MPACT Collective - Chair Factory - Haverstraw

Chair Factory Redevelopment In Village of Haverstraw Could Fail If Town Of Haverstraw Thwarts PILOT Agreement

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Is Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips Weaponizing PILOT Approvals To Keep Affordable Housing Projects Out Of Village of Haverstraw?

By Tina Traster

On a brisk February day in 2022, Village of Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut spoke with pride and giddy excitement at a press conference announcing the village had tapped a developer to reshape a critical waterfront property, known as the former “Chair Factory” site.

MPact Collective LLC, a Huntington Station, Long Island based developer that specializes in revitalization, envisioned a mixed-use project that included a combination of market rate and affordable housing, as well as retail, commercial and a hotel for the vacant nine-acre Hudson River peninsula. The proposed project was seen as a much-needed and long overdue catalyst for economic revival in the Village – and Kohut hoped the project would be the crown jewel of his mayoral legacy.

But now, the developer, the Mayor, Village Trustees and affordable housing advocates are running into an obstacle: the Town Supervisor of Haverstraw, Howard Phillips, who has said publicly and privately that Haverstraw “has done its fair share of affordable housing and doesn’t need any more,” according to sources.

At issue is Phillips’ ability to hold up or quash an affordable housing project by having the Town of Haverstraw deny the developer a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement. MPact Collective has said it cannot build the $340 million project without a PILOT. Developers need to know the property tax structure for their lenders, public agencies, and tax credit applications to complete their financing applications. This is standard industry practice.

In January, the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) authorized a raft of benefits for the $340 million project, including $1.65 million exemption from mortgage tax recording, an $18.5 million exemption from sales tax, and the approval to participate in a PILOT program. In Rockland County, the developer must negotiate PILOTs with the individual taxing authorities — village, town, school district and county.

“We are working hard with the taxing agencies to help them understand the unique math around PILOTs that is necessary to create affordable and workforce housing,” said Ryan Porter, a principal with MPact Collective. “And we’re looking to show the taxing authorities that we have community support needed for this project.”

To help them do that, MPact Collective is circulating a “Haverstraw Chair Factory Pro Development” petition to raise awareness for the project. The developer says it’s collected nearly 150 signatures, both online and in writing.

In its “why this petition matters” paragraph, the developer writes: “The Village of Haverstraw, NY is at a critical juncture. Over the past 18 months, in collaboration with the village and community, we have accomplished nearly all of the approvals needed to revitalize Haverstraw’s waterfront and downtown.”

The petition goes on to say: “We are working towards finalizing a PILOT agreement. The PILOT is an essential tool to fund and facilitate the project’s affordable housing initiatives, inclusive of housing for our veterans (70 percent of the units are at different levels of affordability). This will enhance the community’s accessibility and inclusivity for retention of youth and stability for our seniors.”

Lobbying for a community to support a particular development is not unusual. But in this case, MPact Collective may have to thread a needle between the village’s deep support and championing for the project and winds of resistance emanating from Phillips, and Haverstraw’s town board.

Phillips machinations come at a time when Rockland County is desperate for affordable housing. The issue was front and center at the county’s annual housing forum in the early spring. Town supervisors and mayors constantly evoke the need for more affordable housing when speaking publicly, but there’s been little to no progress across the county. Recently, Clarkstown Town Supervisor George Hoehmann held a press conference announcing lawsuits brought against property owners housing what he called “illegal immigrants.” Flanked by Congressman Mike Lawler and Rockland County Executive Ed Day, the public officials merely mentioned the complete dearth of affordable housing.

Over the past several years, the Village of Haverstraw, however, appeared to be on a different track – working closely with three prospective developers seeking to build affordable housing. Developers say they found a welcome environment for their concepts and have found a cooperative and collaborative path.

But just last month, a shift in the wind came to light.

RCBJ earlier this month reported that Phillips and his board had orchestrated a plan to get the Knights of Columbus to donate its brick building at 56 West Broad Street rather than follow through with a two-year negotiation to sell the building to St. Katherine Group of Port Chester for $2.4 million. The developer had promised more than 100 affordable units, space in perpetuity for the Knights, and a parking deck for the Village. The developer was also amenable to allocating space for a senior center.

Insiders say Kohut did little to push back after learning the deal had been undermined.

MPact Collective is reading the tea leaves.

To date, the developer has spent “several million” to assemble a team for its envisioned riverfront pedestrian-oriented hub that will include 450 housing units, 70 percent of which will be a combination of affordable and 40-year rent stabilized workforce housing. The original plan also included 14,000-square-feet of retail that connects with Allison Avenue, green spaces lacing the perimeter of the site to make the Hudson River accessible for kayaking and boating and built- in protection for climate change flooding. The proposed 150-room hotel is slated for the second phase.

