The Westchester County Health Department has rejected Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner’s request to investigate the proliferation of mold at Westchester’s vacant WestHELP apartment complex.
The denial comes as Department of Public Works Commissioner Jay Pisco is scheduled to appear before the Board of Legislators’ Community Services Committee at 1:30 p.m on Thursday. to report on his department’s inspection of the apartments.
The 108 apartment-complex, owned free and clear by Westchester taxpayers, has lain vacant ever since Greenburgh took control of the complex 23 months under a contract that gave the town the right to rent the apartments to low- and moderate-income tenants through 2031.
Meanwhile, Feiner suggested that the town’s designated developer, Group MRH, might abandon the project if the Town Board seeks major changes, as were suggested in meetings held in August. At the time, the panel discussed combining units to create bigger apartments, which would also solve a potential parking problem on the six-acre site.
Last week, Tax Watch toured WestHELP and discovered widespread mold in one of the units, which an expert said appear to be so extensive that the unit would have to get gutted to remove the spores, which can cause respiratory illness. It is unknown how many of the apartments have extensive mold infestation.
County Health Department spokeswoman Caren Halbfinger told Tax Watch that the Health Department does not conduct mold investigations.
“That’s usually up to municipal building departments,” she said.
I called the Greenburgh Building Department. An employee who answered the phone said the building department did not conduct mold investigations. Building official John Locito did not return the phone message.
Feiner said he expects the town’s designated developer, Group MRH, will remediate the mold problem, once the Town Board approves a long-term lease to run the facility. Westchester County, which owns the housing, must also concur.
“Whoever we rent it to, must do the clean-up,” Feiner said. “I don’t think the problem is as serious a problem as you think.”
Group MRH President Richard Harris will appear before the Town Board on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss his plans. Feiner wants a vote soon on the lease, which has been under development since Harris was named in early May.
But he warned that Harris may abandon the project if the Town Board needs more time to study the issue or makes changes in the number of units that would be rented. Harris didn’t return a phone message left at his Greenwich, CT home on Wednesday.
“He wants the lease approved,” Feiner said.”If not, he’ll walk away. I’m hoping the board will approve it. Harris wants 108 units of affordable housing. If the board wants fewer units, he’s going to walk away. “
Feiner, who soundly defeated Edgemont attorney Bob Bernstein in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, pledged to push the project forward with the same kind of enthusiasm he had for the political campaign.
The town received the keys from the county to WestHELP 23 months ago, but has kept the complex vacant ever since.
“I’m going to be as forceful to get it turned into affordable housing as I was in getting re-elected,” said Feiner, an 11-term incumbent. “We just can’t keep delaying and delaying and delaying.”