BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Town of Orangetown decided Tuesday evening to sell 26 acres of prime vacant land on the banks of Lake Tappan in Orangeburg, and is seeking bids from interested developers.
The town has not set a price for the property, and will solicit information from developers who respond to the Request for Proposals (RFP) being prepared for public distribution. Not specified is what type of development the town anticipates will be constructed, leaving that up to the RFP responders.
The board instructed Town Attorney John Edwards to have a draft RFP prepared for next Tuesday’s board meeting.
Councilman Thomas Diviny of Blauvelt brought up the unexpected move to sell a portion of the former Rockland Psychiatric Center (RPC) as “new business” during a workshop meeting of the Town Board on Tuesday evening.
Diviny urged his fellow board members to approve authorizing the public advertisement of Lot No. 1 at RPC for immediate sale through the RFP process “to see what kind of offers of interest we might get.”
He explained his overall goal, stating that he hoped the process would lead to an acceptable offer and eventual sale. The money received from the sale would be used to demolish the 70 year old steel and concrete buildings on the site that were once part of Rockland Psychiatric Center, which closed more than a decade ago.
Orangetown purchased 348 acres of the campus, including vacant land and about 50 vacated buildings, for $6 million. In return for the reduced price for the site, the state required Orangetown to permanently retain 214 of the acres for parkland purposes, including active and passive recreation. The town is free to sell the remainder of the site for whatever price and purposes it desired.
Re-use of the property has been slow. The town created citizens advisory committees to give it advice, and hired expert outside planning and marketing consultants for the same purpose, but has achieved little in terms of results so far.
Orangetown has developed extensive sports facilities on a portion of the property, but for the most part it remains vacant. In the past, portions of the land were offered to developers, but due to a sluggish economy those projects have not come to fruition.
Time to Act
Diviny said Orangetown has waited long enough to decide what to do with the RPC campus. He urged his fellow councilmen to move rapidly ahead with the plan to solicit bids on the 26-acre parcel known as Lot 1.
The land is considered prime property because it is already cleared and never contained buildings, meaning there is nothing to be demolished or removed. It contains no known hazardous elements, and sits on a bluff overlooking the Lake Tappan Reservoir.
For the past 200 years the land has been used for farming. In 1930 New York State created Rockland State Hospital, and continued the farming tradition by having patients tend the land as part of their ‘treatment.” In the 1950s and 60s the land lay fallow after forced labor by patients was outlawed. Now the land contains a half-century of brush, weeds and small trees.
The 26-acre parcel sits on the north side of Old Orangeburg Road, and west side of Lake Tappan, and is officially described by the town as “vacant woodland.”
Diviny says the highest interest among developers that he sees is for housing rather than commercial, industrial or retail uses. Thus he proposed that the land be advertised for that purpose, as it would bring the largest number of responses and the highest price offers.
He also countered the reasons the town gave a few years ago when it sold the nearby land to Hovnanian and required the developer to not allow housing for any children.
The RPC campus lies within the Pearl River School District. At the time, Pearl River school officials said the district’s facilities were already crowded and the addition of more children would require the construction of a new school and the hiring of additional staff. At the district’s behest, the town required Hovnanian to construct only “active senior” housing, with children under 18 prohibited.
Diviny said he contacted school officials recently, and found that the situation is now reversed. The district is losing more children than it is gaining annually, and has no space problem.
The 26 acres in Lot 1 would permit construction of 13 homes. An average of two children per home would generate about 26 new students for Pearl River. In addition, the district would receive more than $100,000 in property tax revenues from the prospective homes.
Town board members seemed surprised at Diviny’s request, and had several questions about the proposal, although none had any objections. Councilman Thomas Morr of Pearl River said he throught that the town was going to create a master plan for the RPC campus before deciding on the individual elements.
Supervisor Andy Stewart said he believed that Lot 1 is a “Greenfield” site, meaning there could be something toxic there that would need to be cleaned up before the land could be developed.
Councilman Denis Troy, of Pearl River, reminded the board noted that at least 214 acres of the RPC campus must be preserved for park and recreational purposes. The town has yet to decide which 214 acres that will be. He agreed with Morr that a master plan should be developed first.
The board said it will continue discussion of the proposed sale of Lot 1 Tuesday, May 15, at its business meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the town hall at 26 Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg.
Other RPC News
Councilman Paul Valentine of Blauvelt said Larry Costello of the Golf Course Advisory Committee had completed two plans to improve the town’s two golf courses, Blue Hill and Broadacres.
A new gazebo is under construction at Blue Hill golf course. And a new entrance has been designed to get motorists directly from Convent Road to the Broadacres course. The new road will cut the time it takes to find the secluded facility.
Stewart announced that Rockland Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee introduced legislation in Albany that would give Orangetown the “right of first refusal” to purchase two additional parcels of land at RPC when and if they become available for disposition by the state.
The sites are the former Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center hospital off Convent Road and several brick apartment houses on Staff Court, off Old Orangeburg road, formerly rented to mid-level executives at the facility, but vacant for the past two decades.
The town has hired a private consultant and lobbying firm to assist it in obtaining both facilities from the state at no cost. The legislation introduced by Jaffee is a “fall back” measure, in case the state decides not to negotiate with the town for the free transfer.
If approved and signed into law by Governor Cuomo, the bill would require the state to offer the properties to Orangetown first, before it could offer them to anyone else, including private developers.