That on again off again sale of the former Frank’s Nursery property on Dobbs Ferry Road is back on again – only this time, instead of the Town getting “millions” for the property, the sale could end up costing town taxpayers money.
Ever since the Town acquired the environmentally contaminated property in early 2011 in a tax foreclosure sale, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner has been assuring taxpayers that the sale of the property would net millions of dollars for the Town.
Now, nearly five years later, after having a professional real estate auctioneer try to market the property for nearly two years, town officials will ink a deal this week to sell the property for $3,520,000, but with a catch: the Town is on the hook for up to $2 million of the purchase price to get the site cleaned up.
If it costs more than $2 million to clean up the site, either side can walk away from the deal. While the state has applied for state funding to help pay for the cleanup, there is no guarantee that any funding will be provided.
But even if the clean up costs the Town $2 million, the Town still won’t get any net revenue because the remaining $1.52 million will not cover the cost of back taxes on the property, which is the reason the property was foreclosed in the first place.
There is no net revenue for the Frank’s deal reflected in Mr. Feiner’s proposed budget for 2016.
The long sad saga of Mr. Feiner’s misguided efforts to bill the acquisition of Frank’s in early 2011 as a “win-win” for town taxpayers began in early 2011 when the Town acquired the property and then sought to lease it for 15 years to Game On, a local startup that wanted to erect a bubble on the site and use it as an indoor recreational facility.
Mr. Feiner said his deal with Game On would have given the Town $5 million in rent over that 15-year period, after which Mr. Feiner said the property could be used by the Town for a badly needed new courthouse and police headquarters to replace the worn out facilities on Tarrytown Road.
But the Game On deal, which would have required a zoning change from residential to commercial, upset residents who live along the Dobbs Ferry Road corridor who brought suit against the Town, saying that Westchester County tax law requires that any property foreclosed by municipalities for unpaid taxes must immediately be sold – not leased – so that the proceeds can be used to cover the outstanding taxes on the property.
A competing sports facility in Ardsley joined residents in opposing Mr. Feiner’s deal with Game On and funded the lawsuit.
Thumbing his nose at the law and the lawsuit, Mr. Feiner insisted that the lease be put before Greenburgh voters in a November 2012 referendum, which resulted in lawn signs sprouting throughout the Town urging voters to vote “yes” for “$5 million for Greenburgh.”
The referendum passed by a wide margin – except in Edgemont – where the Edgemont Community Council notified residents there that the Town’s environmental consultants had just concluded that the site was contaminated by cancer-causing carcinogens which, if not cleaned up and used by Game On for athletic playing fields, could cost the Town millions of dollars in potential liability.
Town officials knew about the bad environmental report, but said they were too distracted by Hurricane Sandy to bring the matter to the attention of area residents.
A month after the referendum to lease the property was approved, the Town quietly obtained a low-ball appraisal of the property in an effort to sell it instead to Game On in early January 2013 for $1.7 million.
That drew objections from House of Sports, the Ardsley competitor that had funded the legal challenge, which promptly offered $3.5 million in cash. Mr. Feiner, however, refused to accept the higher offer, claiming at the time it wasn’t real and had strings attached, although the strings were never disclosed.
Undaunted, that spring, Mr. Feiner announced that he had town board approval to enter into a new sale of the property to Game On – for $3 million, but town board support fell apart a few days later when it was revealed that Game On was only paying $1.7 million, with the $1.3 million balance to be paid out over a ten year period, which period would not start until after all approvals to build the controversial eight-story sports bubble had been approved.
In the meantime, town officials secretly brought suit in Westchester state supreme court to clear title to the property after lawyers for Game On notified the Town that it couldn’t sell the property anyway because the Town had failed to give proper notice in the tax foreclosure proceeding. The Town’s suit was against a bank that held an unpaid mortgage on the property.
With no sale in sight and the environmentally contaminated property having become an eyesore as well as an embarrassment, town officials quickly erected a sign in front of the property saying that by order of the Town Board the property would be auctioned for sale in the fall of 2013.
But no auction ever took place.
Instead, after publicly interviewing several real estate brokers and auctioneers, the Town retained Keen Realty’s Harold Bordwin, a former Edgemont resident, to take responsibility for getting the property sold. Mr. Bordwin, however, warned town officials that they would have to complete a Phase II environmental assessment of the property – and determine the cost of cleanup – because without doing so, all potential buyers would substantially discount their bids.
Mr. Bordwin’s prediction proved correct, and attempts by Keen to auction the property were postponed in 2014 and 2015 and finally discontinued.
Instead, Mr. Bordwin continued to work with potential bidders who had expressed interest in the property and eventually negotiated the deal now on the table in which the Town itself assumes the cost of cleanup.
Under the terms of the deal, the money for the purchase will be held in escrow and used by the Town to clean up the site.
What is not certain is whether the Town, which enrolled in the state Brownfields program, which provides financial assistance to municipalities that acquire environmentally contaminated sites in tax foreclosure sales, will get any state funding to help pay for the cleanup.