Baker Residential LP plans to build 73 to 116 houses in Thornwood, but one crucial facet is missing, the deed.
Baker Residential has sued the Legion of Christ, owner of the 165-acre property, to compel the Catholic religious order to convey title to the property.
The developer struck a deal with the Legion of Christ in 2014 to buy the property for $11.9 million, contingent on Baker getting land use approvals by this past Jan. 22. If approvals were not obtained by then, according to the complaint filed in Westchester Supreme Court, Baker could either cancel the contract or waive the contingency date and proceed with the purchase.
The White Plains developer says it fell short of getting everything it needed and it wants to proceed with the transaction. The Legion, according to the complaint, has refused to do so.
“We have very serious affirmative defenses and counterclaims,” said P. Daniel Hollis III, the Legion’s attorney, that establish the basis for not closing the transfer “at the moment, because of actions of Baker.”
He said he was not at liberty to discuss the Legion’s position because the court papers have not yet been filed.
The property is known as the Thornwood Conference Center and was formerly owned by International Business Machines. In 1999, the Legion bought 264 acres from IBM, reportedly for more than $33 million.
It planned to use it as a seminary, according to news accounts, and later planned to build a liberal arts university.
The Legion of Christ was an influential international movement with seminaries and schools across the world. That began to change around 2006 after Pope Benedict dismissed the founder, Marcial Maciel, from the ministry.
Maciel had been accused of pedophilia and of sexually abusing Legion seminarians, according to the National Catholic Reporter. In 2010, the Vatican acknowledged that he had fathered three children by two women.
Hundreds of priests and seminarians left the order and many of its schools and centers were closed.
The Legion sold part of its Thornwood property in 2014 to EF Academy, an international boarding school.
It made the deal with Baker for the remaining 165 acres of undeveloped land.
Baker paid a $250,000 deposit and it said it has spent another $1,250,000 getting government approvals.
The developer is part of Baker Realty Services, a 51-year-old family business. The company has built 5,000 dwellings in six states in 25 years, according to an affidavit by Christopher T. Baker, company president, generating more than $1.5 billion in sales revenue.
The Thornwood contract price was based on 61 houses. Any more than that, Baker would pay another $110,000 per unit. The contract also cited interest by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in buying 49 acres to protect the city’s watershed.
If that land were sold to the city within three years of the Legion selling the property to Baker, according to lawsuit documents, the developer and the Legion would divide the net proceeds.
Baker said the Mount Pleasant Planning Board was supposed to consider its subdivision plans on Jan. 4 but bad weather caused the meeting to be canceled.
Baker says it did not have all of the necessary government approvals as of the Jan. 22 deadline, and it advised the Legion that it was invoking the contract terms.
The Legion accused Baker of acting in bad faith by not diligently pursuing a deal on the 49 acres that New York City DEP wanted.
Until Baker memorializes its obligation to pay the Legion its share of a transaction with New York City, Hollis said in a Feb. 2 letter to Baker’s law firm, “our client will not close with your client at all for any price.”