(Update: The suit against Wainwright involves only five neighbors, not seven as originally reported.)
The immediate neighbors of the non-profit Wainwright House on Milton Point have filed a suit targeting the non-profit. And they are planning to file a second suit next week.
Is there merit in the legal actions? It appears the claims and stories are just old news designed to run the legal fee meter both for a long standing non-profit that is struggling through the pandemic and for city taxpayers.
Arriving like the Grinch just before Christmas, five Wainwright neighbors along Milton Point’s exclusive Stuyvesant Avenue filed a lawsuit in Westchester Supreme Court on December 21st against the City of Rye Planning Commission, naming Wainwright as a respondent. The suit claims the Planning Commission renewal of Wainwright’s application to hold events is unlawful.
To add to the legal festivities, the group of Wainwright’s neighbors plan to file a second, separate lawsuit next week in New York State Supreme Court claiming Wainwright’s real estate deed prohibits the sale of alcohol.
All of this comes on the heels of last year when a planned coordination between Wainwright and RowAmerica Rye and its owner Howard Winkelvoss to invest $3-4 million into the property was halted. The plan was sunk by what Winkelvoss said was a misinformation campaign driven by Wainwright’s immediate neighbor to the west, the Alexander family and other neighbors. “We had competition particularly in the way of Robert Alexander who is an outright dirty little bastard,” Winkelvoss told MyRye.com in early 2021. “I will not dip to that level – telling lies like he told.”
The Westchester Suit vs. the Planning Commission
Called an Article 78 proceeding, the suit claims the Planning Commission, under the guidance of longtime 20-plus year chairman Nick Everett, unlawfully approved Wainwright’s application to renew its ability to hold select outdoor events on its five-acre campus. The 191-page litany of arguments is all too familiar – previous complaints, approvals, proceedings and lawsuits.
“We believe the planning commission looked at the application diligently and thoroughly and after several public hearings rendered a decision that modified the original request after listening to all sides on the issues,” City of Rye Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson told MyRye.com. And City Manager Greg Usry concurred: “The city will certainly defend the position of the planning commission and its decision that was rendered.”
And what is all the consternation over? The Planning Commission’s approval for Wainwright House to continue to host outdoor events – specifically ten weddings and five cultural events – over the course of each year. The funds raised from the ten weddings held on Wainwright grounds each year account for approximately one-third of the nonprofit’s annual budget.
Disallowing these events – especially after a pandemic ban on events which left Wainwright without this income – could well be a death blow.
And the suit idea is not new. The immediate neighbors filed suit back in 2011 over the same issue and that suit was tossed out. That same year Libby and Rob Alexander, who are the adjacent neighbors to the left, purchased a strip of property from the cash strapped Wainwright.
Suit Number Two, Coming Next Week.
Now the five neighbors – as of this week calling themselves the Stuyvesant Avenue Neighborhood Coalition – have announced plans to file the second “alcohol” suit as soon as next week. This second suit is a civil suit claiming the Wainwright House deed prohibits them from using or allowing “any building on the premises to let or lease the same to be used for the purpose of selling intoxicating liquors and other non-residential actions.”
One has to ask if the neighbors really want Wainwright and its neighbors to be a bunch of teetotalers, or if this is simply a way to gain leverage.
The Five Neighbors & Wainwright
The Wainwright’s five neighbors on Stuyvesant Avenue use words such as “unaccountable”, “chronic mismanagement”, and “intransigence” when describing the situation. “The Wainwright House Board should candidly concede that nighttime wedding celebrations with alcohol — like leaf blowing, rock removal and other loud activities — can create noise conditions inconsistent with the quality-of-life Rye homeowners deserve and expect,” said Dr. Benjamin Rosenstadt of 220 Stuyvesant Avenue.
The neighbors filing suit:
Libby and Robert Alexander of the Robert L. Alexander Revocable Trust and Elizabeth C. Alexander Revocable Trust of 290 & 300 Stuyvesant Avenue
Mary Mundinger via The Mundinger Paul Trust of 200 Stuyvesant Avenue
Benjamin Rosenstadt & Jane Lubowitz of 220 Stuyvesant Avenue
Kevin J Kelly & Janet A Brody of 210 Stuyvesant Avenue
John S & Alexandra Galantic of 230 Stuyvesant Avenue
The neighbors say the actions come out of frustration and after “several generous, well-intended offers to assist the Wainwright House financially” which were rejected. The details of these offers were not immediately available, and Wainwright reps used other less generous characterizations of the offers.
“It’s just sour grapes,” said Wainwright Board President Bob Manheimer. “And the problem is that they are litigious and they’re not getting their way. They basically want us gone.”
The financially strapped Wainwright House is seeking pro bono legal help to defend itself. “I just anticipate threats,” said Manheimer. “Bullying which they’ve done. They were bullying the city, and they’re just continuing and they have the money to do it. And we don’t have the money to do it. We need pro bono. We stand by everything we’re doing, we’re confident it is within the scope of the mission.”
With all the immediate neighbors rowing against it, Manheimer still says he is “absolutely optimistic” about the future of Wainwright. “I’ve been here for over three years. We had to get the finances in order. All of that stuff has been going very well. The one nuisance is these neighbors, and this constant haranguing over the tents.”
The comedy is that both sides, when taken at their word, say they love Wainwright House and its place in Rye. The tragedy is the bitter fighting may destroy this community resource.