YORKTOWN, N.Y. - At last week’s town board meeting, two resolutions concerning the future of the long-debated Depot Square project angered Councilman Vishnu Patel, the board’s lone Democrat, who targeted town board Republicans in a heated exchange.
At one point in the dust up, Supervisor Michael Grace told Patel that if he did not stop speaking over his fellow councilmembers, that he would institute new rules about speaking at board meetings.
“Go ahead and do it,” Patel told Grace. “Make my day.”
The town’s plan calls for the construction of new highway and parks offices on Greenwood Street. The highway garage, located on the corner of Underhill Avenue and Front Street, would then be demolished and the town-owned property would be sold to a private developer. Conceptual plans for the property indicates it will have a three-story mixed-use building with other amenities, such as a gazebo and plaza seating.
Sparks began to fly when Patel said he was voting against two resolutions authorizing Grace to spend $36,450 on outside engineering services for the Underhill Avenue/Front Street property. The resolutions, dealing mostly with stormwater runoff, were approved 4 to 1.
“This is really, to me, it’s a fake project,” Patel said. “I want the town to keep that land, because you will not be able to purchase that land back ever again.”
Patel accused his fellow councilmembers of spending money to clean up the property, which would then be given to a “friend” for free.
“My vote is N-O. No,” Patel said. “One, two, three times.”
Grace asked Patel if he could refrain from talking over fellow councilmembers, and Patel replied that he would not.
“No,” Patel said. “I learned from Trump. He talks over [people] worse than anybody else. That’s another problem I have. You can do whatever you want and other people cannot.”
Councilman Ed Lachterman asked Patel if he could keep the conversation on topic. He then told Patel he was “being rude.”
“Why are you taking over me?” said Patel, who is in his eighth year as a councilman. “I have been sitting longer than you. I have experience.”
Lachterman, elected in 2015, responded, “But I’m still a councilman, Vishnu.”
Patel, a retired IBM scientist, said: “Oh yeah? You’re a councilman? You have your vote, I understand. You have 4 to 1, but let me tell you: $10 billion IBM trusted in me, OK? You want me to show you my award? Twice. So don’t tell me I have no clue how the budget works.”
Deputy Supervisor Gregory Bernard said he was upset by the accusation that the town board would give the highway garage property to a friend.
“Every time this discussion comes up there’s an innuendo by Councilman Patel…” Bernard started before Patel cut him off.
“Not innuendo; the facts and the science,” Patel said. “You know, I can pay my own taxes, I can manage my checkbook, and $10 billion project award (referring again to IBM). I have worldwide recognition. Want me to show you? Did you pay your taxes? I’m asking everybody else. Give me a break.”
Grace said that there is “protocol” on the board that Patel needs to follow. Patel responded, “give me a break,” and accused Bernard of saying “F (expletive) Y-O-U” while meeting in a closed session.
“If I could finish my statement, it would be that every time this discussion comes up there’s an innuendo by Councilman Patel that we are giving away land to a friend,” Bernard said. “That is absolutely inappropriate for a councilperson to say about anyone else on this board that we are giving away land to a friend. It will be sold to a developer, it will be put out to bid, it will be public knowledge, there’s nothing behind the scenes here.”
Lachterman agreed with Bernard and said the property will be competitively bid; not given to a friend.
“I do not understand how a sitting councilman for seven years does not understand this,” Lachterman said of the process.
Lachterman said Patel’s comments were “totally uncalled for” and to insinuate that board members are stealing, lying and giving away land is insulting to the board and the town.
“It is the perception of the people; not me,” Patel said. “I did not create it.”
Patel said he has 5,000 signatures from residents who do not want Depot Square to be built. He has not submitted the signatures to the town clerk’s office, he said.
Resident Tony Grasso, a former town councilman, was critical of the board and Grace for the circus-like atmosphere, saying the supervisor must keep order at board meetings. He asked the board members to be respectful of each other and “act like gentlemen; not children.”
“When I see people, educated people, come to meetings like this and act like children, I cannot accept that,” Grasso said. “And you, Michael, have a big responsibility to run a meeting properly. If your board does not respect you, then something has to be done about that. Something has to be done about that. Either learn the rules, or get out. It’s that simple.”