The Yonkers firefighters union has sued the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals over occupancy permits issued for a Lowe’s Home Center in Ridge Hill Village.The permits were issued illegally, the lawsuit states, because the developer has not built a fire station. But the zoning board refused at the last minute to hold a scheduled public hearing on the union’s appeal of the legitimacy of the permits.
The refusal “was merely a pretext,” the union said, “so the zoning board could avoid making a determination on a contentious issue that could have financial ramifications for FC Yonkers, Lowe’s and the City of Yonkers.”
Attorneys for the city and for FC Yonkers Associates, an affiliate of developer Forest City Ratner Cos., which also is named in the lawsuit filed in Westchester Supreme Court, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Nov. 16 lawsuit mirrors a complaint the union filed last year against the city and the developer.
Ridge Hill is a townlike development along the New York State Thruway, encompassing retail shops, entertainment, offices and housing. The $660 million project was expected to generate $24 million in city taxes.
The union – formally known as the Mutual Aid Association of the Paid Fire Department of the City of Yonkers – claims in both lawsuits that environmental reviews identified fire safety as a big concern, as far back as 2003. The city council and the planning board adopted those findings.
In 2006, Forest City agreed to design and build a firehouse on land acquired by the city and to pay up to $3 million for construction, the lawsuits state. The work was supposed to begin before Ridge Hill’s grand opening.
Construction of Ridge Hill was delayed during the financial crisis, but in 2011 tenants began moving into the first buildings. More than 2 million square feet of space has been built, the union said, but no firehouse.
In last year’s lawsuit, firefighters sought to stop the building department from issuing certificates of occupancy for the Lowe’s store until the firehouse is built or a firm timetable is set.
As that lawsuit was pending this past summer, Building Commissioner William Schneider issued two temporary occupancy permits for Lowe’s. The 70,000-square-foot store opened for business in July.
The union appealed the commissioner’s actions to the zoning board, claiming that Forest City is not entitled to occupancy permits until it builds the firehouse.
Forest City and Lowe’s responded that the zoning board has no authority to interpret the issue.
Less than three hours before a public hearing was to begin on Oct. 17, City Attorney Michael V. Curti notified the zoning board that it had no jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The board adopted Curti’s position and did not allow public comment.
The union said the zoning board does indeed have authority to interpret the building commissioner’s actions. It is asking the court to reverse the board’s decision and order the board to consider the union’s appeal.