YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Supervisor Ilan Gilbert went on the defensive at the Town Board meeting last week when Councilman Ed Lachterman began questioning a decision by a developer of the Jefferson Valley Mall to withdraw its application before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Washington Prime Group was seeking two variances: a subdivision of 38.76 acres into lots of 30.05 acres, 8.42 acres and 0.29 acres, where minimum lot sizes are 35 acres; and a setback of 5 feet from a street where a minimum setback of 50 feet is required. The Planning Board approved a site plan in November 2017 and the Town Board subsequently approved taking ownership of the part of the road encircling the mall that would provide access to it from Route 6. Plans called for the construction of a retail pad to accommodate an 8,000-square-foot building on an unused portion of the parking lot.
“When did you know the mall pulled out?” Lachterman asked, after noting the matter had recently come up.
“Pulled out?” Gilbert asked, not following.
“Of the pad,” Lachterman clarified.
Lachterman said that during his rounds the previous week, residents had been asking questions about Washington Prime’s decision, which had been reported in the Yorktown News edition of Jan. 17. He also said that regarding the town’s acceptance of the entry road, he had asked town attorney Richard Abbate to find out about its disposition.
“I checked on the county website; those deeds were not recorded,” Abbate reported.
Gilbert said he wasn’t called about the withdrawal of the application, and both he and Lachterman said they were surprised by Washington Prime’s actions.
However, Gilbert said he had spoken to Stephen Harris, a representative of Washington Prime, who told him “it was a matter of market conditions.”
“I said as far as the town was concerned, we had done everything that you had asked for, and the last time the town was to take action was in late May or early June, so I thought they were moving forward,” he said.
“I was told that everyone was backing out of their deals,” Lachterman said. “Orange Theory was supposed to be on the pad. They were pulling out…Why’d they pull out? I think the quote was, ‘Time kills all deals,’ that it went too far along.” He said he had looked up minutes of the zoning board meetings and, referring to Washington Prime, said, “It looks like they were put through the wringer and asked to redo their plans.”
“By who?” Gilbert asked.
“By the zoning board. Because they had to go for a variance. But I think it’s overstepping,” Lachterman said.
“I don’t know what the zoning board did,” Gilbert said. “There was an assumption, or presumption, that when they were before us, they had an approved plan through the Planning Board…The variance they were going to go for, they said and our Planning Board basically said, we have an approved plan. How is the zoning board going to say no?”
“Right, which our legal department should have picked up on and said no,” Lachterman said.
Noting that the parcel is in a zone regulated only by the Town Board, he continued, “I don’t know why they were asked by zoning to go the extra mile.”
“They did not need to go to the zoning board,” Councilman Tom Diana contended.
“They would have to go to the zoning board to obtain the variance,” Abbate said. “They’re the authorizing agency.”
But, Gilbert said, “The zoning board was basically going to be controlled by the Planning Board’s decision that they had granted the site plan.”
“We can’t tell them to give the variance or not,” said Councilwoman Alice Roker, “but they cannot supersede the signed site plan.” And she asked why the principles would not bring their complaints to the supervisor, “who sits in this building every day.”
Lachterman pressed on, claiming Washington Prime had initially been told “by the supervisor’s office that the whole thing was illegal, the ring road and all of that was illegal.”
“We never said it was,” Gilbert denied, to which Lachterman repeated, “quote unquote illegal, from Stew’s mouth,” referring to Gilbert’s assistant, Stewart Glass.
“I think a lot of this is political,” Roker said.
“Alice, this is about $45,000 in tax money we lost,” Lachterman said.
“I agree. I would like for Mr. Harris to come here and talk to us,” Roker said. “I don’t want to hear his issues from your mouth.”
As one began talking over the other, Gilbert hammered his gavel for order, asking, “One at a time, one at a time…,” and Glass, who was seated on the far side of audience, crossed the front of the room to the microphone, catching Lachterman’s eye. Lachterman told him to sit down.
“You said something about me,” Glass began.
“It appears that election season has started,” Gilbert said.
“Lanny, stop,” Lachterman insisted. “I’m concerned about our town.”
Gilbert advised Lachterman,” If you look at the financials of Washington Prime, if you look at the financials of malls in particular, if you look at what’s going on in the market, I think it’s much easier to speculate…it has nothing to do with our zoning board; it has nothing to do with our Town Board, it has more to do with real market conditions.”
“We did everything we could to do the appropriate things to protect this town from liability,” he added.
“They are the ones who make the investment and they decide who is going to invest and why,” Councilman Vishnu Patel said, referring to Washington Prime. “The stock goes down, they aren’t going to put the money in.”
“I think we need to look at the way we’re doing business,” Lachterman said. “I’m curious why it wasn’t picked up legally when they were asked to redo their plans…It should have been caught somewhere, especially when they were asked to redo plans, and it’s really an oversight and overstepping the legal obligations of the zoning board.”
“If I’m a business person and I’m not getting treated fairly, I’m going to the highest office in that town and say I’m not being treated fairly and this is why,” Roker said. “That’s what a real business person does. It just doesn’t pull an application. If they’re interested in coming to an area, they just don’t pull out.”
“But Alice, they haven’t pulled out,” Lachterman rejoined.
“These are big boys; I think they wear big pants,” Gilbert said, bringing the discussion to a close.
“When are we going to start doing that at this table?” Lachterman asked.