The Fork In The Road For Lighthouse Landing

For the better part of eight years, Sleepy Hollow’s Mayor, Philip Zegarelli, has crafted a plan with the help of the Board of Trustees, residents, volunteer boards, Village and County officials.

imagesThat plan has dealt with the transformation of General Motors’ 98-plus-acre industrial site into a proposed mixed use Hudson River waterfront development which will literally transform Sleepy Hollow.

Mr. Zegarelli is no stranger to developing strategies and implementing plans of this magnitude. In the early 1990’s he worked for Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company and was the chairman of a collective of foreign banks, tasked withrestructuring Koor Industries in Israel. Koor, one of the largest corporations in Israel, contributed to roughly 11% of the Country’s gross national product. It also employed 10% of Israel’s labor force. Koorwas essentially owned by the Labor Party of Shimon Peres and was experiencing profitability problems with an ever increasing debt service. "This company was basically the heart blood of Israel. They were a conglomerate and made everything from chicken soup to explosives," Mr. Zegarelli said.
Concurrently, he was involved in negotiations with Mount Isa Mines of Queensland, Australia, and once again his task was the restructuring of the Company’s debt service. "In both instances the companies had too much debt and not enough cash flow. We had to look to see what could be done and ended up working with the unions and management to restructure the companies so they could continue. We took things apart one by one and determined what was necessary and what wasn’t," he said. At stake was a 1.2 billion dollar Israeli conglomerate and a 500 million dollar Australian coal company.

Sixteen years later, in his capacity as Mayor, Mr. Zegarelli continues to negotiate, strategize and implement plans, this time for "Lighthouse Landing," the biggest single development in the Village’s history, estimatedin excess of 800 million dollars. In the field of psychology there’s a theory called approach/avoidance, which in this case translates to the closer one gets to completing something the greater the avoidance to getting it done. It appears that the developers of "Lighthouse Landing" may have identified with the theory. Being so close to getting their preliminary Final Environment Impact Statement (pFEIS) approved, they actually handed in a document that, according to the Village, was "woefully incomplete" and could not be accepted by the Village Board. In a May 19 letter to developer Marshall Tycher, the President of Roseland Property Company, Mr. Zegarelliwrote that Roseland’s pFEIS document was "so thin, so meager in nature that the document essentially remains unchanged." He went on to admonish Roseland saying that they, "made no effort to work with the various Village consultants in preparing the purportedly revised pFEIS document." In doing so, GM and Roseland breached a significant time deadline that the Mayor had set up in 2002. "When we negotiated this agreement there were major and minor thresholds for GM to adhere to. This is a major threshold," the Mayor said.Known as "the Agreement," Sleepy Hollow has the legal right to take over control of the property if certain criteria are not met. "We have been positioning ourselves over the past several years to be in this spot, so that the burden is on the developers. We are not going to put ourselves into a box from a negotiations point of view," he said.

If Roseland fails to address the Village’s concerns, Mayor Zegarelli and the Board are prepared to take over the process and complete the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is basically a master plan for the site. If the Village assumes this responsibility it becomes questionable as to whether Roseland and General Motors would be the developers. "It leaves things wide open," Mr. Zegarelli noted.Other interested developers are paying close attention the situation. Roseland and General Motors have apparently gotten the message and have until the end of June to revisit the Village’s requests for modifying and downsizing "Lighthouse Landing."

The Mayor summed up his position by saying of Roseland and General Motors, "Guys, we’d really love to have you do it. You certainly know how to do it, but if you can’t get it done, we’re moving on." He is confident that the Village of Sleepy Hollow is in a position of strength and will have a big presence in what "Lighthouse Landing" is destined to become. Big enough to work closely with Roseland and General Motors or any other developers, should it come to that.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento