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FEINER’S 1100-WORD EMAIL PURPORTING TO ‘CLARIFY’ ACTIONS ON WESTHELP RAISES MORE QUESTIONS THAN IT ANSWERS

Town Supervisor Paul Feiner late Saturday night issued an unusual 1100-word press release purporting to “clarify” actions taken the previous day by the Town Board when, without prior public notice, it authorized Mr. Feiner to execute  a long-term management agreement with a Peekskill-based affordable housing developer to manage the remaining 15 years of the Town’s lease with Westchester County of the former WestHELP housing complex.

Under the terms of the agreement, the text of which has not been made public —  and skeptics believe does not even exist — the 108 mold-infested efficiency apartments at West HELP would be converted at no cost to the Town into 54 rental apartments for use by low or moderate income tenants, including families with children.

According to Mr. Feiner, the costs of remediation and renovation would be undertaken entirely by Peekskill-based Marathon Development Group, which would then manage the property with no income to the Town.

However, Mr. Feiner did not know how much Marathan planned to spend to remediate and renovate the units, which Mr. Feiner left to rot in September 2011, when WestHELP’s lease ended and the homeless unwed mothers and their pre-kindergarten children who lived there were forced to leave.

The fact that Mr. Feiner did not know how much money Marathan was proposing to spend – coupled with the absence of any announcement of any deal with Greenburgh by Marathon itself – has many thinking that there is no such deal and that what Mr. Feiner is really trying to do is threaten Westchester County that unless it agrees to  much longer term deal in which the Town receives some money , the county allows Marathon to remain in charge of the property for at least another 15 years after the Town gives the property back 15 years from now in the year 2031, and most important, that the housing is used solely for low income seniors, aged 62 or older, the Town will instead let the property be used by low income families whose children will then attend Valhalla schools.

The problem with Mr. Feiner’s threat is that unless the Town puts the terms of its deal with Marathon on the table by disclosing both the actual agreement that the Town Board authorized him to sign as well as the cost of Marathon’s plans to remediate and renovate the units, Westchester County officials may conclude that Mr. Feiner is bluffing, that no such agreement or plans exist, and that Mr. Feiner’s press releases are just another one of his efforts at self-promotion.

Mark Soja, a principal owner of Marathon, has reportedly been negotiating with the county on the terms of the long-term plan by which Marathon would renovate and manage the apartments at WestHELP for the next 30 years.

Those familiar with the negotiations between Mr. Soja and the county, which are taking place with officials from the county executive’s office, do not believe Mr. Soja would simultaneously be proposing an alternative plan with Greenburgh to implement if the deal with the county falls through.

On the other hand, a separate deal with the Town might be plausible – and the threat therefore be perceived as more real — if the terms of the deal were actually put on the table so that people could see how much Marathon was planning to spend and then amortize its costs over the next 15 years.

In the meantime, Mr. Feiner’s 1100-word press release seems more in the nature of a self-serving defense of his actions. For the public’s benefit, ECC president Bob Bernstein has prepared an annotated markup of the press release (click here).

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