Open Letter to the Community:  Our petition is filed. “Thank you” to everyone who participated.

June 20, 2014
by Erin and Peter Chase

On June 18, 2014, we filed a Petition for a Permissive Referendum relating to the lease of the Chappaqua Train Station with the Town Clerk of New Castle.  The filed Petition consisted of 520 signatures on 89 pages, well exceeding the minimum number, 347 signatures, required under the formulation set forth under Article 7 of New York Town Law.  Considerable effort was made to confirm the signatures against the most recent Westchester County Board of Elections voter list.

In the course of gathering these signatures, we and other volunteers routinely heard residents express genuine concern about the train station Request for Proposal (RFP) process, as well as the overall direction of the community.  This included many people who supported the purpose behind the petition even though they, for their own reasons, declined to sign the petition itself, some stating they feared repercussions from Board members.

Much has been written in local media about the events that gave rise to the petition.  While we are not going into all pertinent details in this release, in essence, a 15-year lease of the Chappaqua Train Station, a Town-owned property, was awarded to a tenant after a highly irregular RFP process.  Among other issues, that RFP was open for only 8 days, an impossibly short period of time for a business to learn about the opportunity, visit the site, prepare business and architectural plans, and submit a thoughtful written proposal.  Not a single new entity came forward as a result of the RFP. Not a single one! The only three entities to submit written RFP’s were involved well before the RFP was issued.  From our perspective, what transpired during the process was far less than this community deserves and our motivation throughout the petition effort has been to achieve a re-opening of the RFP process in a manner that is truly full, fair and open.

The Most Obvious Contradictions

We began the petition process three weeks ago, as a direct result of an ad hoc RFP process, inept negotiations, and illogical justification behind the Town Board’s decision to lease the station to Love at 10514, owned by Leslie Lampert. There are numerous reasons as to why we believe the process was flawed, the most concerning of which are as follows:

1. The entire Request For Proposal failed to conform to standard procedures in that all presentations were made prior to the Board’s eventual issuance of an RFP.  Once tacitly announced on the Town’s website, under the guise of developing a more robust pool of candidates, a mere 8 days were afforded any new parties interested in submitting, of which there were none.

2. We proposed the highest rent at $3,246 per month.  Ms. Lampert proposed the lowest at $2,500 per month, yet was the only applicant that the Board chose to negotiate with.  We fully expected that our monthly rent would increase through the process of negotiation.  Our broker, who made us aware of the space, had mentioned that the town was looking for a figure in the $5,000 per month range, but this is when the Board mistakenly believed that the square footage was much larger than it actually is and, further, we were informed there was a large basement storage area that would be included in the lease (there is none, the space is used for mechanicals and the remainder is just crawl space).  The monthly rent we proposed does not reflect our planned improvements to the Train Station, which would be in excess of several hundreds of thousands, and include, among other things, equipment and structural upgrades.  In contrast, Ms. Lampert is not providing any capital improvements other than minor electrical work.  She explicitly said she would do “nothing” to the space other than refreshing such as painting and buffing of the floors, and the installation of a salad station and a steam table used to reheat pre-prepared food.

3. The Board stated it believed a full-service restaurant was not suited for the space, which is one of the Board’s main justifications for its selection of the commuter-oriented “grab and go” concept put forth by Love at 10514.  However, we never proposed a “full-service” restaurant, but rather a food market concept during the day and a bar & small plate venue at night. 

4. The Board did not want the millwork in the current Café La Track space removed because of its purported “historic” value.  Actually, the majority of the millwork inside this space is not original, having received a $1 million renovation in the last ten years.  The only reason some of the millwork in the La Track space needs to be replaced is to make it support the preparation of fresh food.

5. Board member Adam Brodsky stated that the reason we were not selected was because, “no one knows who Erin and Peter Chase are.  You are not a known quantity.”  To this point we argued that we are residents as well as taxpayers and that our 25+ years in the restaurant industry was clearly detailed in our written proposal as well as in our televised presentation.  To which Brodsky responded, “our hands are tied” which one would easily deduce meant that they were going to honor the prior Board’s agreement with Carla Gambescia.  However, after finding out the lease was actually awarded to Love at 10514, Adam Brodsky, explained to us, “that he loved our concept and he did vote for us, but that he was only 1 of 5 votes”.  After reviewing the resolution, we now realize this was not true, as Jason Chapin was the only Board member who did not vote for Love at 10514.

