By Robert Mishkin
There have been many misrepresentations made in the past two months regarding the history of the proposed senior housing project at 270 Kisco Ave. in Mount Kisco and the village board’s delay in signing the contract to sell the property.
The board is now deciding between abiding by a federal fair housing settlement that provides for seniors for disabilities to live in Mount Kisco or not developing the property.
Below is my attempt to set the record straight.
This property was proposed for development by the village board in an RFP issued on March 22, 2005. The area borders the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Mount Kisco BMW dealership.
In July 2003, a federal fair housing complaint was filed against the village, its planning board and zoning board of appeals.
In the complaint’s preliminary statement, the plaintiff, Town and Country Adult Living, Inc., has for many years operated an assisted living residence for 44 seniors with disabilities at 53 Mountain Ave. in Mount Kisco.
However, the neighbors of the assisted living residence, which is located in Mount Kisco’s “Captain Merritt Hill” district, home to the wealthiest and most politically connected village residents, do not want more seniors with disabilities in their neighborhood and have successfully influenced officials to prevent those residents from moving into the neighborhood. Moreover, Mount Kisco’s zoning code and Comprehensive Plan effectively exclude assisted living residences.
The village proposed to settle the federal fair housing lawsuit and a Stipulation of Settlement was signed. The settlement provided for the 18-acre lower portion of land described in the village RFP to be developed and sold to Town and Country for $3.5 million. Town and Country’s 4.03-acre property on Mountain Avenue, would be given to the village.
Specifically written in the Stipulation of Settlement, co-written by Village Attorney Whitney Singleton and approved by the village board, the closing for 270 Kisco Ave. could not be delayed waiting for DEP approvals.
In 2012, Fortus-Hearth was brought in to develop 270 Kisco Ave. with the consent of the village. A new amendment to the ground lease was co-written by the village attorney and was approved by the village board.
The amendment to the lease signed by Hearth and the village provided:
- Hearth to abide by the terms in the ground lease including paying taxes on 270 Kisco Ave.
- Hearth would close on the property after site plan only. Closing could not be delayed for DEP approvals.
- Town and Country or its nominee shall have the right to repurchase the project from Hearth and close with the village.
- Hearth estimates after discussions with the village staff and village attorney that closing will take place no later than June 2013.
- The village acknowledges receipt of a $1.5 million deposit paid by Town and Country, leaving a balance of $2 million to purchase 270 Kisco Ave.
- Villages confirms that the real estate taxes of $328,221.95 have been paid in full by Town and Country.
Between October 2012 and June 2013, Hearth appeared before the planning board, having redesigned the community, reducing its size from about 290,000 square feet to 141,000 square feet.
The 20,000-square-foot 44-unit building that housed seniors with disabilities and provided housing, personal care and amenities on Mountain Avenue was demolished, as agreed to in the Stipulation of Settlement.
“You guys have done a fantastic job,” then-Planning Board Chairman Joseph Cosentino told Hearth representatives at the May 29, 2013, planning board meeting.
Between June 2013 and September 2015, Hearth requests extensions and the village agrees to extend the ground lease, which delays closing on the Kisco Avenue property. Town and Country objected to the extensions to the village attorney.
In September 2015, Singleton declared the ground lease has expired without giving notice and the opportunity for Town and Country to close on 270 Kisco Ave.
At the request of the village, Town and Country introduces HFZ Capital Group. Adam Feldman of HFZ negotiates with Mayor Michael Cindrich, Deputy Mayor Anthony Markus and Trustee Jean Farber to move forward with the purchase of 270 Kisco Ave.
At the March 13, 2017, village board meeting, the board unanimously approved the property’s sale to HFZ Capital Group.
Singleton now advises the board that the village had no obligation to sell 270 Kisco Ave. to anyone and there is no potential litigation or liability to the village. Trustee Karen Schleimer stated at the Apr. 17, 2017, meeting, “On the advice of (village) counsel that threat of litigation and the downside from the old deal is past.”
Despite the village signing a federal court Stipulation of Settlement to sell the property and intentionally delaying signing site plan approvals and the closing, Trustee Peter Grunthal now believes the correct place for seniors with disabilities is on Radio Circle on the site of a former New York City sewage treatment plant. There have been no environmental reviews for the site and the property is commercially zoned.
This same location on Radio Circle was proposed in 2012 for a children’s sports training facility.
In the minutes of the Nov. 16, 2015, meeting, the site that Grunthal believes would be a good site for seniors with disabilities to live, Schleimer stated that the property being in the middle of a corporate park did not appeal to her.
By not moving forward to sell 270 Kisco Ave., the village has once again effectively excluded and denied senior citizens with disabilities their right and the equal opportunity to live in Mount Kisco.
Now, after spending almost $20 million to obtain approvals for 270 Kisco Ave. and working for 11 years after the village agreed and signed the federal Stipulation of Settlement, some village board members, based upon the advice of Singleton, think it is legally acceptable to change their minds and again deny these seniors their right to live in Mount Kisco, all in the hope of scoring political points, winning elections and keeping their jobs.
Happily, when politicians lose the moral and ethical clarity in their decision making, we have the courts to correct their mistakes.
Robert Mishkin is a partner with HFZ Capital Group.