Formation-Shelbourne, the developer engaged in a yearslong legal battle with local civic associations and the Greenville Fire District over plans to build a senior living facility on the former Sprainbrook Nursery site, filed a notice of claim last month alleging that the fire district conspired with Edgemont residents and used tax dollars to block Shelbourne’s project without legal right or justification.
The Aug. 14 claim, which names individual fire district commissioners, states that the fire district acceded to pressure from Edgemont residents to oppose the construction of the senior living facility and acted as an ally in committing common-law conspiracy, abuse of process, malicious prosecution of claims, tortious interference with existing and prospective business relations, intentional, reckless and negligent infliction of harm, negligence and gross negligence, and deprivation of privileges and immunities under the New York State Constitution.
“We’re just trying to move forward with this project,” said Jim Kane, the co-founding partner of Shelbourne Healthcare. “We don’t get involved in legal battles. It takes time and it costs money; this is not in our best interest. But we have to protect our rights and we have a large investment already … in this project.”
Plagued by multiple legal battles since 2017, the project, which set out to build 54 assisted living and 26 memory care apartments in studio, one- and two-bedroom configurations, and has yet to break ground, was opposed by the Greenville Fire District. According to court documents, the fire district argued that the construction of the 75,000-square-foot facility would generate a high rate of emergency medical calls and would take fire district “manpower to the farthest reaches of the district more frequently and for longer durations of time.”
The fire district also contended it may need to hire additional staff, which could cost approximately $700,000 per year for one additional person per shift.
The Town of Greenburgh approved the project in February 2018 after the zoning board of appeals granted a 3,000% variance to the developer regarding the distance of the site to a state or county right of way, which led to separate Article 78 lawsuits, from both local civic groups and the board of commissioners of the Greenville Fire District. Westchester Supreme Court Judge Susan Cacace dismissed both cases in February 2019.
The Greenville Fire District and the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations filed notices of appeal in March 2019. In September 2019, the Greenville Fire District with the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations filed joint motions to consolidate their appeals, as both cases included identical legal challenges. In January 2020, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to consolidate, but decided to hear the fire district and civic group’s appeals on the same date.
Both the fire district and Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations filed appeals Wednesday, Sept. 9.
“We are not and have never been opposed to development generally, nor are we opposed to this type of project,” said Greenville Fire Commissioner Jonathan Faust, who was named in the notice of claim. “Under the law, the town is supposed to act as lead agency for the appropriate impact review and we don’t believe that all the appropriate impacts were considered.”
Faust called Shelbourne’s claims in the notice “completely 100% meritless.”
Bob Bernstein, the former president of the Edgemont Community Council and the lawyer representing the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations, said Shelbourne’s accusation that the civic group was dictating how the fire district should respond to legal matters was “absurd.”
“The ECC is a civic association — we of course talk with the fire district because we are their constituents and it matters to us what they do,” Bernstein said. “We can’t speak for them when it comes to [fire-related] issues or issues of public safety that they have responsibility for.”
Although there was a motion to consolidate appeals, Bernstein said the fire district and civic groups were working separately and that consolidation was only considered to limit costs.
“The fire department is not in the business of litigating and we would prefer to resolve this matter without the need for continued litigation and we have endeavored to do so,” Faust said.
According to the notice of claim, Shelbourne had numerous meetings with fire district commissioners to discuss incorporating improvements to water lines, widening the roadway near the facility, and agreeing to provide a private ambulance service for nonemergency transport to reduce the reliance on the fire district’s ambulance services.
According to Kane, the discussions with the fire district about improvements to the site were not part of a pre-settlement process and were instead part of an agreement after the development’s zoning variance was approved.
In a press release dated Aug. 24 and sent by Thompson & Bender, a Westchester County-based advertising, marketing and public relations firm, the Greenville Fire District had demanded that Formation-Shelbourne commit a six-figure payment annually for 10 years in order to receive services they were entitled to as a property owner and taxpayer.
Faust said he didn’t believe it was proper to comment on settlement discussions and he was surprised that Shelbourne had.
Kane told the Inquirer he believed it was appropriate to mention the discussions in order to indicate that the two sides were attempting to settle.
Bernstein said Shelbourne’s notice of claim was an attempt to intimidate the fire district into not proceeding with an appeal.
“It’s wrong to try to use courts to squelch people from exercising their rights,” said Bernstein.
Kane said that Shelbourne was just trying to move forward with the project and that Bernstein’s allegation was “kind of typical.”
“They’re the ones who filed suit against us,” he said. “We tried to come to an agreement with them … and we did everything we could.”