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Continuum Business Practices Dominate Planning Board Hearing

Continuum's track record and questions about the approval process dominated last night's Irvington Planning Board meeting.

  • Editor's note: This is a blog post that represents the writer's opinions and perceptions of the meeting.  Want to blog on Patch? Click here

The proposed Continuum assisted living facility was the key topic of discussion at Wednesday evening’s Irvington Planning Board meeting.

While many of the core issues, including site density and mass, traffic, setbacks, child safety, impact on village services such as IVAC, and overall lack of consistency with Irvington zoning laws and its comprehensive plan had been discussed at prior meetings, some new concerns were brought up in last night’s discussion.

Probably chief among those items was a discussion around Continuum and its Chairman, Ian Bruce Eichner. Concerns were first raised by a resident of the Barney Park area who expressed his concern about the financial background of the builder and what the result might be of a default on a half-built property.

Sycamore Lane resident Peter Blass shared that, as a real estate finance professional, the first thing he does when assessing a potential development is to perform due diligence on the developer, looking at their track record, whether they’d built similar project previously and whether they’ve done a comprehensive market study to assess whether there is a true market need for the space.

It came as a bit of a surprise that many in the room were unfamiliar with Continuum’s track record; concerningly, at least some members of the Planning Board seemed unaware of their previous defaults and trail of litigation.

Sycamore Lane resident Patricia Graubart followed with a passionate litany of Continuum’s past experience. Noting that Continuum’s Scott Aaron had touted their South Beach Condominium project as an example of their “best in class” work, she noted that just over a year ago Continuum and founder Ian Bruce Eichner settled a lawsuit for $9 million with the South Beach property’s condo association for design and construction defects. Subsequent to the South Beach Condominium development, Continuum defaulted on a nearly $1 billion loan from Deutsche Bank for the development of the Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino and abandoned the project incomplete. The project, originally estimated to cost $1.8 Billion, eventually was completed by Deutsche Bank at a cost of $3.9 billion.

Ms. Graubart added that “it appears Mr. Eichner and Continuum are also being sued for fraud and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in conjunction with their Manhattan Club development, a NYC time-share."

Mr. Eichner’s company previously defaulted on Manhattan-based CitySpire and the Bertelsman Building on Broadway, in the early 1990s. Continuum’s Eichner was previously quoted as saying “I've built three million square feet in Manhattan and none of it came in on budget or on time”. It may come as little surprise that default and litigation seem to follow the company wherever it builds.

Riverview Road resident Cindy Kief echoed the concerns about what might happen if Continuum were to default on a half-built property. She noted that “most development in the community is done by local developers who live in the village and whose kids go to school with our kids and who have to look us in the eye if things go wrong.” If this project were to default mid-construction, “we’d be left with a half-built eyesore” according to Kief.

The approval process was the second major topic of discussion for the evening.

A number of residents voiced concerns about how the zoning changes and comprehensive plan changes should have been considered independently of the site-specific requests, the former being the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees, while the latter is more suited to the Planning Board and SEQRA process. Village attorney Marianne Stecich reiterated the details of the current process, but that didn’t really answer the question of whether the Planning Board should even be moving forward with the SEQRA review when the Village Trustees had not determined whether to change our Comprehensive Plan to enable this new permitted use.

As resident Pat Nadarelli laid out, there are really three questions here, which should be answered sequentially: 

  1. Is Assisted Living needed in the Village? 
  2. If so, is this the right site? 
  3. And, if so, then the Planning Board should initiate the SEQRA process to determine whether all of the nonconforming requests of this site plan should be allowed. 

Nadarelli added that, since the use is not considered in the master plan, if the applicant maintains that there is demand for these services, then they need to demonstrate that with a market study that includes new and proposed construction in neighboring communities.

Despite the Village Attorney’s comments that everyone fully understands the process, it became clear that was not the case. Planning Board member George Boyle asked for clarification to what the Planning Board ultimately would base their recommendation on. Could they consider alternate uses for the site in their analysis, or were they only responding to the impact of the project as proposed?  Said Boyle “I still want to know what I’m supposed to look at and how I’m going to judge it”, also asking “Can someone give me guidelines as to how I will make my recommendation?”

In the most surreal moment of the evening, Anthony Veneziano, attorney for Continuum, then began to counsel members of the Planning Board on how they should proceed with the process. Resident Patricia Graubart stood up to object, noting “This is extremely disconcerting that there are still issues of charge and authority as respects this process.  In addition, it is upsetting that the attorney for Continuum is providing counsel for our Village Planning Board.!"

Despite ongoing concerns from those in the community, the Planning Board members voted 5-0 to close the public comment period and move to the next phase of the process. The public will have three weeks to submit any additional comments in writing to the board, after which time the period for public comment will have ended. At that point, Continuum will respond to all questions through the submission of a Final DEIS.

Those still wishing to submit comments to the Planning Board should send them care of Florence Costello.

A final comment: While loan defaults and litigation may be a way of doing business in commercial real estate, they can have a devastating impact on a community the size of Irvington. Manhattan, Las Vegas and South Beach may be able to absorb such failures, but our small Village cannot. In evaluating the Continuum assisted living project, the Irvington Planning Board must not only assess whether the use, size and scope of the project are appropriate, but also whether the developer has a track record of successfully completing their projects and leaving their communities in better shape than when they first arrived. I encourage the Planning Board and Village Trustees to perform this aspect of due diligence as carefully as they might the environmental impact issues. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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