YONKERS-The Yonkers City Council by its votes on procedural matters surrounding the proposed Ridge Hill Village project here gave a clear sign to developer Forest City Ratner Cos. that a “supermajority” of council members are poised to vote in favor of the $600-million project. The critical vote that will determine the project’s fate could come on July 11.

For the past week, Yonkers City Council president Chuck Lesnick has been in negotiations with Forest City Ratner and Westchester County officials in an attempt to mediate some issues that have delayed the project, including traffic and taxes. Forest City Ratner had given city officials until June 15 to show that progress was being made so that construction could begin soon or it reportedly threatened it might walk away from the project.

On June 15, councilwoman Sandy Annabi announced she had decided to support the Ridge Hill project. Annabi said that Forest City Ratner had agreed to increase the taxes it would pay on the project over the next three years from a total of $900,000 to $10.9 million. The Ridge Hill development, to be built on an 81.4-acre tract between the New York State Thruway and the Sprain Brook Parkway, if approved, will feature 1.3 million sf of retail, restaurant and retail use, 800 rental apartments, 150,000 sf of office and research space, a 350-room hotel, a 40,000-sf conference center and approximately 7,000 parking spaces.

“Forest City Ratner Cos. has worked with us in good faith and has addressed my concerns,” Annabi said. “They have committed to be a long-term investor and good neighbor in Yonkers, and as such assist us in improving our quality of life. This means lower property taxes and more money for our schools and for public safety.”

A vote to schedule a vote on the zone change of the property for July 11 passed by a 5-2 supermajority on Friday, with Annabi being the critical fifth vote. The rezoning issue is a key matter that needs to be ironed out if the project is to proceed. On May 2, New York State Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Colabella issued a ruling that voided the City Council’s 4-3 vote last December in favor of the zone change of the Ridge Hill Property. The judge ruled that the council violated city and state regulations that required a five-vote supermajority to approve the zone change.

Council President Lesnick was one of the plaintiffs in that case which is being appealed by the city. Lesnick, who was not a member of the City Council when it voted 4-3 in favor of the zone change in December, says he will vote in favor of the zone change when it comes before the council again.Lesnick has been trying to convince Westchester County officials to go along with a proposed parkland swap, whereby the county would designate a portion of county parkland for a critical road that would link Ridge Hill Village to the Saw Mill River Parkway for a larger parcel that is part of the more than 80-acre Ridge Hill parcel.A spokesperson for Westchester County Executive Andy Spano, says, “We don’t think much of this idea at all. Unfortunately, the Parks Department, the Planning Department and the Westchester County Planning Board are all aware of the idea and all three agencies have major reservations, as does the county, on alienating parkland as part of a land swap.”

“We are encouraged by the recent significant progress that has been made in moving the Ridge Hill Village project forward and that a new vote to approve Ridge Hill Village will take place in the coming weeks,” Bruce Bender, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner says. We look forward to working with the mayor and council in the coming weeks to bring closure to this process.”

Annabi, Lesnick and others in favor of the project told about 50 attendees of the Council session that negotiations are continuing with Forest City Ratner on possible further concessions as well as on traffic mitigation.

Council Member Dee Barbato, who voted against the resolution to have a public hearing on the zone change, said that the city was giving up its leverage and could get more concessions from the developer. “You do the bypass before the heart attack. We’re this close and now you are going to give it up.”

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