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VICTORY FOR FREE SPEECH--SHELBOURNE DROPS LAWSUIT AGAINST CITIZENS, TOWN AND COMMUNITY GROUPS
Release Date: July 01, 2016
Earlier this week I issued a statement (see below) encouraging Shelbourne to withdraw the lawsuit that they had filed against 19 residents and civic associations objecting to the proposed assisted living facility. Residents of Edgemont and unincorporated Greenburgh have differing views on the application – some support the proposal, others object. I believe that we should be encouraging dialogue and discussion and feel that any legal action against citizens/civic groups discourages public participation in the process. All the members of the Town Board try to go out of their way to encourage citizen involvement in our decision making actions.
I spoke with representatives of Shelbourne to highlight our views during the week and am pleased that the lawsuit has been dropped! A victory for free speech! Their statement is posted below. My original statement encouraging them to drop the lawsuit is posted after their comments.
I appreciate the fact that the leadership of Shelbourne took this action step. Their application is currently under review by the Zoning Board. The Zoning Board is independent of the Town Board. Members of the Town Board are prohibited by our ethics laws from attending their meetings and speaking for or against applications before them. Residents who support or oppose the application are always encouraged to express themselves –on this and all other proposals.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor
From: Jim Kane
Date: July 1, 2016 at 12:01:50 PM EDT
To: Paul Feiner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Mark Maberry
Subject: Shelbourne Senior Living
Attached you will find the follow up response to our discussion of yesterday. As I mentioned we have decided to withdraw the Article 78 proceeding and focus our attention our current application for variances before the Zoning Board.
James W. Kane III|Shelbourne Healthcare Development Group LLC
STATEMENT MADE BY SHELBOURNE
Shelbourne would like to provide clarification on recent events to the citizens of Edgemont and Greenburgh.
Contrary to statements that have been made on various social media posts and blogs, Shelbourne did not file a lawsuit against private citizens in an effort to silence dissent or bully our opponents. That is not our way of doing business. In fact, until now, we have never filed a lawsuit. Instead, our legal action was an Article 78 appeal of a Greenburgh Zoning Board decision related to our proposed senior living project. We filed that appeal on the advice of our legal team in order to preserve our rights. Our attorney named the Edgemont Community Council and a number of citizens because the ECC and those citizens had collectively appealed the Greenburgh Building Inspector’s decision of last summer. According to our attorney, the ECC and those citizens had to be served with the notice of the appeal in order for the appeal to be proper and legal. We did not realize that filing the appeal would be the equivalent of filing a lawsuit, and certainly did not realize that it would involve serving private citizens with legal documents. We should have asked more questions and been more diligent in determining how best to proceed. We apologize for taking an action that caused concern and inconvenience for the citizens of Greenburgh.
Shelbourne has elected to voluntarily withdraw our Article 78 appeal of the previous Zoning Board decision and instead focus our efforts on the pending Zoning Board case. The citizens served with notice of our appeal and the ECC will not have to answer our appeal. We intend to make our best case to the Zoning Board.
We apologize to the citizens who may feel inconvenienced and even harassed. That was not our intent and we are sure that was not on their minds when they agreed to sign onto the ECC appeal of the Building Inspector’s decision.
Shelbourne is not experienced with such litigation, because in our other zoning cases around the country we have not had to rely on the courts to help sort out the complexities of a zoning case. In other jurisdictions we have been able to make our case successfully to the various town boards. But we have learned that legal appeals are prevalent and maybe even part of the normal process in Greenburgh. We meant no harm to any citizens of the Town by filing the Article 78 proceeding. We fully expect some of those citizens to ultimately be our residents or the family members of our residents.
We recognize the concerns of the ECC and other opponents of our project. We would like nothing more than to convince the opposition of what others around the country already know: we are good neighbors wherever we locate and we provide a beautiful community with excellent senior living services to our residents. The ECC is concerned with the potential impact our project may have on Greenburgh, although we must respectfully point out that their concerns (traffic and emergency services in particular) are not supported by the facts around assisted living communities, and certainly not valid when you compare Shelbourne’s project with the heavy commercial operations of the nursery for the past 70 years. The ECC also has made it clear that they are not so much opposed to our use as they are opposed to the way they have been treated in general by the town of Greenburgh and its elected officials. Shelbourne is caught in the middle of that, and we trying our best to make our case for senior living in as straightforward a way as possible. Our Article 78 proceeding improperly allowed Shelbourne to be portrayed as a litigious corporate bully, when actually we are just a small group that provides senior living services in quiet, attractive buildings. Shelbourne is confident that our building will be a welcome addition to the community and will provide another much-needed option for seniors in Greenburgh and their families.
From: Paul Feiner
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 9:18 PM
Subject: MESSAGE TO SHELBOURNE--PLEASE DROP LAWSUIT AGAINST CITIZENS WHO OBJECT TO ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY
Shelbourne, an assisted living company that wants to build an 80 unit 94 bed assisted living facility on Sprain/Underhill has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court against the Zoning Board, the Edgemont Community Council and 19 neighboring residents who had appealed the Building Inspectors decision which resulted in the Zoning Board determining that the assisted living facility needs a variance under the zoning laws.
I just learned about the lawsuit today when I received some e mails from residents who live near the proposed facility. Am very upset.
Members of the Town Board and I always try to encourage citizen participation in the decision making processes of government. I believe that a lawsuit against citizens who express themselves is not in the interests of good government. these kind of lawsuits against citizens discourage people from feeling comfortable expressing themselves on issues of importance to the community. We want residents to speak out in favor and in opposition to proposals under consideration by the Town Board or other Boards. We don't want citizens who participate in the decisions making processes to feel that their involvement will ever result in lawsuits against them -which could require the hiring of counsel to defend them. Or the possibility of damages against them if they exercise their right to free speech.
Shelbourne's application is currently before the Town Board. It is possible that the Zoning Board will approve the application. It's also possible that the application will be denied and that the assisted living facility will never be built at this location. There are residents of Edgemont and unincorporated Greenburgh who support the application. There are those who object to the facility. That's democracy!
I strongly encourage the applicant to remove non government parties (the civic association and 19 citizens) from the lawsuit. Every citizen has the right to speak out--in favor or in opposition to all actions pendings before their town government, without fear of any form of retaliation.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor