Town settles its suit for fees from Summit Greenfield, SG’s lawsuits are suspended

With 33 comments since publication
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
by Christine Yeres

Unexpectedly, the Town Board voted toward the end of its Tuesday night meeting to enter into a settlement with Summit Greenfield by which the developer would 1) pay the town $905,000 to resolve a continuing dispute over $1.5 million in consultants’ fees and other expenses it owed as a result of Summit Greenfield’s prior application ending in approval for 111 residential units, and 2) suspend its lawsuits against the town pending conclusion of the Town Board’s review of its application for a zoning change to permit grocery and retail at Chappaqua Crossing.

The town has not yet released the text of the legal settlement by which it will recover $905,000 of the $1.5 million.

Perhaps recognizing that its suits claiming that the town essentially deprived Summit Greenfield of the economic use of its property may become moot if the town approves zoning for a grocery and retail on the site, Summit Greenfield has said it will, for now, suspend action on its suits against the town—both state (dismissed, then appealed) and federal (pending)—while the town continues its review of the grocery-retail application.

A stand-still agreement

According to the settlement, with the suspension of legal proceedings in effect, the town will continue with its review of the application to rezone a third of the property for a grocery store and additional retail totaling 120,000 square feet. If the town and planning boards approve the zoning change in a form that meets certain characteristics specified in the agreement—chiefly “economic feasibility”—as well as site plan approvals, the developer is obligated to drop the lawsuit.

While the town is under no obligation to approve the application in its present form, the developer reserves the right to take up the suit again if, in the end, the the town does not approve it or if the town approves another plan that is determined to be not economically feasible.  The “economic feasibility” of what the Town Board could decide to approve may be a matter to be determined by the courts. In that case, Supervisor Susan Carpenter explained, “we’ll just be back exactly where we left off,” back in a lawsuit.  In the meantime, both sides are spared attorneys’ fees.

Residents ponder, “Why enter into an agreement?”

According to Board member Robin Stout, it is a relief to go into the review of the application for grocery and retail without “the old litigation hanging over our heads.”

To Summit Greenfield’s way of thinking, posited one resident who watched the meeting live on TV, depending on the outcome of the town’s review the developer may have no need to continue the lawsuit.  The developer seems willing to wait and see, and the town gets close to a million dollars.  While another resident interpreted the settlement as “blackmail” by Summit Greenfield and the Town Board as “selling out the town,” yet another resident saw it differently. “It makes Summit Greenfield look like a good guy to pay its bills, and the town’s happy, I’m sure, to have the money back.  And notice the town board hasn’t committed to grant the zoning for a shopping center.”

Certioraris continue on their separate track

Unaffected by either the $905,000 settlement of fees or by the agreement to suspend action on the two lawsuits, Summit Greenfield’s certiorari claims seeking a reduction in its property’s assessed value for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010—from $11.1 million to around $5 million in each case, or, in terms of market value, from between $66 and $68 million to $30 million —are wending their way through the legal system.

If the court were to grant a reduction in assessment by half, so would half the taxes paid over the three years be returned. Rarely, however, does the court grant the full amount requested; instead, the parties (lawyers for applicant, town board and school board) negotiate an amount.  [In assembling its next three-year set of certiorari claims, so far Summit Greenfield has filed claims for the years 2011 and 2012 that ask for reductions in assessed value to “zero dollars.”]

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