The Examiner

Astorino Slammed for Secrecy in Mt. Pleasant Development Plan

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Three Democratic county legislators last week criticized Republican County Executive Rob Astorino for a lack of transparency regarding plans to possibly develop 60 acres of public land adjacent to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), Peter Harckham (D-North Salem) and Catherine Parker (D-Rye) charged that the administration has failed to supply the Board of Legislators with vital information regarding its intentions for the county-owned parcel referred to as North 60.

The three lawmakers said that because of its size, strategic location near the medical center, New York Medical College and Westchester Community College and its development potential, North 60 may be the most important county land use decision officials face.

As a result, they would like to see the county update its master plan for the site to explore the parcel’s full range of possibilities.

“It is our position that there needs to be a public discussion and the public needs to know about the best uses of public property,” Harckham said.

“We have not had a presentation or a specific proposal,” he continued. “We have yet to see a specific plan for the entire campus or a specific plan for the North 60 (property).”

The administration was scheduled to make a presentation before the Board of Legislators last Monday regarding its plans for the site but that meeting was postponed because of bad weather. The presentation has been rescheduled for Feb. 23.

While it will be another few weeks before the presentation is made, the legislators accused Astorino’s office of inaction. A Request for Proposal was released in 2011 and proposals were collected in 2012. But little has been done since then, they said.

“It actually felt very similar to the RFP process for Playland,” Parker said, comparing the situation to the frequent squabbles surrounding the attempts to find and operator and privatize the county-owned amusement park. “There’s been a lack of communication between the administration and the legislature.”

However, Ned McCormack, Astorino’s communications director, said last Friday he was puzzled at the sudden complaints directed toward the county executive regarding North 60. The usual process is for the administration to put together a proposal to present to the Board of Legislators. Lawmakers would then weigh in on the plan, including whether to accept or reject, he said.

He said there were two proposals received by the county but the process has taken longer than expected because development proposals are exceedingly complicated and negotiations are sensitive.

“Once there is a proposal, and there will be one brought to the board, it’s their job to review it,” McCormack said.

Countering part of the legislators’ arguments, McCormack said there is a master plan for the property. Although it is at least 25 years old, it does not need to be updated because it’s meant to provide a general outline of what can be done with the property, he said.

About two years ago, developer John Fareri pitched a plan before the Mount Pleasant Town Board for a medical science village for the 60 acres and about an additional 20 acres owned by Fareri that is contiguous with the county property. Town officials said at the time he was hoping to lease the larger parcel from the county.

The plan, which was last discussed in Mount Pleasant in 2013, called for about 70,000 square feet of retail, a 120-room hotel and conference center and a living science center, which would be a health museum tailored to children.

Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said that Fareri originally appeared before the town board with a proposal for 150 units of rental housing and a shopping center about three years ago, but town officials criticized the proposal. When last seen, Fareri’s revised proposal eliminated the housing, which was praised.

Fulgenzi said he is unaware of where that proposal stands and whether the county executive’s office has received a formal proposal from a developer to lease the county’s 60 acres.

“They are only in the talking stage,” Fulgenzi said.

But the three Democrats agreed that regardless of what the administration puts forth to the Board of Legislators and the public, limiting itself to one option would be a mistake.

Harckham described the county executive’s approach as “a flawed process.”

“It could be a very good proposal but there may be nine other proposals that are good as well,” he said.

Neal Rentz contributed to this article.







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