CB8 to Tishman Speyer: Can we talk?

Land use chair asked to address possible conflict of interest for vote on project


Community Board 8 is desperate for a hearing with Tishman Speyer – and there’s no assurance of getting one as the firm is in the final countdown before locking in financing for the 340-unit affordable housing project planned at 160 Van Cortlandt Park S.

The firm has kept mum for five months since managing director Gary Rodney presented initial sketches to the land use committee in September, promising to return soon with more details.

As the months tick by, land use chair Charles Moerdler has warned he’ll become a “terrible pest” if Tishman Speyer continues to be a no-show.

But in the interim he’s found himself in an unwieldy position as both a community board officer and a board member of the city’s Housing Development Corp. — two public bodies taking up the Tishman project simultaneously.

The Riverdale Press has learned HDC approved a series of tax-exempt bonds last fall to finance some 80 multi-family developments across New York City. One of the projects on that list is 160 Van Cortlandt Park S. It’s expected to receive a $115.2 million mortgage sometime in 2023. Other  projects that are due to receive financing range from $1 million to more than $400 million.

HDC board members voted unanimously to approve the bond issuance Nov. 30, with Moerdler also casting a vote in favor.

A spokesperson for HDC confirmed 160 Van Cortlandt Park S. is a candidate for bond financing from HDC.

That person said that “At this time, we do not have a specific time frame set for when it will be presented to the HDC board for consideration.”

Before doing so, the firm will need to provide detailed information about the size and cost of the development, projected operating expenses, rent levels, and other disclosures.

Though Moerdler hasn’t spoken in any detail about HDC’s process during CB8 meetings, he has often reminded attendees of his position on HDC’s board of directors and his hope of avoiding hardball tactics with Tishman Speyer.

A spokesperson for the firm told The Riverdale Press they, “look forward to returning to Community Board 8 with further updates in the near future.”

“I personally prefer to follow my mother’s advice, which was you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” Moerdler said at Monday night’s land use committee meeting.

The topic hasn’t officially appeared on the land use agenda for several months, and tempers flared when Moerdler repeated familiar assurances that he’s been working the phones, urging Rodney to come back to update the committee.

He stressed that Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Eric Dinowitz are both working behind the scenes to push for changes to the number of units in the development and the distribution of apartment sizes.

Land use member Rosemary Ginty pushed back.

“The idea of changing the room count or the size of the number of apartments — that is somebody else’s desire,” she said.

“It may be the desire of the community too, but we don’t know because they haven’t been given the opportunity to speak.”


Tishman Speyer’s
interest in Kingsbridge

New York’s preeminent office developer began a new foray into the city’s affordable housing market when it acquired 1.3 acres last year at the end of the 1 train in Kingsbridge.

The former Church of the Visitation, rectory, and parochial school sat vacant for years, and are now being gutted-out as Tishman Speyer’s crews undertake asbestos abatement work. The building to come will occupy most of the block, according to filed construction permits.

Moerdler made a show of hospitality in introducing Rodney to the board last September. The two men share a long acquaintance dating back to Rodney’s appointment by former mayor Bill de Blasio to head the HDC. He joined Tishman Speyer in 2020 to launch its affordable housing platform, TS Communities.

CB8 members quickly dubbed the building in Rodney’s slide presentation “the pentagon” and asked for a more detailed presentation that addressed concerns about traffic, density, green space, and flood risk.

Moerdler has served as a gubernatorial appointee to HDC’s board of directors since the 1990s.

In recent CB8 meetings he promised to leverage his vote if necessary when Tishman Speyer’s loan application comes before the board for approval.

“I have told Tishman that I’m going to oppose this one,” he said in the Feb. 1 executive committee meeting. “I’m going to vote against it because this is just wrong. You cannot continue to ignore a community the way this has happened.”

On Monday, Moerdler told The Press he stands by that promise, but noted the vote to approve financing for 160 Van Cortlandt Park S. likely won’t take place until March, giving Tishman Speyer one more month to make good on their promise to return to CB8.


Trying to sway
Visitation site owner

As the urgency mounted to bring Tishman Speyer back for a more detailed presentation on 160 Van Cortlandt Park S., land use committee members have suggested other avenues of influence.

Land use committee member Dan Padernacht proposed last month the board could send off letters to the city’s housing agency and HDC to notify officials that Tishman Speyer is continuing to turn down their invitation.

Moerdler didn’t act on the suggestion, but Padernacht raised it again in Monday’s land use committee meeting, adding: “it’s always good to have something in writing.”

“What I don’t want them to do is to check that application box that they came to the community board for a date, when they really didn’t present to us in September.”

Moerdler said he thought it would be better to stick to “the honey treatment” but permitted Padernacht to draft a resolution on the letter idea for a vote before the end of the meeting.

Ginty supported Padernacht’s idea, saying, “I don’t understand how that is considered an act of war at all.”


About that conflict of interest

The volunteer members serving on New York City’s 59 community boards are trained to avoid conflicts of interest using the “three D’s:” disclose, discuss, and do not vote.

Teresa Rodriguez, who lives in a co-op building one block away from the Tishman Speyer project, asked Moerdler directly about a potential conflict of interest Monday He said he doesn’t represent Tishman. He recommended she file a complaint with the city’s conflict of interest board.

“I am quite happy to recuse myself from this, in which event you will have no input to the process whatsoever. Is that what you’d like me to do?” he asked.

Several committee members interjected to protest the idea, but by the meeting’s end, Moerdler seemed to cede ground.

In fact the conflict of interest board lays out a lesser-known set of rules specifically for community board members serving simultaneously as an official, officer, or employee of another governmental entity.

Community board members may contribute to discussions on matters involving the other entity so long as they disclose their position, but they are prohibited from voting.

Furthermore, the rules prohibit community board members from chairing any committees or subcommittees that regularly reviews matters involving another governmental entity they serve.

A spokesperson for HDC said, “An HDC board member can serve on a community board and chair a committee, as long as it is done in compliance with the rules of the Conflicts of Interest Board.”

In the final minutes of Monday’s meeting, Padernacht called for a vote on his resolution for the board to send a letter informing the city’s housing agency and HDC of Tishman Speyer’s reluctance to appear before CB8.

It passed easily after a short discussion. Moerdler abstained.

CB8, Community Board 8, Tishman Speyer, Charles Moerdler, Gary Rodney, HDC, Housing Development Corp., Church of the Visitiation, conflict of interest, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Teresa Rodriguez,