BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
As expected, Orangetown’s Town Board unanimously approved the sale of land at the Rockland Psychiatric Center complex in Orangeburg last week from one private developer to another.
Under the terms of the agreement, the town agreed to remove all restrictive covenants on the 17-acre site, which had been imposed on the original purchaser in 2005. In return, STEJ Corporation will sell the site of its proposed indoor and outdoor sports complex to the New York City Football Club. That private, profit-making entity will use the site to construct one and one-half regulation-sized soccer fields off Old Orangeburg Road, along with offices, training facilities, parking, storage and other related amenities.
Financial terms of the sale have not been released by either party to the transaction, but STEJ reportedly paid Orangetown $1.7 million for the 17-acre site 11 years ago, at the rate of $100,000 per acre for the vacant former farmland.
STEJ had proposed constructing a multi-use sports facility at the site, including both indoor and outdoor facilities. They would have complimented a multi-pool public swimming complex the town itself then planned to construct on land it owned right next-door.
Under the agreement at that time, the two sports facilities would have shared many amenities of the total 50-acre site in common, including a central entrance, joint parking, potential cross membership benefits, picnic facilities, hiking paths and other dual uses of the former RPC fields; which Orangetown had acquired from the New York State Department of Mental Health years earlier, when the state began downsizing the inpatient population of huge facilities such as RPC.
Under the agreement, controversial Pearl River developer Edmund Lane (owner of STEJ) would have paid to install most of the central amenities to both adjacent sites, including a four-lane entrance road, a traffic light at Old Orangeburg Road, and drainage, sewer, water and other utility improvements on both its own and the town’s portion of the joint site, at no cost to Orangetown.
STEJ never proceeded with its private sports complex, however, and the town’s swimming pool portion of the “deal” was scrapped when angered residents circulated a petition to force a mandatory referendum on the proposal. The vote was held, and residents cast ballots overwhelming disapproving of the swimming pool project. A decade later, Orangetown remains the only township in Rockland County without a single public swimming pool.
STEJ now wants to sell its 17-acre site to the New York City Football Club, a private entity that is jointly owned by the New York Yankees baseball franchise and the Manchester City Football Club, an English-based soccer league.
The club, one of 20 professional private soccer franchises in the United States, plays its home games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and leases facilities at SUNY Purchase for practices, training, offices and storage of equipment. It wants to relocate those facilities from Westchester to Rockland, and specifically to the RPC property in Orangeburg.
Ordinarily, according to Town Attorney John Edwards and lawyers for the league and STEJ, the restrictive covenants Orangetown placed on STEJ 11 years ago to improve the site would remain in effect with any potential buyer of the site.
Since the original joint use sports facility will now never be created, however, there is little to no need for most of those site improvements and amenities, the lawyers all agreed at last week’s Town Board meeting.
To assist the two parties in consummating the land sale, the three involved entities also agreed the easiest way to accomplish that would be for Orangetown to simply remove any remaining stipulations, so that neither STEJ nor the soccer league would be forced in install the unneeded and unwanted amenities. The few land improvements which STEJ has already made, in preparation for the ill-fated sports complex, will remain and Lane will not be reimbursed for them.
The vote to remove the restrictions was unanimous at the five-member Town Board last Tuesday, with the council’s three Republicans and two Democrats all agreeing that it was in the town’s best interest.
STEJ has been paying the town and the Pearl River School District real property taxes on the 17-acre site ever since it purchased the land from the town in 2005, and the football club will continue paying those same taxes from now forward, as it begins to develop its own private soccer complex there.
The site will not be open to the public, league spokesmen said, and will be developed strictly for the private club’s own internal uses such as soccer practice and training, offices, storage and similar activities. The club may eventually sponsor training, guidance and other forms of assistance and support to local non-profit youth soccer leagues, those same officials added, but that would not become a major focus, and would not give the private club any preferential non-profit status.
The only word of caution emerging from last week’s meeting was the startling news from Town Attorney Edwards that the deal between Orangetown, STEJ and the soccer league will probably be subject to a potential permissive referendum, much the same as the town’s original swimming complex proposal.
Asked by council members what that might entail, Edwards said theoretically one or more residents unhappy or displeased with the proposed arrangement could circulate a petition calling for a public vote to either sustain or derail it. If a majority of residents voted to approve the proposed contracts, they would proceed to completion, he explained, while if a majority voted against it, the whole proposal would be scuttled, at least for the time being.
It would then be up to the town, STEJ and the soccer league to see if they could change the details of the transfer and removal of restrictive covenants sufficiently to warrant trying a second time to accomplish their objective.
In the case of the swimming pool complex, he reminded the board that the general feeling at that time was that pushing the proposal a second time, after defeat at the polls, would probably be fruitless, and it was never in fact attempted. It is the major reason why Orangetown still has no public swimming pool, he commented.