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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Did Westhab Have an Inside Track?

by Kathy Savolt -

 

The Mamaroneck Observer has obtained copies of emails between Village officials and Westhab principals Richard Nightingale and Andrew Germansky that strongly suggest Westhab has been in conversations with the Village regarding the potential project at the Hunter Tier lot for more than a year.

 

This was happening as the Village was preparing to change zoning to allow affordable housing at a higher density than market rate housing in a commercial zone which would be followed by a process to select a developer for a project at the Village-owned Hunter Tier Parking Lot.  The Village planned to use the Request for Proposals (RFP) process to solicit developers. 

 

Conversations were ongoing throughout the time the Village was preparing to release an RFP.

 

It is unusual for any entity before or during the RFP process to be in discussions with a potential responder other than to gauge interest in responding.  This is for two reasons, the first being the purpose of the process is to receive competitive prices.  The second is to avoid potential legal actions from other proposers who are not privy to the same information.

 

It’s said that hindsight is 20/20 and that is certainly true when there is email documentation.  Let’s go back to the early stages of the Hunter Tier Lot project, before the zoning was changed, before the Ethics Board advised Trustee Rawlings to recuse himself because of an appearance of a conflict of interest, and more importantly, before most people were paying attention.

 

Let’s also remember that during most of this time, Jerry Barberio, then Village Manager, was working a second job in New Jersey, leaving Deputy Manager, Dan Sarnoff, handling Village business presumably under the direction of Barberio.  See article HERE.

 

Between the time the zoning change process began (January 2023) and the release of the RFP (August 2023), the Mamaroneck Observer counted ten questionable email interactions between Village staff and Westhab.  But there was indication that the relationship started well before then.

 

2022? – early 2023

A February 3rd  email shows part of what appears to be an ongoing conversation between former Mayor Tom Murphy and Nightingale regarding efforts to advance their YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) efforts.  See email HERE

 

January 2023

The Board of Trustees (BOT) officially began public discussions to change the zoning in the C-2 district at their January 23rd work session.  This zoning change flung open the doors to affordable housing apartment buildings of up to six stories that any developer could use for their proposed projects at the Hunter Tier Parking Lot.

 

March 2023

The draft zoning change was then introduced at a regular BOT meeting on March 13th and a Public Hearing was scheduled for March 27th.  That morning, former Village Manager Jerry Barberio emailed Germansky that the item was on the agenda.  At 10:19 that night, Barberio emailed Germansky again informing him that the public hearing had been scheduled to which Germansky replied at 11:37 pm telling Barberio that he’ll review. 

 

The very next day, March 14, Germansky emailed Barberio at 9:38 am asking for “a few minutes” later that day.  Barberio replied and included Murphy, Deputy Village Manager Dan Sarnoff, and Trustee Manny Rawlings.  No other members of the BOT were included. 

 

It must be noted that a month earlier, on February 17th, a Notice of Petition listing Rawlings as an occupant was filed in the Town of Mamaroneck Court for non-payment of rent in a housing unit owned by the Washingtonville Housing Alliance, a strategic partner of Westhab.  See article HERE.

 

The meeting took place at 5 pm that evening via Zoom with Barberio, Sarnoff, Rawlings and Germansky indicating they would attend.  Murphy indicated he would be late due to a meeting at Westchester Joint Water Works.  See all emails HERE.

 

The Public Hearing was indeed opened on March 27th and then adjourned until April 10th.  Two days after the hearing was opened, on March 29th, Germansky emailed Barberio asking “any outcome?”  Barberio replied that the final BOT vote will be on April 10th.  See emails on chain below.

 

April 2023

On April 10th, the Public Hearing is reopened and once again adjourned to the following meeting on April 24th.  On April 11th, Germansky emailed for another update and when Barberio replied that the April 24th meeting will be the final vote, Germansky asked if there are any issues to which Barberio replied the issue was process.  See emails beginning with March 29 HERE.

 

The BOT did indeed approve the zoning change at the April 24th meeting.  The next day, Barberio emailed Germansky asking to schedule a meeting that week, including Sarnoff and Rawlings.  The meeting is ultimately scheduled for May 1st at 9 am via Zoom.  All invitees apparently attended.  At 9:43 am, Sarnoff sent a November 2021 memo prepared by AKRF (planning consultants for the Village) to Germansky referencing its mention at the meeting.  This memo (see HERE) explains possible zoning changes and includes a sample Request for Proposals (RFP) from Stamford CT to be used as a guide.  See emails HERE.

 

At the same time, Greg Cutler, now former Director of Planning was drafting an RFP to be sent to potential developers, including Westhab.  It is not clear if Cutler participated in any discussions with Westhab during this period; he is copied on just a few emails.  Cutler had worked for the Village previously and returned - possibly to work on the project.  In the past, he had spoken excitedly about affordable housing, a passion project for him.  Cutler left Village employment after approximately six months of employment.  We attempted to contact Cutler regarding this article, but he was unavailable.

 

June 2023

A draft RFP was released on June 27th for discussion by the BOT at their July 10th work session.

 

July 2023

The BOT did discuss the RFP at the July 10th work session.  The next morning, July 11th, Germansky emailed Barberio and Cutler asking for time because he had “a few things to catch up on.”  Barberio replies suggesting July 14th.  See email HERE.

 

Meanwhile, back at the Town Court, on July 15th,  a default judgment for eviction was entered in favor of the Washingtonville Housing Alliance.  The warrant of eviction was postponed until July 31.  Rawlings did not appear in court, but a tenant stated he did not live there.  Note: Rawlings signed a sworn statement on March 28, 2022 stating that he did live there.  A Statement of rental payments from “The Mark” (his current landlord) showed Rawlings’ move-in date was December 31, 2022.

 

August 2023

On August 1st, Germansky emailed Sarnoff and Cutler asking to speak with either of them on August 2nd.  Sarnoff replied and set a time for their discussion for 9:30 on the 2nd.  See email HERE.

 

On August 14th, the BOT approved the final RFP, and it was released August 17th.  See RFP HERE.  Submissions were due October 23rd.

 

October 2023

On October 23rd, when Westhab formally submitted their proposal to the Village Planning Department in accordance with the RFP, Germansky also emailed Barberio and Murphy to tell them it had been submitted.  See HERE.  One other responder, LUNA, also submitted their proposal that day.  There were no other responders.

 

After October 2023

After the proposals were received, there was a series of emails between the Village and both proposers attempting to schedule dates for the proposers to present to the BOT and then to the general public.  Two such emails stand out for the language used by Barberio when communicating with Westhab.

 

On November 13th, Barberio, referring to a possible presentation meeting, casually referred to the Westhab project team as “the Westhab peeps.”  On December 6th, Barberio emailed Germansky about setting up a meeting in January and concluded with “Thank you again for your awesome submission and the ability to make history in the Village of Mamaroneck.  I look forward to our anticipated partnership.”  See November email HERE and December email HERE.

 

While Village officials broke no laws, they did not follow the usual and customary planning and RFP procedures.  This raises questions about whether the community has been best served.



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