Orange Avenue housing project takes major steps toward finalization

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Village Board approves raft of clearances and negotiated deals


SUFFERN– A major housing development which aims to draw affluent commuter residents into the Village of Suffern received a number of major approvals, according to Village Trustee Ed Markunas and a May 21 announcement by the development group that has pushed for the project.

The Orange Avenue development, a 92-apartment project in downtown Suffern, appears to have made major progress after weathering a prolonged period of public opposition, planning and zoning complications and drawn-out negotiations. Most notably, a required zone change to a transit-oriented development, sale of village property, re-negotiated PILOT agreement and an additional host community benefit agreement were approved by the Village Board on May 4.

The community benefit agreement includes cost savings of about $1.5 million over the course of the agreement while the re-negotiated PILOT will save another $2.8 million, according to Markunas.

“The monetary benefit is much greater than the original agreement,” Markunas said. “The HCB far exceeds what [Suffern was] going to initially receive.”

Though the major terms have been cleared, the finer points of the agreements remain under discussion and the deal is not yet set in stone. According to Orange Avenue President and CEO Joshua Goldstein, the project has yet to receive planning board approval, but expects to receive it prior to breaking ground in late 2015.

Located at 130 Orange Avenue, the new project was conceived as a way draw young professionals and baby boomers who wish to access the city’s amenities via nearby rail transit while remaining in a relatively affordable suburban area. Developers and local officials hope the influx of both young and old money will infuse much-needed cash into Suffern’s sluggish economy.

“After almost two years of negotiations with local governments, 92 residential apartments will now be built in the Village of Suffern,” Orange Avenue stated in a recent release. “This project is part of the new era of ‘transit oriented developments’ that are coming to life in counties adjacent to New York City and helping to implement the broad policy of urban renewal.”

Before the terms were re-negotiated, the project managed to obtain a 35-year PILOT agreement with the Village of Suffern last May, allowing it to pay $42,569 annually for the first five years of its mortgage, plus $31, 569 per year in mortgage closings. The payment was expected to go up every five years before stabilizing at $108,569 in the final five years of the agreement.

However, residents and school districts balked at the initial PILOT terms, which they argued would negatively impact village finances and hurt Ramapo School District’s long-term revenue prospects. They also strongly reacted against a 40-year tax deal unilaterally-approved by the Ramapo Town Board without input from the Village.

Though the tax deal was eventually settled, other issues still complicated the process. In February, the owner of a 1.5 acre parcel slated for inclusion in the development backed out of the deal.

An eminent domain seizure was discussed as a possible last resort to save the project, but met with distaste by members of the Board and was not pursued further. According to Goldstein, the issue with the holdout has since been resolved.

The Orange Ave. project had long been championed by former mayor Dagan LaCorte. “The development is the center piece of the downtown revitalization,” LaCorte said.

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