In 2022, the Village won a $10 million downtown revitalization grant (DRI) from New York State. Portions of the grant are being used for infrastructure on the site.

MPact Collective will not purchase the property until the PILOT, and other state and private funding is in place. The developer plans to pay nearly $8 million for the nine-acre site, as well as three to four private parcels it is in the process of acquiring.

For now, the developers, staring down deadlines, have their work cut out for them.

“We cannot move forward without the PILOT,” said Porter. “Projects of this scale, any multi-family project of scale, need a PILOT.”

PILOTs help jumpstart many large projects. However, they require approvals from towns and school districts, the two taxing agencies that need to get on board. The developer, which has been doing community outreach and holding monthly orientation meetings on the project, said he believes the project has the support of the School District.

Town of Haverstraw Is Holding Out On Giving Blessing To Pilot; It May Be Town’s Tactic To Undermine Affordable Housing In Village of Haverstraw

One source who asked not to be identified said, “The developer and the Village have been meeting with the town because of the PILOT program. They need the PILOT program to move forward, but the town is holding out.”

The source also said he was present when Phillips personally asked the Village of Haverstraw Attorney Jay Hood, who is also a county legislator and a member of the board of Rockland Green, which Phillips chairs, to get the petitioners to remove the petition. The developer has not removed the petition, and there is no legal means for Phillips to achieve that goal or silence that effort.

An email sent to Haverstraw’s attorney Bill Stein went unanswered.

In the petition, the plea ends with “the clock is ticking. We must have this petition submitted in July.”

How things play out with the Chair Factory remain to be seen but a lost opportunity to redevelop the fallow site would be devastating for Kohut and the Village, which have been propelling the project forward for more than two years. Back in February 2022, Kohut said: “We’ve have been planning, hoping, and wishing for development on this site since 2007. “This is a long time coming.”

In March, Town of Haverstraw sent a letter to the Village board with the subject line “Proposed Developments at 30 West Street and the Factory Site.” 30 West Street is $45 million project slated for 79 affordable housing units. The letter was aimed at slowing down the Village’s attempts to adopt the Residential Inclusionary Zone for Affordable Housing floating zone district, which would give the Village the opportunity to rezone a parcel for affordable housing even if that use didn’t meet the zoning at a particular location.

The four-page letter begins with its concerns regarding “the extensive high-density development being contemplated in the Village.” Insiders say “high-density” is code for the then-pending three projects that focus on or include affordable housing.

The letter says the town is concerned with the proposed implementation of the Residential Inclusionary Zone for Affordable Housing floating zone district, which would lend affordable housing projects more flexibility in site selection.

The letter goes on to say the town is concerned with “adverse environmental impacts from the proposed zoning that could result in numerous high-density residential developments. The letter claims the town had only recently learned about 30 West Street and the former Chair Factory site, which would both need to be rezoned to the RIZ district. Sources say it’s incredulous that Haverstraw officials only just got whiff of the Chair Factory. RCBJ has been reporting on the Chair Factory project for 2.5 years.

“As an initial matter, the town should have been identified in the SEQRA reviews for both projects,” the letter said, adding the “town provides numerous essential services. Among its lists of concerns are parking and traffic, sewer use, emergency services, schools, recreational facilities and “cumulative impacts.”

The letter points out the recent addition of the luxury units added to Harbors at Haverstraw, which it says: “half of which remain vacant.” The letter also points to the potential “future development of the Knights of Columbus property.” Still, the town of Haverstraw has signed off on BNE’s 300-plus unit luxury development in Letchworth Village and approved a PILOT for the Oak Tree Bungalow site.

The developers say they’ve addressed the concerns raised in the letter, and that the zoning has been amended by the Village so the project can proceed.

“We need support from the taxing authorities to complete our applications on the deadlines and stay on track for a closing and groundbreaking next year,” Porter said. The developer is facing a July deadline for the low-income household grant application and an October 2024 deadline for a tax credit application, both to New York State.

While the developer remains optimistic and says the project has been garnering community support, forward motion may boil down to Phillips and any attempt to hold the project hostage by withholding support for the PILOT.

When Phillips scuttled the Knights’ sale to an affordable housing developer, Kohut told several sources there was nothing he could do.

Whether the Mayor will find his hands tied again – and this time on a project that is meant to transform the village and define his mayorship – remains to be seen.

Kohut did not return an email seeking comment.