISE & WIEDERKEHR, LLP. Mark Weingarten is a registered NYS registered lobbyist and also a financial donor to Mayor Elect Richard Thomas' campaign coffers.
At the center of the controversy is the zoning change approved by the Mount Vernon City Council. Mayor Elect Richard Thomas voted in favor of this zoning change. Prior to the controversial city council vote, the property in Wilson Woods Park was zoned commercial. City Council members, including Richard Thomas voted in favor of rezoning a property within Wilson Woods Park from commercial to residential. Deborah Reynolds was the only City Council member that voted in opposition to the zoning change.
On October 7, 2015 Weingarten's law firm made a $500 donation to "The Friends of Richard". Sources have told Mount Vernon Exposed that Weingarten pledged to raise over $150K for Richard's campaign, however Weingarten never raised the funds. A political insider informed Mount Vernon Exposed that Thomas should have recused himself from any vote involving Mark Weingarten or the DELBELLO DONNELLAN WEINGARTEN WISE & WIEDERKEHR, LLP law firm.
According to the insider, the relationship between Thomas and Weingarten goes back to when Richard used to work for Gov. David Patterson. Did Weingarten, a lobbyist, call on Richard for favors while Richard worked for the governor?
In addition to being the attorney of record representing Woods Partners, the developer seeking to construct the hideous apartments in Wilson Woods, Weingarten is also the registered lobbyist for the project.
Even though Weingarten is registered with New York State as a lobbyist, it is unclear if he disclosed his financial arrangement getting compensated as a lobbyist by Woods Partners, to Mount Vernon City Council members prior to the zoning vote change. Weingarten and his law firm are being paid $5,000 per month from Wood Partners to get the required approvals for this project. The agreement began January 7, 2015 and runs until December 31, 2015. On November 20, 2015, Wood Partners entered in an extension that will extend Weingarten's agreement from January 1, 2016 until December 31, 2016.
In the reports filed with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Weingarten stated that the lobbied " NYS LEGISLATIVE BRANCH; STATE AGENCIES; COUNTY OF WESTCHESTER". Weingarten makes no mention in the reports of lobbying any elected officials in Mount Vernon whatsoever.
Prior to the zoning vote change, Richard Thomas told members of the community that he was against the Wilson Woods project. What made Richard change his mind and his vote? Was he promised something in exchange for switching his vote?
One by one residents slammed the developer for spoiling the natural park setting of Wilson Woods. Dozen of trees will be destroyed and cut down in the process. Wildlife will be destroyed. Many residents said that they would like to see an upscale catering banquet facility at the location currently being proposed for the substandard housing. Residents spoke of having Mount Vernon's own "Tavern on the Green" in Wilson Woods Park. Residents wholeheartedly supported the idea of an upscale banquet hall with scenic views of the Hutchinson River. Mount Vernon residents complained about always having to go outside of Mount Vernon to the beach clubs in New Rochelle to attend functions.
Residents also questioned the traffic study that was done by the developer and urged Planning Board members to get their own independent traffic report.
Outsiders such as Wood Partners and Weingarten always feel the need the dictate what they "feel is best" for Mount Vernon as if Mount Vernon is some third world country in need of "bailout rescue aid". There is not a lack of housing in Mount Vernon. In fact, there are a substantial vacant and zombie homes all throughout Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon leads Westchester County in foreclosures. Perhaps, Woods Partners should purchase these derelict properties and convert them to "luxury housing".
During his presentation to the planning board, Weingarten stated that due to the "shrinking commercial base in the area"; it was necessary to apply for the zoning change. That statement made by Weingarten is absolutely false. Mr. Weingarten also stated that the seller was not able to find a buyer for the property because of the "shrinking tax base". Cross County has recently undergone $250M in renovations. A hotel is now located in Cross County. Bay Plaza is rapidly expanding. A mall was opened in Bay Plaza several months ago. Dave and Buster's and Panera Bread are now open in Pelham Manor. Where is this "shrinking tax base" Mr. Weingarten referring to?
The project as proposed, falls short on taxes. The developer received a P.I.L.O.T or Payment in lieu of taxes, agreement from the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency. The developer wants to construct studio, one, and two bedroom apartments.
It costs approximately $30K per year to educate each pupil in the City of Mount Vernon. The developer stated that out of 120 units with approximately 52 two bedrooms, only 10 students will occupy the Mount Vernon school district.
Residents feel that around 40-60 kids from the massive complex would occupy local schools. That would be an additional $1.2M -$1.8M cost to Mount Vernon taxpayers.
Weingarten was able to get his client to pay $450K per taxes the first year, with slight increases every year thereafter. Taxpayers are forced once again to pick up the tab of a greedy developer with no ties to the Mount Vernon community. Weingarten also got his client exemptions for sales and mortgage recording tax.
According to Wood Partners website: STRONG FOUNDATION
In little more than a decade and a half, Atlanta-based Wood Partners has become one of the most active and progressive multifamily investment firms in the nation. The company’s rapid rise owes to a strong foundation.
Does this sound like a company that needs tax breaks?
Planning Board Commissioners voiced their concern over developers doing a bait and switch. In the past, developers have changed the project after the initial approval process, to affordable housing when they were not able to secure funds to build.
Mr. Weingarten should look to build in his own community before he comes to Mount Vernon with projects that will bankrupt taxpayers.
Mr. Weingarten resides in Golden's Bridge, NY. Golden's Bridge is a hamlet (and census-designated place) in the town of Lewisboro in Westchester County, New York. The population was 1,630 at the 2010 census.
Westchester County is currently being sued for having zoning laws in mostly white neighborhoods that do not allow the construction of affordable multi family housing, the same type of housing Weingarten and Wood Partner are seeking to construct at Wilson Woods Park.
According to the Federal Consent Decree:
(a) No less than six hundred thirty (630) of the Affordable AFFH Units shall meet the following locational criteria:
(i) the municipality in which the units are to be developed had, according to 2000 Census data, both a “single race African-American only” population less than three (3) percent and a Hispanic population less than seven (7) percent, as calculated after removing people living in group quarters as defined by the 2000 Census of Population and Housing (U.S. Census Bureau) (“group quarters”) from the relevant population; and
(ii) the units shall not be developed in any census block which had, according to 2000 Census data, (A) a “single race African-American only” population of more than ten (10) percent and a total African-American population of twenty (20) or more, or (B) a Hispanic population of more than ten (10) percent and a total Hispanic population of twenty (20) or more, as calculated after removing people living in group quarters from the relevant population, except to the extent such requirement is waived pursuant to paragraph 15(a)(ii).
Mr. Weingarten's very own community is in violation of the Federal Consent Decree. Mount Vernon Planning Board Commissioner's should ask Mr. Weingarten about the progress he has made in his own community before they allow this project to go any further.
TO BE CONTINUED.....