False Statement In Amendment To Haverstraw Urban Renewal Plan Is Subject Of Public Corruption Complaint

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BNE Secures Financial Incentives For Letchworth Project; Questions Surround Passage Of Amendment To Haverstraw Urban Renewal Plan

Plans to build a 300-unit luxury housing complex on a portion of Letchworth Village in Haverstraw are sailing along but questions linger over how the developer was chosen.

In September 2022,  a resolution was presented to the Haverstraw Town Board authorizing an amendment to the town’s Urban Renewal Plan (URP) to facilitate the sale of 23 acres to BNE Acquisitions, LLC of Livingston, NJ to construct the development in the town’s new LA-17 zone (Luxury Apartment, 17 units per acre). The resolution passed, and the Town of Haverstraw amended its 2006 Urban Renewal Plan adding BNE as the sole “qualified and eligible sponsor,” which gave the town the authority to enter into a “conditional contract” with BNE to purchase a portion of the long-vacant Letchworth property for redevelopment.

The amendment was necessary as the URP had designated a now-defunct developer that had scored approval to build a pedestrian-based, residential community on the entire Letchworth property.

Urban Renewal Plans are a creature of state law designed to facilitate the sale of substandard, insanitary, blighted, or deteriorated properties to qualified and eligible sponsors under conditions set by state law. The sale through the Urban Renewal Plan does not require or enable a public referendum on the sale, provided the provisions of the Urban Renewal Law are strictly complied with.

The amendment to the Urban Renewal Plan said, “[f]or over 15 years the Town has not been able to identify another developer for all or part of Letchworth Village.”

Urban Renewal Amendment

The problem is that statement is not true.

After receiving approvals for a raft of benefits to help subsidize its planned luxury apartment complex, questions are being raised as to the origin of that statement and how BNE Real Estate came to be the sole “qualified and eligible sponsor” to acquire and develop the property.

A copy of a complaint obtained by RCBJ filed with the Public Corruption Division of the New York State Attorney General alleges at least one other developer had been in frequent meetings with Town Supervisor Howard Phillips and members of his staff. The developer, based in Westchester, has a proven track record. He had made multiple offers to purchase Letchworth Village, proposing to create a pedestrian-based, residential community similar to the earlier proposal from the 2000s that included the entire parcel. The developer has completed or is underway with projects in Dobbs Ferry, Ossining, Cortland, Eastchester, Newtown, Bethel, Fleetwood and Tuckahoe, and has more than 35-years of experience in multi-family housing development and construction, dating back to senior management at the Related Companies.

The same developer offered to bid on the BNE project.

The complaint alleges that Phillips kept that information from his town board and from the public to smooth the quick approvals of his preferred developer, BNE Real Estate, and its 300 units of luxury housing. The complaint alleges that neither the town board nor the public was informed about the option for the pedestrian-friendly village, and was deprived of considering options. There are various penal statutes involving the offering and filing of false statements to government subdivisions when those statements are offered with knowledge of falsity.

Finally, the complaint alleges that the offer made by the Westchester-based developer was more than double that of the one Haverstraw accepted from BNE Real Estate, though the Westchester developer sought to redevelop the entire parcel, as per the original proposal in the Urban Renewal Plan.

The Attorney General’s Office does not discuss or comment on pending complaints.

“It is the town’s position that over the 15 year period no other developer besides BNE presented a plan that met and even exceeded the Town’s vision for development and use of the property who had the experience, expertise and financial backing to construct the project,” said Town Attorney Bill Stein in a written response to RCBJ.

Now the developer says it needs tax breaks and other financial incentives to make its project viable. A public hearing set for Wednesday at 10 am at Haverstraw Town Hall will enable the public to weigh in on a bevy of financial incentives packaged to facilitate the purchase and redevelopment.  The benefit package is being facilitated through the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).