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GREENBURGH APPROVES DEAL TO CREATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING AT WESTHELP

The Greenburgh town board tonight approved a deal to transfer its lease of the rapidly deteriorating former WestHELP site to a Peekskill developer to build 74 units of affordable housing for seniors aged 62 and older.

WestHELP, which was built in 1990 off Knollwood Road on the campus of Westchester Community College as a shelter for homeless women and their preschool children, was once the Town’s largest source of non-tax revenue — paying $1.2 million a year for ten years from 2001 to 2011, for a total of $12 million.

WestHELP was actually owned by Westchester County, but to persuade the Town to accept a homeless shelter within its borders, the county agreed in 1990 to give the Town a 30-year lease of the WestHELP premises, starting in 2001 through 2031, with the understanding that, once the county no longer needed WestHELP as a homeless shelter, the Town would use the property for affordable housing.

In 2001, however, with the county still needing WestHELP to serve its homeless population, the county persuaded the Town to sublease the premises to WestHELP for 10 years, though 2011, in exchange for the county’s guarantee to the Town of a payment of $1.2 million a year.

Under the terms of the deal approved tonight, however, the developer will receive the entire 16 years remaining on the Town’s lease of the premises in exchange for paying  the Town a meager $2.2 million, less the costs of remediation that may be needed due to unsafe conditions that the Town allowed to occur when WestHELP vacated the site nearly four years ago and the Town, thinking the premises would be demolished, purposely allowed the site to deteriorate.

As a result, depending on how extensive the remediation costs will turn out to be, it is not known how much money, if any, the Town will ultimately receive from the deal.

The developer is Marathon Development Group, a Peekskill-based developer and manager of many affordable housing complexes in Westchester County and Greenburgh.

Once the 16 years remaining on the Town’s lease expires in the year 2031, Westchester County will extend the lease by an as yet undetermined term for the sum of $10 a year.

The deal will now go to the county which, once it approves the deal, which it is expected to do, will bring an end to an angry decades-long battle between advocates for affordable housing and those in the Mayfair Knollwood section of Greenburgh which unsuccessfully fought in the courts to keep the shelter from opening, then, after it opened, demanded and received for the Valhalla School District up to $650,000 a year of the Town’s revenue from the Town’s WestHELP sublease, which payments were later found to be unlawful, and then, after terminating the WestHELP sublease, insisted that the 108 efficiency apartments either be torn down for a school for developmentally disabled children, or failing that, just torn down altogether so that no affordable housing could ever exist there again.

The Town was given the chance in 2008 — when the county executive was Andy Spano — to renew the WestHELP lease for a second ten-year period, from 2011 to 2021, but Town Supervisor Paul Feiner refused to do so after the state comptroller ruled in 2007 that the Town could no longer give away up to $650,000 a year in town revenues from the lease to the Valhalla School District, two thirds of which is not even in Greenburgh, but in the Towns of New Castle and Mount Pleasant, respectively.

As a result, the Town lost the opportunity to continue receiving up to $1.2 million a year from 2011 through 2021, and in 2009, when Rob Astorino became  county executive, he announced that the WestHELP lease would not be renewed in 2011 in any event.

Thereafter, the facility sat vacant and was purposely left to deteriorate as Mr. Feiner and other town officials supported an ill-advised plan to have the WestHELP buildings  demolished and replaced by Ferncliff Manor, a Yonkers-based school for developmentally disabled children, which supposedly would have paid the Town up to $900,000 a year for the WestHELP property.

Ferncliff’s proposal was at all times entirely contingent, however, on state aid, which was denied — a fact Town officials would never admit until the state aid was officially denied.

Town officials thereafter scrambled to come up with an alternative plan and two years ago approved a deal with a Greenwich-based developer with no experience with affordable housing whatsoever but who nevertheless promised to pay the Town up to $500,000 a year for 18 years, which Mr. Feiner touted as a $9 million deal.

However, that deal fell apart after the developer refused to pay the costs of remediation of the mold-infested premises that resulted from two years of Town neglect. In addition, there were numerous costs associated with making the premises safe that the developer had apparently also not taken into account.

At the same time, a number of members of the county board of legislators were seeking to place Greenburgh in default of its lease for having failed to maintain the premises as the lease required.

Ironically, the terms of the Marathon deal accepted tonight were similar to the terms Marathon originally offered in December 2012.  At that time, Marathon offered to pay the Town a total of $2.2 million upfront for the balance of the 18 year lease.

The same economic terms became possible more than two years later when the Town and Marathon apparently got officials from the county executive’s office to agree to extend the lease without cost so that Marathon could invest in the structure, obtain low cost 30-year loans to pay for it, and then use the additional time on the lease to amortize its costs.

Another key to the deal was winning the support of county legislator Michael Smith, a Republican from the Mayfair Knollwood neighborhood, who in recent years led the effort against using the WestHELP buildings for affordable housing.  Mr. Smith, who was named president of Berkeley College, and will be leaving the county legislature, agreed to the deal once it was made clear that the housing would be occupied by seniors aged 62 and older — thus ensuring that no children will be living at the site and attending Valhalla schools.

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