Village board approves sale of air rights to Neri Bakery
Switch of agreements riles one trustee
November 30, 2023 at 2:16 a.m.
Rendering of what the second floor addition to Neri Bakery over the Village of Port Chester municipal parking lot on New Broad Street will look like. Thirty-six municipal parking spaces will be covered by the building.
(Courtesy photo of Courtesy of Neri’s Land Improvement LLC)
From one meeting to the next, a plan that has been kicking around for months changed substantially. In its final form, at a special meeting called before the village board’s regular meeting on Nov. 20, it met the approval of six out of seven board members but the vehement condemnation of the seventh.
The approved action authorized the mayor to enter into a purchase and sale agreement for the conveyance of development rights to Neri Bakery to allow an addition over the New Broad Street municipal parking lot at a cost of $535,000 and to authorize the bakery to make application to the Planning Commission for site plan approval for that addition.
Back on June 23, 2023, attorney Anthony Tirone first expressed interest on behalf of Neri Bakery in acquiring development rights above that portion of the village lot adjacent and contiguous to the rear of 31, 41 and 61 Pearl St. to allow a one-story addition to the existing bakery contiguous with the second-floor production area for storage space.
Even before that, the Village of Port Chester commissioned an independent appraisal valuing the requested air rights at $535,000. Sterling Appraisals Inc. of Scarsdale appraised the property on April 5, 2023 and submitted a report to the village on May 19.
Neri Bakery has proposed to make improvements to the village lot including paving, striping, security cameras and lighting.
By their approval, the village board directed Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto and outside counsel Frank Acocella to prepare the purchase and sale agreement at the agreed upon price and terms and conditions set forth in Nov. 15 correspondence.
This agreement came about following significant negotiation.
And Trustee Bart Didden was in fervent opposition.
“We made an agreement with Mr. Neri for air rights,” said Mayor Luis Marino. “We are not giving away anything. We are not losing any space and we are getting taxes. I will review before I sign anything.”
“We had a deal in place a while ago for $400,000 when the appraisal came back for $535,000,” said Trustee Phil Dorazio. “We went back and said we wanted the full fare. We are not losing any parking spaces. We are getting a covered structure that is lighted and maintained at no cost to the village. We got the full amount of the appraisal, plus we are getting $750,000 to $800,000 worth of improvements. It will be illuminated, maintained, covered and secured at no cost to the village.”
“I am amazed when Trustee Dorazio talks about a covered parking lot,” Didden retorted. “We are talking about 36 spaces. This village has identified parking as the biggest economic problem this village has. What used to be $400,000 which Mr. Dorazio was in favor of is now $535,000. The first version of the deal had a slot for air rights. We were going to give up [$135,000] for the ability to build a parking structure of maybe 600 parking spaces and within a 3-block radius of all the construction that has been approved. We were going to get the air rights to that. Now Mr. Neri is saying he would be happy to discuss it in the future.
“We made a decision that is equal to putting a Costco on the waterfront,” Didden added. “We lost everything that was originally in the agreement. It is incomprehensible how this board can move forward in this direction.
“There is no transparency here,” Didden added. “This is a deal that two weeks ago we accepted and now rejected. It had a poison pill in it that the structure had to be completed in three years.
“It’s amazing how we can get ourselves talked into this,” Didden concluded. "It does nothing for the forward vision of the village in solving any of its problems.”
“There are various moving parts, one a piece of property owned by ConEd, which has to be sold to the highest bidder whenever they put it out for bid,” countered Trustee Phil Dorazio. “We have to take the homes of two people on Smith Street in order to get this to work. We have to deal with Mr. Neri and his four parcels. To make all this magic work, in this shell game, you have to take somebody’s home. We don’t even know if it’s going to work.”
“I’m going on record to say I’m not going to take anyone’s house to build a parking lot,” Dorazio stressed. In addition, “out of pocket it is $5-8 million just to get all the pieces. We have no parking and that is not the best place to put it right now because we don’t own it.”
