At Tuesday’s candidate’s debate between Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner and Edgemont attorney Bob Bernstein, Feiner told the standing-room audience in Hastings-on-Hudson that Tax Watch should be granted access to the WestHELP apartment complex that the town controls before Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Town Attorney Tim Lewis had cancelled a scheduled tour on Aug. 22, saying it would not be allowed because providing the public with images of the apartment interiors could politicize the complex in a way that would benefit Bernstein.
The public would not see the interior until after the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, Lewis said.
I was a panelist at the debate, and in one of my questions, asked Feiner what it was the town didn’t want the voting public to see at WestHELP.
Feiner responded that the apartments would be opened to Tax Watch on Wednesday.
But Lewis, who was also in the audience, told me after the debate that he needed to check with other members of the five-member Town Board to determine if he would provide a glimpse inside the apartments, which served as transitional housing for homeless mothers and their children for 20 years, before Westchester County terminated that program in 2011.
Residents of the nearby Mayfair-Knollwood neighborhood fiercely fought construction of the complex in the late 1980s. The deal struck by then-housing advocate Andrew Cuomo, Greenburgh Supervisor Tony Veteran, and Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke allowed the housing to go up and serve the homeless for a decade, with the town getting to rent the apartments for the subsequent 30 years.
The homeless program won a second 10-year contract in 20o1, but only after the county agreed to pay Greenburgh $1.2 million a year for the privilege. From those funds, Greenburgh gave the Valhalla school district $650,000 a year in a deal later found to be illegal by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, and later in state Supreme Court. Valhalla had sued the town for the funds after Hevesi’s report shut down the program.
But Bernstein and Dobbs Ferry attorney Herb Rosenberg intervened on behalf of the town to stop the payment of what Feiner termed a “social dividend” to the neighborhood for allowing the homeless to live in the complex, on six acres at Westchester Community College, through the woods from Mayfair Knollwood. They won a settlement of $1.1 million from Valhalla, which is being repaid to the town over several years.
Since taking control of the 108 county-owned apartments 23 months ago, the town has kept them vacant, and has budgeted no money for two years to maintain the complex. County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, wants the county to hold Greenburgh in default of its contract, but has found little interest from the administration of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
For more than a year, Greenburgh promoted a plan, supported by Astorino and leaders of the Mayfair Knollwood neighborhood, to demolish the affordable units so that a school for the developmentally disabled could be built there.