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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Path to Affordable Housing is Not Clear

By Kathy Savolt -

 

Now that the Board of Trustees (BOT) has two responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP), they are split on what to do next.  There does not appear to be a project plan, schedule or even a Project Manager– all standard tools for any project, especially one of this magnitude and impact on the Village of Mamaroneck.

 

At the January 22nd Work Session, which spilled over into the regular meeting, this became very clear when Trustees Leilani Yizar-Reid and Lou Young were pursuing one path and Trustee Nora Lucas and Mayor Sharon Torres pursuing a different one.  All of this played out in front of a standing room-only crowd.

 

This began at the December 11th BOT meeting (See HERE starting at 2:27:47) when the BOT was discussing holding a public meeting to allow the public to comment on the proposals and ask questions of the two proposers.  Young advocated for a single meeting, held separately from the regular BOT meetings with a possible second session at a regular BOT meeting if necessary.  He continually urged the other BOT members to work quickly to select a developer for the project and begin negotiations.

 

Trustee Lucas, stating she had relevant experience and apparently assuming the Village would follow the standard RFP process (e.g., meetings with proposers separately), stated that schedule would be unfair to the proposer at the second meeting as they would have less time.

 

It became clear that BOT members were talking about two different approaches, leading newly elected Mayor Torres, at her very first meeting to ask, “How well thought out is this?” and “What is the plan?”

 

Trustee Young, joined by Yizar-Reid and Rawlings kept advocating for one long meeting and Lucas kept pointing out that this approach was “unorthodox.”  She emphasized that the BOT did not have the expertise to make a selection and needed expert assistance.

 

This discussion continued for some time with Yizar-Reid offering suggestions for experts, Deputy Village Manager Dan Sarnoff offering Village staff as experts and finally, Village Attorney Spolzino stating that the BOT would need help with the real estate economics and environmental review evaluation process.

 

Despite not having a clear scope of work, both Young and Yizar-Reid said they would start looking for experts to help them and Sarnoff agreed the BOT needed to retain someone, but no one seemed clear on what type of consultant the BOT wanted or needed.  Lucas urged her fellow Board members to do this (selection of a developer) right as this is a “very big decision.”

 

That meeting ended with 3 members voting to schedule two sessions on 1/29 and 1/30.  Neither Young nor Yizar-Reid made an audible vote.  There was no clear resolution on what would happen at those meetings or on the retention of experts to help the Board.

 

Fast forward to January 22nd and the work session agenda items:  Real Estate Financial Consultants to Assist the Village with Review of the Proposals and Protocol for Special Meetings to Review the Hunter Tier RFP.

 

Clearly, Young and Yizar-Reid left the 12/11 meeting with the idea that they were each looking for “experts” and both stated they had people coming to the 1/29 meeting to “testify” on whether they can, as Young put it - “tell me if there’s anything wrong with the proposal,” “Is it sound?” and “can they do it?”

 

Meanwhile, Greg Cutler, Director of Planning, solicited narrowly focused proposals from three firms to assist the BOT with their selection.

 

Adding to the confusion the BOT was still not in agreement with whether there should be one or two meetings and whether the proposers should be in the same meeting.

 

After a raucous discussion and Torres trying to get everyone on the same page, it appeared that BOT members now recognized the need for some structure and mentioned an action plan, criteria for selection, need for a consultant, time frame for all the steps and how to get public input, among other things that are typical for any large planning process.

 

It was also revealed that Westhab had submitted some modifications to their proposal and not every BOT member had been given that document.  Young mentioned that they were able to increase the number of parking spaces by “going down two levels.”  Torres was surprised to hear that information and wondered why Young had not shared it with the entire Board.  It wasn’t clear at the meeting how he knew these details and nothing new has been posted on the Village website.


Editor's Note: Young called after publication and stated that both proposers were given an opportunity to submit revisions to their submissions and Westhab sent a letter. He surmised that Torres hadn't seen it yet. This letter has not been made public.

 

The BOT eventually agreed to hold two meetings – one for each proposer.  Westhab/WHA will present on Monday, January 29th and Luna on Tuesday, January 30th.  Both meetings are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. and will be held in the courtroom.

 

They also agreed to expand the search for a consultant to assist them and not “just throw a dart” at the three proposed by Cutler.  As part of this selection, the BOT will interview the proposers. Lucas mentioned that a scope of work was needed; selection criteria, and expertise in environmental review, economics and data analyses. The expert(s) should be an independent third party meaning no one with connections to the proposers or anyone who had already opined on the project.  They agreed, some reluctantly, that this expert did not need to be in place to attend the 1/29 and 1/30 meetings.  There did not appear to be agreement on the scope of work for the consultant and no plan to develop one.

 

Young kept pushing for the BOT to act quickly and Torres proposed a date of March 30 as a target date for the selection of the developer.

 

This interaction did not go unnoticed.  During the Public Comment period, Tim O’Connor, a frequent commentor on flood mitigation, switched it up and stated that the night was a “disappointment.”  He told the BOT that the Hunter Tier project was “above your pay grade,” and “You have no idea what’s going on.”  Peter McKee alleged that the RFP process was “illegal” because it was so vague and needed to have a quantifiable way to evaluate the proposals.  He did not think either responder met the preliminary requirements and asked where the preliminary studies were.

 

Several residents asked why the BOT was working so hastily on this project.  Many asked the question “What’s in it for us, the Village residents?”  The speed at which some members of the BOT wish to move ahead was also questioned by many speakers and it was compared to the slow speed of other projects and long waiting times for things like flooding, sidewalks, and drainage. 

 

At the end of the meeting after resident Glenn Tippett, a frequent commentor on financial issues, once again chided the BOT on their spending, Young replied with a question to Tippett:  “What do you think we’re getting across the street?  $5 million!”  Young neglected to mention that the Village would have to return approximately $1.5 million of any proceeds for the construction of public parking according to the Westhab proposal.

 

Regarding gathering public comments on the proposals, the BOT asked staff to post a form on the Village website so comments can be collected for the record and for review.  They will be compiled, along with e-mails already received by the BOT.  Rawlings wanted commenters to state what neighborhood they were from and also offered to help staff with this effort.  As of publication, this had not yet been posted on the website.

 

The BOT also agreed to form a Village resident task force on Affordable Housing separate and apart from this project.

 

Editors Note:  The author has extensive work experience in planning and large projects.  She worked on two major hospital reconstruction projects at the NYS Health & Hospitals Corporation and was Assistant Vice President for Financial Planning at Columbia University’s Health Sciences Division working on capital projects and strategic initiatives.  She has written and managed the selection process for numerous consulting RFPs and also served on the Village of Mamaroneck Planning Board, including as Chairperson, and taught Planning at Wagner School at NYU.


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