Wednesday, January 16, 2013

At Ridge Hill complex in Yonkers, Forest City forced to remove meters improperly placed on private streets (though mayor, former company lobbyist, papered it over)


Powerful developer Forest City Ratner got away with charging for parking--and issuing seemingly official tickets--on private streets at its Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers for more than 18 months.

(Forest City Ratner impersonating the government yet again," commented Michael D. D. White, which raises questions about the proposed business improvement district in Brooklyn that includes Forest City's Barclays Center.)

And without some local journalistic scrutiny this week, the whole problem would have been ignored.

Papering it over

See, Yonkers on 1/4/13 issued an anodyne press release headlined CITY OF YONKERS AND FOREST CITY RATNER ANNOUNCE NEW ROAD MANAGEMENT PLAN AT RIDGE HILL SHOPPING CENTER:
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) today announced that effective immediately, patrons of the Ridge Hill Shopping Center will no longer be required to pay for the use of on-street, metered spaces.
This move is made in anticipation of the planned permanent removal of the more than 100 parking meters located on the private roadways throughout the Ridge Hill complex. In its place, FCRC will present a reconfigured traffic and parking flow plan, which will increase the handicapped spaces on the roadways, create “to go” spaces to serve restaurants in the complex, and provide an improved overall traffic flow.
“I am pleased the City of Yonkers and Forest City Ratner have agreed on a plan that ultimately benefits visitors to Ridge Hill,” said Mayor Spano. 
Spano used to work for Forest City as a lobbyist--he testified in the federal corruption trial last year.

But there was something troubling in the press release, a statement from Council President Chuck Lesnick that City Council asked Forest City Ratner to remove the parking meters--way back in December 2011.

The press picks it up

So the Journal News of Westchester had a huge story yesterday, Ridge Hill meters come under legal scrutiny: Developer, not city, reaped parking fees, officials say:
Current and former City Council members say the northeast Yonkers shopping center had no legal authority to enforce the more than 100 parking meters it is now removing from its private streets.
But that didn’t stop developer Forest City Ratner from cashing in on an untold amount of meter fees and possible payments of privately issued parking tickets, some for as much as $75, for more than a year — despite the council’s request for it to stop.
City officials say the Yonkers Parking Violations Bureau has sole jurisdiction to enforce on-street meters in the city, whether on public or private roads, and that Forest City did not obtain city authorization of its meters before opening in May 2011.
Council Member John Larkin contacted the newspaper in the wake of that press release, pointing out that things were not so hunky-dory. The newspaper reported that, at an 11/15/11 Real Estate Committee meeting, Forest City reps insisted the meters were legal.

Long conflict

While the Council in December 2011 asked for the meters’ immediate removal, it took more than a year to get results. Why? Unclear, but the mayor's office was in charge.

The Journal News reported:
A spokesman for Council President Chuck Lesnick was unable to explain why Ridge Hill continued to operate the meters for so many months after the council asked it to stop.
“We acted on behalf of our constituents,” spokesman Adam Brill said. After that, “it was strictly between the administration and the developer. We were not privy to the discussions.”
Board meeting minutes of City of Yonkers Parking Authority seem clear:
February 28, 2012
City Council President, Mr. Chuck Lesnick, alluded to the issue concerning the issuance of parking tickets at Ridge Hill which Ridge Hill has no authority to issue since the streets have not yet been dedicated. It is noteworthy that the parking tickets resemble the tickets issued by the City of Yonkers and the Authority. The City Council in conjunction with Corporation Counsel is addressing the issue of illegal ticket issuance at Ridge Hill. Mr. Michael V. Curti, Esq., First Deputy Corporation Counsel, City of Yonkers, NY indicated that a letter would be written to the principals of Ridge Hill to the effect that the issuance of tickets was not permitted as they were not a governmental entity. They could, however, charge for parking in the garage.

March 27, 2012
[Executive Director] Mrs. [Lisa] Mrijaj showed the board a parking warning ticket being issued by the Ridge Hill development. Mrs. Mrijaj pointed out that the ticket displayed the name ”Parking Authority” and asked Mr. Curti if it was legal to display the Authority’s name without consent. Mr. Curti informed the board for the first time that a meeting had been held with the principals of Ridge Hill regarding the ticket writing issue and had expressed the nullity of the tickets in question and issued a Cease and Desist order.
Spano’s office this week issued a statement:
“When the Mayor’s administration began [in the beginning of 2012], Forest City and City Hall got together to address the parking meters at Ridge Hill in light of various concerns which had been lingering since the opening of the new complex. From the moment the Mayor’s Office and Forest City began this conversation, it was clear that we all had numerous good faith opinions on the merits of keeping the meters on site. In the end, an agreeable resolution to this issue was reached. (This month's) announcement is the culmination of working in concert to provide traffic and parking patterns that would provide for a more positive shopping experience for its visitors.”
The upshot: keeping the money?

Forest City, it seems, will try to keep the money. One comment on the newspaper article:
Why should the developer get to keep the money that they received illegally? Since it would be impossible to return it to each person, they should be forced to donate it to a charity (and not get a tax deduction!).
If Forest City Ratner does keep the money, it would appear to be a parallel with the entire Ridge Hill project, which was achieved by questionable means, including corruption, though no prosecuted illegality on the developer's side.

However, as the Journal News reported yesterday, Yonkers' Ridge Hill hit with class-action suit over parking meters:
Two Ridge Hill customers are demanding their money back in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in the wake of revelations that the northeast Yonkers shopping center cashed in on more than 100 unauthorized parking meters.
Kathy Andersen of Congers and Maria Lena Felidi of Yonkers filed suit in state Supreme Court of Rockland County against developer Forest City Ratner Companies and First New York Partners Management, which helped operate the meters.
Attorney Daniel Szalkiewicz said “They are looking for the developer to return what they paid,” but the newspaper reported the sum could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Forest City has not said how much it collected.

The mayoral press release

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