Transitioning into their regular meeting, where public comments were allowed, Howie Ravikoff, owner of 33 New Broad St., said his comments were now after the fact. He objected to relocating electric lines across the street in front of his property.
“That seems to go against our code,” he said. “They should not be relocated from one side of the street to the other but should be buried. It’s hard to support one business when it puts a burden on another business.”
“File a lawsuit!” Trustee Didden blurted.
“I want to thank the board for considering the resolution and Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto for taking time to negotiate those provisions,” said attorney Tirone on behalf of the bakery. “Mr. Neri is buying air.” The prior resolution, he said, “was an attempt to overreach and get something that was not ready to go. I take strong exception to the comments by Mr. Didden. If your study comes back that is would make sense to work in that area, Mr. Neri would be glad to entertain it.”
“I’d like to know what negotiating you guys did that Mr. Tirone talks about,” Didden shot back. “It was buried in a specialty meeting, not the main meeting, and you codified everything that was in his memo. I don’t see what you negotiated.”
“Mr. Tirone said Mr. Neri would be happy to talk about it tomorrow or next year,” Didden added. “Mr. Neri can just close the door. Today by asking for the option he had to do something. He has something he needs to accomplish, and we have it. It is supply and demand. I didn’t say I wanted $900,000. I just wanted the option. It’s a reasonable negotiation.”
“I want to reconfirm there is no way I am going to condemn a property,” said Trustee Joe Carvin. “It is beyond me how Mr. Didden could consider a project that involves four takings.”
Trustee Juliana Alzate had a similar sentiment. “I don’t agree with eminent domain,” she said.
“That deal with Mr. Neri has been on the table for a long time,” said Trustee John Allen. “I am happy we were able to move that project forward. I’m not in favor of holding money in escrow for many years for a project that would have required taking people’s property. I’m glad we have finished that deal, and it is a win-win deal for this village.”
Going back two weeks in time
At their previous meeting on Oct. 6, the village board approved and then rescinded the preparation of a purchase and sale agreement for the conveyance of development rights to Neri Bakery to facilitate the same addition at a sale price of $400,000 with an option for the village to exercise development rights on certain related Neri Bakery properties on Pearl and Smith streets for a potential new structured parking lot.
Trustee Didden voted no because it called for the new municipal parking structure to be completed within three years. He thought that period should have been extended to five years.
Trustee Carvin abstained. “I made it clear to Mr. Neri and Mr. Tirone that I wouldn’t support this with litigation going on, so I abstain,” he said. He referred to litigation against the village by the developer of the 28-34 Pearl St. property for downzoning that parcel from a maximum of 12 stories allowed to three.
“What I see is if we are not doing anything in a year or less, we might as well pack up,” retorted Mayor Marino when Didden brought the subject up again later in the meeting. “We are waiting on a final decision for a parking garage.”
Village Manager Stuart Rabin said on Monday, Dec. 4 the board would be getting an update from Desmond Land Use Consulting, which the village commissioned to do a study on four potential sites to locate municipal parking structures. “We only have three now, not a fourth one,” he said.
“We have to come up with money to buy these properties,” said Marino. “No one is against it.”
“One of you four could make a motion as an add-on and a motion to reconsider and reject this to try and get that 3-year window up to five,” said Didden.
At some point, the approval was unanimously rescinded, but Carvin and Allen had excused themselves from the meeting due to illness by then.
Somewhere in the negotiations between the Oct. 6 meeting and the Oct. 20 special meeting, the terms had completely changed, and Didden was not happy about it.
Desman Design Management will make a presentation on potential locations for municipal parking structures and there will be a public workshop on parking at the Monday, Dec. 4 village board meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the courtroom at 350 N. Main St.
Also, there will be a special Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m., also in the 350 N. Main St. courtroom, just to consider the Neri Bakery application for an addition.