The Examiner

No. Castle School Claims Deception By Developer in Land Contract

We are part of The Trust Project
A complaint filed this summer on behalf of St. Christopher’s in North Castle alleges the school was deceived by a developer.

A nonprofit organization serving special needs students has charged it was deceived by a New Jersey-based developer who had originally promised to build low-density housing on the property but changed plans to a larger project.

Earlier this summer, the Dobbs Ferry-based St. Christopher’s, Inc., which operates the 35-acre Jennie Clarkson campus off Old Orchard Road in North Castle, filed a complaint in federal district court in White Plains accusing Joseph M. Forgione and his company, JMF Acquisitions LLC, of intentionally misleading the school.

JMF Acquisitions has been in contract with St. Christopher’s since 2015 to buy 22 acres of the parcel. According to the complaint, it had originally agreed to build 35 apartments, including four affordable units. However, last year it formally proposed a high-end 200-unit project with 400 underground parking spaces in North Castle called The Vue that would cater to empty-nesters and millennials overlooking the Kensico Reservoir.

St. Christopher’s argues in the complaint that the developer offered an amendment to the original contract in December 2015, bypassing its attorney. The text of the amended plan omtted the number of units that could be built, thereby changing the proposal before it was presented it to St. Christopher’s CEO Robert Maher to sign.

“There are certain aspects of the way in which JMF and Forgione have dealt with St. Christopher’s that the Court should find especially disturbing,” the complaint stated. “In particular, the Court will learn that Forgione secured the Amendment now claimed to authorize the high density project by doing an end-run around St. Christopher’s lawyers. Thus, the Amendment was drafted by JMF’s lawyer and then submitted directly by Forgione to St. Christopher’s chief executive officer for signature. The amendment did not hint at the intended change to the size of the project.”

Attorney William Scherer, who is representing St. Christopher’s in the litigation, said by revising the one paragraph the developer was able to submit its application to the Town of North Castle and pursue a zoning change from the town board for the project.

St. Christopher’s did not learn of the higher-density project until after JMF Acquisitions made the formal submission to the town the middle of last year, he said.

“The amendment that we say was fraudulently obtained was a changed definition of the term project from the 35 units,” he said.

Scherer said St. Christopher’s is not looking to void or terminate the contract, but wants the court to give the organization direction. The school is also not seeking damages, he said.

The Examiner reached out to Anthony Veneziano, the Armonk-based land use attorney representing the applicant, who said he would refer the request for comment to JMF’s counsel handling the complaint. Attempts to reach the litigation attorney were unsuccessful.

A June 12, 2017, letter from Town Attorney Roland Baroni to Scherer stated that neither Forgione nor his company ever discussed with the town the possibility of a 35-unit project.

“At the time an application was filed, the proposal was for 200 units and has recently been amended by the applicant to 150 units,” Baroni’s letter mentioned. “At no time did Mr. Forgione receive encouragement from Supervisor (Michael) Schiliro to increase the unit density from his original proposal for development.”

Without a zoning change, the 22 acres that JMF Acquisition has sought would permit the construction of up to 11 units.

Public forums relating to the 200-unit project drew the ire of many North White Plains and Harrison residents who have argued that such a large development would cause a prohibitive increase in traffic and degrade the environment and quality of life.

Scherer said the vastly larger proposals would be detrimental to St. Christopher’s mission of helping special needs students.

“The essence of this problem is that St. Christopher’s runs a school, a facility for autistic children,” Scherer said. “They’re on-site, they live here. The noise, disruption, tumult is not conducive to helping autistic children.”

The two parties are scheduled for a court conference on Oct. 9.


We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.