Dromore Map photo image

The town of Greenburgh has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a 2016 federal housing discrimination lawsuit from S&R Development Estates. S&R has sought to build multifamily housing on the 2.3-acre property at 1 Dromore Road since 2006.

During a meeting on May 12, town board members voted unanimously on a resolution to authorize the settlement with S&R Development and to accept $2.75 million in coverage from the National Union Fire Insurance Co., which will lessen the settlement’s payout by unincorporated residents to $6.75 million.

The potential settlement was first outlined in bond documentation from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board last month, where the town attorney’s office estimated the settlement would be $9 million, with insurance proceeds covering approximately one-third of the settlement amount.

According to the unanimously adopted resolution, the town has denied and continues to deny any wrongdoing in the suit. Town Attorney Tim Lewis told the Inquirer he could not comment on the settlement.

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, parties to the suit litigated by former Edgemont Community Council President Bob Bernstein, chose to enforce a restrictive covenant to stop S&R from building the housing development and completed an undisclosed settlement with S&R in 2019.

With the town still party to the suit, in September 2020 the court granted and denied in part the town’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing claims for due process, with a jury proposed to decide on S&R’s Fair Housing Act and Equal Protection Clause violation claims.

Parties involved in the lawsuit worked with New York City-based arbitration and mediation group JAMS “over the course of several months” to reach an agreement, according to the resolution.

The lawsuit’s settlement, which has yet to be fully executed, surpasses the $6.5 million 2014 settlement with Fortress Bible Church, a Mount Vernon-based parish that litigated successfully against the town for improperly reviewing and declining its building application. The town is expected to pay off the settlement’s remaining $1.7 million balance by April 2024.

As with the Fortress Bible settlement, paying the multimillion settlement with S&R Development will burden the town’s unincorporated taxpayers.

The payment will be completed in three installments: $2.75 million will be due within 45 days after the agreement is executed with a second installment of $3.75 million due 105 days after and a final installment of $3 million due no later than 165 days after the settlement date.

The settlement, which is expected to be fully executed later this month, also includes S&R Development’s potential sale of the land at 1 Dromore Road to Wilder Balter Partners Inc., a Chappaqua-based real estate development firm.

News of a potential sale of the land broke in December 2020 when Daniel Moretti, a lawyer representing the town in the suit with S&R, wrote to the court advising that S&R told the defendants they expected to enter into a conditional contract to sell the property to an affordable housing developer.

Neither Moretti nor Patrick Strawbridge, an attorney for S&R Development, responded to multiple requests for comment on the settlement.

According to the agreement of purchase and sale obtained by the Inquirer, S&R Development plans to sell the land to Wilder Balter Partners for $4.5 million, with a closing date specified for either Dec. 31, 2022, six months following receipt of an award letter for low-income housing tax credits from New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), or the date when HCR’s financing closes with S&R — whichever is earlier.

As proposed in the site plan approved by the town’s planning board in January 2016, Wilder Balter Partners would construct a four-story 45-unit affordable housing rental development with a 96-space parking lot on the property. The units will be marketed and leased to households earning at or below 40% and up to 80% of Westchester County’s median income and children who reside in the complex will qualify to attend Edgemont schools.

The settlement makes it clear that the town will make “reasonable efforts” to assist S&R, Wilder Balter Partners or another successor of S&R to obtain financing to build affordable housing at the Dromore site. According to the settlement, if the agreement of sale between S&R and Wilder Balter Partners isn’t completed, S&R can develop the property itself in accordance with the site plan approved by the town’s planning board in 2016, sell the title to another entity that would develop the property in line with the approved site plan, provide an opportunity for the town or the Greenburgh Housing Authority to acquire the property at the same price outlined in the agreement of sale, or donate the property to the Greenburgh Nature Center.

If S&R fails to follow the stipulations and the property is developed with anything other than affordable housing, they would be required to pay the town $500,000, 50% of the purchase price of the agreement of sale, or 50% of the profit S&R earns off its development of the property — whichever is higher.

If S&R fails to receive funding through New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal’s 9% or 4% tax credit programs or Westchester County’s New Homes Land Acquisition (NHLA) Programs, S&R will be relieved of its obligations to develop the property itself, sell the property or donate the property to the nature center. S&R wouldn’t be allowed to submit an application for a nonaffordable development without first providing the town or the Greenburgh Housing Authority with an opportunity to acquire the property.

According to Norma Drummond, the commissioner of planning for Westchester County, Wilder Balter Partners applied for the state’s competitive 9% tax credit program but the request was not successful in the first round.

”[The developer] will continue to work with New York State to get funded,” said Drummond. “Wilder Balter [Partners] has done many, many developments, not just in Westchester but also in Putnam and other places. So, they have worked repeatedly with New York State to secure the subsidies that they need to move their developments forward.”

At a county board of legislators joint budget and appropriations and public works and transportation meeting on May 3, Drummond said Wilder Balter Partners asked for the county’s participation in helping to fund its $22.3 million affordable housing project at Dromore through the county’s NHLA program, which assists in acquiring properties so they can be redeveloped to construct affordable housing. She introduced three actions related to Dromore during the joint session, one of which would authorize the county to issue about $3.8 million in bonds to purchase 1 Dromore Road. The county would then convey the property to Wilder Balter Partners for $1 to construct the affordable housing units.

Though the purchase price of the property in the agreement of sale between S&R and Wilder Balter Partners was $4.5 million, the county received an appraisal for the property in January for $3.8 million. According to Leonard Gruenfeld, the county’s program administrator for Housing and Community Development, the $3.8 million was the contract price for the property.

Peter Bassano, an attorney who represents S&R Development in the sale of the property, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

During the joint session, Legislator and Majority Leader MaryJane Shimsky, who represents Westchester County’s 12th legislative district which includes Edgemont, called to delay a vote on the proposal to allow community members to weigh in. Drummond said there was no rush to approve the acts.

During another joint meeting on May 10, Drummond said Wilder Balter Partners was looking to reimburse S&R for some of the expenses the developer incurred while obtaining land use approvals through litigation.

“Some could argue that increased the value of the land, and others would say no, it’s an additional expense because it went up so far above and beyond what the current value of the land is,” said Drummond. “The county’s obligation is only going to be to pay for the value of the land based on the appraisal.”

Shimsky said she supported the project and hadn’t seen any community criticism about it.

That same day, legislators voted unanimously during the Westchester County Board of Legislators meeting to approve an environmental resolution, which determined there were no adverse impacts on the environment for building the affordable housing units at 1 Dromore Road, and approved a plan to issue approximately $3.8 million in bonds to purchase the property. Based on a request from Shimsky, the board of legislators decided to hold over the action item, which would’ve cemented the county’s acquisition of the property.

“There’s a lot of complexity with all of this and there have been issues going on there for years. I just wanted to make sure I understood how all the pieces fit together before we made a final decision,” Shimsky told the Inquirer. “I checked with the commissioner of our planning department to make sure that putting it over for two weeks would not put the project in jeopardy because I did not want to do that, and she said it would be no problem.”

The action item will appear on the county board of legislator’s May 24 agenda.

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