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Vesting Debate Goes On

The final public hearing on the amendment drew a large crowd and differing opinions

The issue of whether to pass an amendment to allow the re-developer of the waterfront site vesting rights for a portion of the property was to have been resolved last week, but Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi made a motion to table the vote pending further discussion. The motion passed unanimously; Councilman Tony Jimenez was the only member absent from the meeting.

A number of residents expressed concerns over granting vested rights to the developer, though a fair amount of support for the redeveloper was also expressed at the meeting.

Lindsay Anderson, a Glen Cove resident who is also a member of the CDA, said he was “taken aback” by the debate that has developed over the proposed amendment during the course of the recent public hearings.

“It basically allows the redeveloper to tell its financial backers that it has a relationship with the city,” Anderson said, noting that it gives them some assurance that the rules won’t change midway through the project, and that the project will carry forward with future administrations. “I think people should keep in mind the IDA, CDA and planning board members are made up of your neighbors, doing the best they can for their city,” he added.

One resident said she did not feel the amendment was in the best interest of the people and said, “Things have to be done in a timely fashion. What guarantee do we have that they won’t flip it?”

Resident Pasquale Cervasio said he did not feel the redeveloper needed additional protection. Suozzi explained that a multi-year, multi-phase project of this magnitude requires additional assurances than the common law. Another resident said he felt that the development itself would be a burden on taxpayers, and others residents expressed a similar concern regarding the scope of the project and the fear of the city being left with debt.

Paul Meli, chair of the Glen Cove Republican Committee, read segments of a 12-page long article written by Michael Zarin, council to the city. The article, “Vested Rights and Public-Private Redevelopment Projects” from the Oct. 2009 issue of New York Zoning Law and Practice Report, examines the vested rights doctrine of NYS and the potential for municipalities to adopt local zoning provisions in phased redevelopment projects.

“Private contracts between a redeveloper and a municipality establishing vested rights arguably are unlawful in New York State,” Meli quoted, continuing “...a municipality would appear to unlawfully bargain away its police power if it were to promise contractually not to change the zoning regulations applicable to a certain property absent express legislative authorization.”

Attorney Brad Schwartz of Zarin and Steinmetz explained that while it is illegal to enter into a contract, it is not illegal to adopt an amendment, which is what the city is proposing to do.

Meli also spoke to the members of city council, saying, “Each one of you has had the right to determine zoning…I cannot understand why you would deny that right to future administrations.”

Meli later told the Record Pilot, “This is obviously an attempt to get around the simple and basic legal principal that a city council cannot bargain away its right, and the right of future council members, to exercise its authority to determine the use to which property may be put within our city.”

Some did voice support for the amendment. Drew Lawrence, a member of the CDA, said, “The developer needs assurance that the zoning will not change.”

“I think we are lucky to have a developer willing to invest nearly $1 billion in Glen Cove,” said Gabor Karsai, a resident and realtor in Glen Cove. “Our neighborhood deserves this development, and I for one would like to see it done, faster rather than slower.”

“There are many residents who want to see the development happen...pass the amendment. We want to see the waterfront a go,“ said one woman.

Suozzi explained, as he has at past meetings, that the vesting rights amendment is just a small piece of a complex project. He noted that the government is a slow process, and that a project of this magnitude takes time.

“This is a business decision,” he said. “The idea is to have a clean, productive asset again.”

“I feel that we are giving something extra that doesn’t need to be,” said Councilman Reggie Spinello.

“We need financial data to drive our decisions,” said Councilman Tony Gallo, Jr. “We need to ask, are their unintended consequences?”

Finally, Scott Rechler of RXR Glen Isle spoke, prefacing with his comments by stating that he lives in Glen Head but considers Glen Cove his home city since he spent a lot of time here while growing up, and continues to frequent many businesses.

He said that the project itself is meant to revitalize the waterfront and reenergize the city. “We have made a tremendous amount of strides...we will be in for $50 million up front,“ he said, stating that the purpose is to make it a destination first, so a lot of money spent by the company is on the revitalization of the waterfront, cleaning it up and making it presentable before even starting to build the units.

“It’s really about risk...we are committing to build, and we plan to do that...we’re asking that the rules of the game don’t change halfway through, so we can move forward. This is five years in the making, and it’s a reasonable thing to ask for.”