Cabrera in hot water over Armory $queeze play

Councilman Cabrera at the Bronx Borough Board meeting, informally voting for the KNIC plan amid allegations he tried to shake down developers.
Photo by David Cruz

Ankle deep in controversy over an alleged shakedown of the Kingsbridge Armory developer, City Councilman Fernando Cabrera finally took a stand, voting in favor of turning the armory into an ice rink sports center.

Cabrera, considered the Council’s swing vote in the plan, “voted in the affirmative” at a Nov. 21 Bronx Borough Board meeting — an advisory panel made up of Bronx City Council delegation and Community Board Chairs.

Members unanimously voted in favor of greenlighting the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, said to be the world’s largest ice center.

Cabrera’s quickly ducked reporters after the vote.

Cabrera’s staff has said they are simply in talks with the developer over traffic issues that have blossomed since Community Board 7 voted in favor of the project in September.

The talks come after a damaging published report by Kate Pastor in the Norwood News alleging through unnamed sources that Cabrera attempted to squeeze $100,000 a year for 99 years from developers to fund a religious nonprofit that’s virtually defunct. Cabrera eventually dropped his demand.

“It’s just not true,” Greg Faulkner, Cabrera’s chief-of-staff, said of the published report. He did not elaborate further.

But the lead attorney for KNIC Partners confirmed Cabrera’s solicitation.

“A request from Councilman Cabrera, coming as it did from a sitting City Council member who would ultimately vote on this project, was inappropriate in our view,” said William Brewer III. “[T]he request was rejected out of hand.”

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board does have a statute in the City Charter that reads “no public servant shall, directly or indirectly…compel, induce or request any person to pay any political assessment, subscription or contribution, under threat of prejudice to or promise of or to secure advantage in rank, compensation or other job-related status or function.”

At the Borough Board meeting, Cabrera’s City Council colleagues Andy King and Oliver Koppell declined to pass judgement on Cabrera’s alleged actions.

“Everyone has the intention to try and help their district and their community…,” said King, who said his final council vote on the project would defer to Cabrera’s, since council courtesy generally dictates members go along with the member who district has a project.

Term-limited Koppell said he plans to vote for the project even if Cabrera does not.

“I believe that Councilman Cabrera’s support is important, but it’s not in my view determinative,” said Koppell, who saw the council vote for the Croton Water Filtration Plant despite his opposition to it.

In every case, a project needs 26 council votes to pass or 34 votes to override any mayoral veto.

KNIC developers, Cabrera and Faulkner are now in down-to-the-wire final talks focusing mostly on concerns over traffic congestion, although gentrification issues have arisen, with small merchants already seeing signs of rising rents and shorter leases.

With 7,000 guests per day projected at the center, Faulkner said he believes traffic could be snarled with even a thousand guests per day. “That’s still a heavy amount of traffic,” he said.

The traffic gripes were enough for local Community Board 7’s economic development committee to vote against the project, but the full board ultimately voted in favor of it in September under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the City Planning Commission and the city Landmarks Commission soon approved plans for the ice palace, slated to be built by 2018 if approved.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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