G&S settling lawsuits over Mt. Vernon retail project

G&S settling lawsuits over Mt. Vernon retail project

Philippidis, Alex

The developer of a $50 million retail complex, which is under construction in Mount Vernon, is on track to settle live years of lawsuits with neighboring Pelham and other parties that tried to block the project – just two months before anchor store Target and three other national retailers open their doors.

G&S Investors L.L.C. – of Old Bethpage says it is confident it can resolve the litigation and open the 285,000-square-foot project in October as scheduled, now that Pelhams board of trustees has approved a settlement under which G&S will pay the village $300,000 toward traffic improvements.

That sum is a fraction of the $2 million Pelham and neighboring municipalities rejected four years, ago to settle several lawsuits that began in 1999.

Just what improvements take place will be decided among the village, the Pelham Union Free School District and the neighboring municipalities of Pelham Manor and the town of Pelham. The four are members of the Petham Council of Governing Boards, which sued Mount Vernon but lost in state Supreme Court and the court’s Appellate Division.

“It’s bard to be optimistic based on the record, but it certainly appears as if every party is going to settle,” said Mark P. Weingarten of the. White Plains law firm DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Tartaglia Wise & Wiederkehr L.L.P., which represents G&S.

In interviews last week, Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis and a Westchester County legislator, who led a group of seven lawmakers in righting the project, said they supported the settlement effort.

“Everybody’s working together. We’re negotiating the final pieces of a settlement. I’m hoping to see everything wrapped up very soon,” said county Legislator James Maisano (R-New Rochelle), whose district includes Pelham.

Four years ago, Maisano led seven lawmakers who sued Westchester County over its rerouting an existing sewer line toward the project site.

Davis said Mount Vernon – which is not a party to the settlement agreement would work with Pelham on traffic issues.

That stance differs from the verbal tug-of-war Mount Vernon and Pelham waged during the years the lawsuits were being argued in court. Davis accused Pelham of racism for opposing the G&S plan because African-American residents would hold many of the project’s jobs. Pelham-area officials denied racial motives and expressed fear that traffic from the project would overwhelm their streets and endanger their residents.

Davis attributed the change to Pelham’s election last year of its current mayor, Michael Clain, who unseated incumbent Mayor Arthur Scinta, a critic of the project.

The settlement’s timing, Davis said, was crucial given the complex’s planned October opening. Target plans an Oct. 12 grand opening for its second Westchester store a key date because the discounter typically opens stores only in October or March.

Joining Target at the complex will be Bed Bath & Beyond TJ Maxx and Petco Animal Supplies Inc. Petco joined the preject after Old Navy left in 2001, when parent Gap Inc. was trimming stores.

Another retailer, Best Buy, has been doing business since last year, when it opened a free-standing store across from the main complex.

G&S has projected the site will create 400 jobs and generate $4 million in city, county and state taxes.

The deal is far below the more than $2 million G&S offered Pelham toward traffic and safety improvements four years ago, according to a Dec, 6, 2000, memorandum from G&S principal Gregg Wasser to Davis made public then.

“We retracted that offer when the (Pelham Council of Governing Boards) refused to address it for several months, electing instead to extend their litigation for the maximum time possible,” Wasser wrote.

But opposition to the project then was so intense among Pelham officials and residents that the village instead joined with Pelham Manor, Pelham town and the school district in several lawsuits against Mount Vernon and G&S.

Weingarten credited County Executive Andrew J. Spano and Deputy County executive Lawrence S. Schwartz with mediating between G&S and the Pelham-area authorities.

At a key meeting last month, Weingarten said, “They called us in and said, ‘It’s time to settle this or not.’ The handshake agreement of settlement came out of that meeting. I’m grateful to them.

“I don’t believe this would have been settled without the involvement of the county executive’s office,” Weingarten said.

Schwartz said Westchester officials had tried to mediate the dispute for more than a year.

“We believe the project will be a benefit not only for the city of Mount Vernon but for everybody who lives in the area,” Schwartz said. “We’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Copyright Westfair Communications Aug 16, 2004

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