Howard blasts approval of Waterfront Development

Dear Editor:

As a mayoral candidate for Newburgh, I am appalled with the 3 to 2 vote approving a Development Agreement with Leyland Associates, less than a week after the terms were made public.

Clearly, this is being done to bind the next council’s hands in dealing with Leyland because the waterfront project is likely to be a central issue in this year’s city elections.

According to published reports, the city’s special council Michael Zarin refused to disclose how much Leyland will pay the city for the 38 acres of prime waterfront land to be sold to Leyland until after the agreement was approved, in apparent violation of state sunshine laws.

This land is the city’s most valuable asset. For the city council to agree to sell it without disclosing the sales price to the public until they bound the city to the deal is unconscionable.

I do not oppose development. However, it is important that development be focused on the needs of the community rather than merely serve the interests of developers and their political allies.

I have called for the project to incorporate a Community Benefits Agreement which would provide job training for Newburgh residents, meaningful employment as the project is developed, and continuing employment upon completion. I have also sought to insulate the community from the gentrification impacts that the massive infusion of luxury housing will likely produce.

The fact is, rents have already been skyrocketing as real estate speculators anticipate the project’s effects on the market.

This is not the first time that this land has been part of a redevelopment scheme by the city. Urban renewal cleared the former residents from the area, and it has since sat empty for the past 40 years, while the former residents have tried to recover from the effects of their mass eviction.

I am not going to stand by and see another exodus imposed on our community.

This is the most important project to come before this city in a generation, and it is unacceptable for the city council to rush a back room deal through the approval process without laying it out for the public and taking – and heeding – the public’s comments about it. Nick Valentine should be ashamed of himself for trying to push this through without hearing from the people who will be most affected by it, and for trying to insulate the developer from the public’s concern.

There had been no public meetings since the release of the agreement at a 7am special meeting that was held without meaningful public notice, and claimed that the addition of nearly 400 units to the originally announced 830 unit project, as well as the addition of 8 acres to the original 30 acre plan, were merely icing on a cake of indifference and megalomania being served by this council to the people of Newburgh.

The people of Newburgh, who own this priceless land, and who will see their city go through major changes as a result of its development, have a right to be involved in the shaping of it at each and every step of the way.

My advice to the Mayor and his allies on the council is that they rescind this agreement immediately, release it to the public, invite the members of the Newburgh community to discuss it, listen to the input that this discussion produces, and then revise the agreement so that it is in accord with the public’s wishes.

Lillie Howard

Mayoral candidate for the City of Newburgh

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