Conflicting Stories, Charges, Promises and More

Is Fog Clearing or Getting Thicker at Westview?

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
Affordability Plan or Market? A community waits for leadership.
Affordability Plan or Market? A community waits for leadership.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

As if confusion surrounding Westview's Mitchell-Lama exit, to affordability or market rate, needed a fresh dose, the building's Task Force issued a peculiar memo to tenants, last evening, at the end of a long holiday weekend that started with charges of fraud against RIOC and personal grievances rubbed raw between residents. Along with the meaning of Memorial Day, we may also have lost the meaning of community.

Under pressure from residents and aggravated by dueling public missives between Frank Farance and Sherie Helstien, the Westview Task Force issued this statement: 

"There has been a slight delay in the process of getting our Ground Lease extended through 2068 due to the fact that right at the “buzzer” RIOC abruptly decided to seek changes related to ground rent set for the last 20 years of the lease.  While it is frustrating to deal with yet another twist, HCR officials and the Owners promised to settle this last issue expeditiously and in fact we anticipate resolution very soon."

Although nothing has been resolved, the Task Force followed with an "estimated" time line that left out significant requirements, specifically an accord between Westview's sponsor and RIOC that can earn Board approval and also required approval from the State Attorney General.

In the end, the Task Force had nothing to add but a befuddling outburst of dubious optimism.

Conflict heated up when, responding to an article in The Daily, activist Frank Farance who helped steer Island House's affordability exit, released on Friday a document, "90 Days Notice Under Public Authorities Law," dated March 19th and showing that RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal, the letter's author, was not truthful when she claimed that no agreement had ever been reached between her office and Westview's sponsor.

The letter - a full copy is attached below - sets out the details of the agreement, moving forward a legal process required for extending Westview's lease until 2068.

These terms were set to be voted on by RIOC's Board in May. Rosenthal took approval of the deal for granted, knowing she had the votes of her Board's State members, needing only one of three remaining public members. She was especially confident of getting Howard Polivy's vote. Polivy is Chair of the Real Estate Development Advisory Committee, and almost always votes with the State.

But when Rosenthal and Department of Homes and Community Renewal head RuthAnne Visnauskas brought the term sheet to the next REDAC meeting for an approval that would be passed on the full Board in May, they came out empty-handed.

DHCR oversees RIOC as well as the Mitchell-Lama program.

Because RIOC has all the transparency of a double-brick wall, no one is talking on the record - or off it - about why the proposal was either rejected or tabled. In effect, the remaining resident Board members blew off their own executive and Board Chair.

What we do know is that Rosenthal's next move was to discard the agreement reached with Westview's Sponsor representative, David Hirschhorn, and demand a renegotiation that would raise ground lease payments above what had already been agreed on.

This was not "a slight delay," as the Task Force claims or, as Sherie Helstien, an opponent of the affordability plan says, "a question" about the final years of the lease. All those details had been settled until the REDAC rejection forced Rosenthal to renege on the deal, demanding more money in lease payments.

Another "elephant in the room," as one Westview tenant calls it, is approval by the State Attorney General, a requirement for finalizing the lease extension. That's what Rosenthal's attached letter is all about. There is no certainty that it will pass muster in an office now in transition or that it will do so in time to meet a deadline for financing established by Westview's investors. The term for that financing agreement expires on July 15th, if not accepted by then.

Year long delays and bumbling by the State, i.e., RIOC and the DHCR, has put the affordability plan in real and serious jeopardy. Deadlines loom and complacency about RIOC and the Sponsor reaching an agreement or the Attorney General giving it a quick pass is not warranted. It's not even clear that the letter already submitted the the Attorney General will suffice, now that the deal is in renegotiation.

A severe vacuum of community leadership, underscored in an angry exchange between Helstien and Farance, a topic we'll cover later today, adds to the problem.

In a healthy community, someone steps up and pulls things together for everyone's mutual benefit. We no longer seem to have such an individual anywhere on Main Street.

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