Skip to main content

In Yonkers, the feds investigate aspects of Ratner's Ridge Hill deal

What critics consider a sweetheart deal regarding Atlantic Yards hasn't provoked investigation into any wrongdoing. It was presented as a fait accompli fast tracked by the Empire State Development Corporation, rather than debated in public by local officials. In Yonkers, however, the curious twists and turns of Forest City Ratner's $630 million, 1000-apartment, 81-acre Ridge Hill project (above) have generated a federal investigation.

A New York Times article May 5, headlined U.S. Investigates Yonkers Development After Official’s Surprising ‘Yes’ Vote, described how Yonkers City Council Member Sandy Annabi once pronounced that developer Forest City Ratner was “probably richer than God” and was “robbing the city blind,” and served as the lead plaintiff in a 2005 lawsuit objecting to the city's approval process--but then did an about-face in 2006, providing "the crucial fifth vote" on the project.

Now, reported the Times, federal prosecutors are investigating the development deal and leaning toward indicting Ms. Annabi, a 37-year-old Democrat, on corruption charges or other misconduct, according to a person involved in the investigation.

The feds are investigating not just Ridge Hill but other city decisions and deals, and perhaps others in Westchester County, including Zehy Jereis, the former Republican Party chairman in Yonkers and former FCR lobbyist Albert J. Pirro Jr., estranged husband of the county's former district attorney and a lawyer who saw his license suspended after committing tax fraud. (It's been reinstated.)

Annabi's lawyer said she's clean. A spokesman for Forest City Ratner said they're cooperating. Pirro told WNBC:
"I have absolutely no reason to believe that I am a target of any investigation since I had absolutely nothing to do with the vote," he said. "I had not worked on the aspect of the project that had to do with the Yonkers City Council vote after Dec. 31, 2005."

Benefits and process

The Times reports:
Promoters say it will create 4,000 permanent jobs and generate some $20 million a year in property, sales and income tax revenues for Yonkers. But from the start, some questioned the way the project was fast-tracked.

The same questions have been raised about AY.

Vote justification

The Times reported:
In a news release at the time of her vote switch, Ms. Annabi cited 11th-hour negotiations with Ratner over property taxes, in which she said she was able to wring out millions of additional dollars. Later, it became clear that some of the promised riches had little chance of being paid because of fine print in contracts that Ms. Annabi said she never saw.

Well, many of the riches projected by Atlantic Yards backers were vastly overstated, given flaws in the cost-benefit analysis, increased public costs, and delays in the project.

Payoffs possible?

The Times hinted that there might be payoffs:
People involved in the inquiry said that the authorities had expressed curiosity about how she could afford multiple mortgages and drive a white Mercedes convertible on her hospital salary and the $41,000 she earns as a council member. One person interviewed, who insisted on anonymity to avoid angering prosecutors, said that the first question the assistant United States attorney, Perry Carbone, asked him last month was, “Where does Sandy Annabi live?”

Annabi faces possible indictment on mortgage fraud charges, the Journal News reported May 8.

Ratner tactics

The Journal News on May 6, in an article headlined Forest City Ratner lobbying campaign for Ridge Hill detailed, reported some additional details:
The outcome of that night's vote in 2006 on Ridge Hill seemed a foregone conclusion: The zone change required for the disputed $630 million complex already had the support of a fifth member of the City Council needed for its approval.

That made the call from then-Republican Party Chairman Zehy Jereis, offering a meeting with the developer on the afternoon of July 11, so unusual, Councilman John Murtagh, one of two holdouts, recalled yesterday.

One month earlier, Sandy Annabi, an opponent of the plan, had announced she would support the development when Forest City Ratner agreed to make an additional $10 million in payments to Yonkers over three years.

"They spent the better part of an hour - primarily Zehy - trying to convince me that I should vote in favor of the project because Sandy was going to vote for it. (They said) 'It's going to pass anyhow,' so I should get on board," Murtagh recalled of the previously unreported meeting, which also included Forest City Executive Vice President Bruce Bender. "I thought it was strange."

Strange on multiple fronts, said Murtagh, R-5th District: The developer did not propose anything new to make the plan more palatable; Murtagh previously had sued to overturn an earlier approval of the project; and his vote was no longer needed.

FCR, the newspaper reported, would not talk about or confirm the meeting. So much for, as DDDB likes to point out, the developer's not-so-reliable pledge of sharing information with the public and governmental bodies.

Murtagh also told the newspaper he'd been to three Ridge Hill-related meetings with Pirro in 2005 and in 2006. (Remember, Pirro said he was not involved after 2005--or maybe that careful statement allows for such meetings.) At the second and third meetings were other Forest City Ratner representatives. The article stated:
Typically the meetings amounted to Pirro asking the council members about their concerns and what would be needed for them to support the project, he said.

"The one thing I can tell you is I didn't see anything that they discussed that was going to change my vote," Murtagh said, "but I can tell you I didn't see anything untoward."

A lobbyist involved?

The Journal News reported May 10 that prosecutors have issued a grand jury subpoena to Assemblyman Michael Spano:
After he left the Assembly in 2004, Spano worked for the Patricia Lynch Associates lobbying firm, which has Forest City Ratner as a client. He said he was asked in 2005, because of his knowledge of Yonkers, to speak to city officials to gauge their views and objections to the project. He said he spoke to council members Annabi, Dee Barbato and John Murtagh.

His dealings were "strictly informational," he said. He did not lobby them, he said, but just relayed the information to his firm.

"No one at any time did anything inappropriate that I am aware of," Spano said.

When we look at Forest City Ratner's record as number eight in state lobbying in 2007, Ridge Hill has to be part of the equation.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…