In an appearance last night before a meeting of New Rochelle’s Confederation of Neighborhood Associations, City Councilman Barry Fertel cast doubts on moving forward with Capelli Enterprises on the LeCount Place project after the expiration of the current extension of the MOU between the City of New Rochelle and Capelli Enterprises.
“If there is no Kohl’s deal,” said Fertrel, “there are serious questions about approving another extension”.
On November 10, 2009, Capelli Enterprises spokesman Joseph Apicella told the New Rochelle City Council that Kohl’s Department store would sign an agreement to take space at New Roc City in “a week to ten days away” — or no later than November 20th. It has now been 62 days since the deal was to have been signed without a deal.
TALK OF THE SOUND FLASHBACK
Capelli Admits Kohl’s and Target Pushed Back to at least 2011 April 25, 2009: Joseph Apicella, executive vice president of Cappelli Enterprises, admitted that construction at New Roc for Kohl’s and Target would not begin any sooner that late 2009 and would not be completed until early 2011.
Kohl’s web site (12/08/09): There are no plans for opening any new or acquiring new venues in New York State in 2009 and 2010.
Louis Capelli Foresees No New Development for Years; Building and Doing “No Longer Important to Me”: Louis R. Capelli said he did not expect any new projects to go forward any time soon and was no longer interested in building new buildings.
Councilwoman Marianne Sussman, also on hand, defended Capelli Enterprises against allegations that they had lied to the City Council saying sometimes developers can be “bad boys”.
Sussman sought to deflect questions about the demonstrably false claim by Apicella that a Kohl’s deal was imminent last November by dissembling. She said there was a deal in place with Target. She had no response when it was pointed out that it was well-known that the Target deal she referenced is contingent on a deal with Kohl’s and there was no deal with Kohl’s nor one likely anytime soon.
Fertrel, sensing some hostility in the room, began his remarks saying “we come in peace”.
Both Sussman and Fertel spent most of their opening remarks explaining their opposition to district representation and their belief that the City Council functioned better when members were elected in “at large” citywide elections. Both stated that they make decisions on what is best for the City as a whole not what is best for their district. Fertel cited his experience on the school board where members are elected by “at large” elections as a better approach. What neither Sussman or Fertel, both Democrats, failed to mention was that until recently, their party thoroughly dominated the City Council and has only recently had to contend with any sort of political opposition on the City Council. They also failed to mention that their paradigm of the benefits of “at large” elections — the nine-member school board — is currently comprised of 8 “North End” Democrats and 1 “South End” Democrat.
Fertel, in particular, appeared genuinely oblivious to the rather obvious fact that it is easy for him to take the high road when one political party (his) is calling all the shots and can always get its way on any issue.
Fertel, preaching the gospel of placing the interest of “the City” above a particular community within the City, said he did not object to some benefits flowing to other districts even though his constituents pay higher taxes than other districts because he believes in the idea that “everyone pays their fair share”.
This would certainly be news to his constituents: 90% of the residential tax appeals made during 2009 came from District 5 (Fetrel) and District 6 (Sussman). Not a single one of those tax appeals were requests to INCREASE property taxes on homes in the two North End districts.
Fetrel might also want to explain how City officials like Municipal Services Commission Chairman Domenic Procopio — who serves at the pleasure of Fetrel’s fellow Democrat Mayor Noam Bramson — is paying his “fair share” when Procopio is allowed to keep thousands upon thousands of dollars in ill-gotten property tax exemptions after pocketing 8 years of STAR and Combat Veteran Property tax exemptions to which he was not entitled. Or why the City Tax Assessor would allow Procopio to keep all of his illegal STAR exemptions by asserting the absolutely false claim that only the State government can “recover” STAR money. A letter from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance obtained by Talk of the Sound shows the exact opposite to be the case — that by statute and the State Constitution only the local tax assessor can recover STAR money. Not only is the local tax assessor the only person who can go after the STAR money Procopio illegally pocketed but he is entitled to charge Procopio interest and penalties and to bar Procopio from obtaining any STAR exemptions for five years.
Fertel might also want to talk to his former colleagues on the New Rochelle Board of Education where he served for 14 years before appointment to the City Council. The New Rochelle Board of Education has been engaged in secret talks to hire tax certiorari lawyers. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak stated at a board meeting last fall that the purpose of hiring the lawyers was to “recoup our money” in light of the large increase in tax appeals filed in 2009. The increase described by Organisciak has been the result of an increase in residential tax appeals which skyrocketed over the past year. Off-the-record, board members have claimed that they have no intention of suing taxpayers yet in their announcement of a secret meeting to discuss hiring the “tax cert” lawyers, the district justified the secret session on the grounds that the purpose was to consider “pending and proposed litigation”.
The school district has refused to allow public access to their meetings on considering the hiring of the lawyers, to publish a formal Request for Proposal or even release of a copy of their communications with lawyers soliciting bids from them. The same board members who have offered their private assurances to residents that the lawyers are not being hired to litigate with residential property owners have previously stated their was no intent to litigate at all — a claim now been shown to be false by the district’s own announcement.
If the Board of Education does intent to litigate but exclude residential property owners and Mr. Fertel is right that most of the residential property taxes are paid by District 5 and District 6 then the real purpose of the school board’s scheme to hire “tax cert” lawyers becomes clear — they hope to shift the local tax burden from the North End to the South End. As roughly 65% of local property taxes go to the school district, such a backdoor maneuver would have a far larger impact than anything the City Council might do in this regard.
Fetrel and Sussman talked about their view that New Rochelle had for many years a bad reputation among developers, that the City has overcome that perception in recent years, and that to make a public show of voting against Capelli/LeCount and Forest City/Echo Bay would undo years of effort to overcome negative perceptions of the City that it was hostile to development. They noted that in the case of LeCount Place, Capelli owned the property already and left the sense that Capelli was in a position to hold the City “hostage” because they controlled key parcels in downtown New Rochelle. Neither seemed aware that their “defense” of extending MOUs for Capelli and Forest City only demonstrated the City’s inability to effectively negotiate with developers who have repeatedly run rings around the City in securing lucrative tax abatements, generous PILOT subsidies, and what are essentially free options-in-perpetuity to develop prominent parcels in downtown New Rochelle and along one of the last undeveloped stretches of waterfront property in Westchester County.