Even Though a Petition Has Been Filed, a Vote Does Not Have to Take Place under the Law

  §  93.  Repeal of acts or resolutions of town board. Any act or resolution of a town board may be rescinded or repealed at any time by the town board and, in case the resolution so repealed be one subject to a permissive referendum and a petition thereupon be filed, no further proceedings shall be had thereunder and no referendum shall be held.
Under §93 of N.Y. Town Law, above, even though a petition for a permissive referendum has now been filed, the Town of New Castle still has the legal option of rescinding the train station lease resolution, meaning no referendum vote has to happen.  Although the Town has stated that a vote must take place, that simply is not what the law says.

A board-initiated rescission is exactly what transpired, under similar circumstances, in the community of St. Armand, N.Y. in July 2012.  The referendum petition there pertained to a May 8th resolution authorizing the construction of a new masonry-wall highway garage which the town board approved 3-2.  However, a significant portion of the community felt that the board had not considered alternative construction methods and materials for the garage before settling on masonry walls and wanted that analysis to be restarted so that a “cross-section of options” could be considered.  Once a petition for a permissive referendum was filed bearing the signatures of more than 70 town residents stating they were against that decision, three board members decided that the resolution should be rescinded which resulted in the board taking a formal vote on the rescission that was unanimous.  As reported by the local press:

The board withdrew the May 8 resolution by a unanimous vote at its meeting Tuesday night, according to Town Supervisor Joyce Morency….  “It doesn’t mean that (the masonry-style building) may not be one of the buildings we go out to bid on.  But it means we withdrew (the May 8 resolution), so we don’t have to have a referendum…. [T]he bottom line is majority rules, and three of the board members wanted a second choice and possibly a third choice, so that’s what we’re doing.”

One of the two town councilmen who opposed the original May 8th resolution said that the goal of the community members who filed the referendum petition had always been to “take a broader look at things … just to ensure we were looking at all the options.”  He also noted that the debate over the highway garage had created friction on the town board,  “What I’m hoping for is that once we do get all the options out there, then we can work a little bit better as a group,” he said. “I hope we do patch up and get beyond the conflict. I’m hopeful the public will see that and we’ll get some confidence back because this has been a rough time.”

Rescission of the Resolution Is the Right Course of Action to Protect Community Interests

As the events in this upstate community illustrate, situations involving significant community concern over a town board determination as to the use of taxpayer assets are not unique. Neither is the use of the permissive referendum procedure set forth in Article 7 as a mechanism for voters to have a say in that process.  It has been used in many towns and villages throughout the state and it will no doubt be used time and again going forward.  In our case, the highly irregular RFP process leading to the lease of the train station, a valuable Town-owned asset in the center of our downtown, has deprived the New Castle community of the opportunity to have a broad cross-section of options considered, in good faith, by the Board before making what is possibly a 15-year commitment.

Hopefully, the Town Board will take notice of this significant community concern shown through the petition support and, as permitted by law, rescind the resolution in order to conduct a new RFP process that is full, fair and open as to the Chappaqua Train Station lease. 

On election night in November 2013, prior to the final vote count, current board member Adam Brodsky declared, “I just think it’s unbelievable. We have such a mandate from the community. We’re going to really undo the status quo and take our community in a wonderful direction.”  At that point, current Supervisor Robert Greenstein and Brodsky were ahead of their opposition by just 342 and 196 votes, respectively.  If, in Team New Castle’s view, their numbers suggested they had a mandate, then, what do the 520 signatures on our petition convey? 

We sincerely thank everyone who joined in this petition effort.

Erin and Peter Chase

_______________________

Related: 

A statement from Town Board member Adam Brodsky on the train station leasing situation
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Selection of a Tenant for the Chappaqua Train Station Depot: What Residents Should Know
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
~ from Supervisor Robert J. Greenstein, Councilwoman Lisa S. Katz, Councilman Adam M. Brodsky

L to E: Train station leasing “process”—“Welcome to the House of Mirrors”
Saturday, June 7, 2014
by Carla Gambescia, Founder and Owner of Via Vanti

 

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