Ridge Hill parking meters spark class-action lawsuit in Yonkers

Parking meters were recently removed from street parking Parking meters were recently removed from street parking spaces, as seen Tuesday, at Westchester's Ridge Hill in Yonkers. (Jan. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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Two women have signed onto a class-action lawsuit against the developer of Ridge Hill Plaza in Yonkers, seeking to recoup an undisclosed amount of money from parking meters that some city officials have said were illegal.

The lawsuit, filed in Rockland County State Supreme Court on Tuesday, alleges that Forest City Ratner fraudulently collected money from more than 160 parking meters that had not been approved by the city.

The two plaintiffs -- Katherine Anderson of Congers and Maria Felidi of Yonkers -- claim they were bilked of money by the Forest City Ratner and First New York Partners Management, which operated the parking meters.

"They were engaging in a deceptive business practice," said White Plains attorney Joseph Savino, whose White Plains firm is representing the women. "They kept collecting money after they were told, at least twice, to stop doing that."

Savino said he expects the number of litigants to grow as more Ridge Hill shoppers become aware of the allegations against the developer.

Anderson told Newsday that she doesn't know how much money she has pumped into the parking meters in the past year, but she suspects it could add up. "I shop there quite often because I work in Yonkers," she said.

Forest City Ratner declined to comment on the litigation but said the parking meters -- in operation from May 2011 until the fall of 2012 -- had been approved as part of an environmental assessment for a $700 million shopping and housing project.

"We are aware of the lawsuit and are reviewing it with our lawyers," Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Joyce Baumgarten said.

The suit follows allegations by Yonkers City Council members that the developer had no right to collect meter money at the Yonkers shopping plaza and issue parking tickets to violators.

Council President Chuck Lesnick said the council sent a letter to Forest City Ratner in December 2011 telling it to remove the parking meters and questioning whether it could issue parking tickets.

"We told them they didn't have the authority to do this," he said. "We weren't disputing the fact that they had the right to collect fees for parking, but the meters and the tickets they were issuing were not authorized by the city."

The developer continued to collect money from patrons, Lesnick said, even as residents complained to council members that they were being issued tickets, in some cases for as much as $75.

Baumgarten said the parking meters have been removed in the past several days under an agreement with the city that included adding more handicapped parking spots around the sprawling, 81-acre complex of retail specialty shops.

She said about 50 tickets were issued but declined to say how much money was collected or how many tickets were paid.

Lesnick said only the Yonkers Parking Bureau can regulate on-street meters -- regardless of whether they are on public or private roads -- and said Forest City Ratner was never authorized by the city to install them.

Last week, Mayor Mike Spano announced that the city had reached an agreement with Forest City Ratner to remove the meters as part of a move to "reconfigure traffic and parking flow" in the shopping plaza that "benefits visitors to Ridge Hill."

He made no mention of the likelihood that the developer shouldn't have installed the meters in the first place.

"That happened before we came to office," said Spano's spokeswoman, Christina Gilmartin, on Tuesday. The meters were installed under former Mayor Phil Amicone, she said, adding, "We met with the developers and reached an agreement to remove the meters."

Gilmartin said the city isn't liable for any tickets issued by the developer because Ridge Hill is privately owned.

"The city doesn't own the property and we didn't issue the tickets, so it isn't liable," she said.

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