Developer Seeks Extensive Changes
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Orangetown Town Board has scheduled a public hearing for June 26 to entertain a proposal by ARC Properties to extensively alter their already-approved site plans for a large upscale senior housing development planned for Pearl River.
The New Jersey firm won approval from the Town Board two years ago to construct 142 private homes in a gated community to be called The Pointe at Lake Tappan, along Blue Hill Road South in Pearl River, south of Veterans Memorial Drive.
According to attorney Donald Brenner, however, the firm has sensed a dramatic change in the local housing market because of the recent financial recession. Whereas families over the age of 55 had indicated a preference to purchase individual housing units at $750,000 and above in the recent past, they now want rental units, he said, which can be attached, and for slightly less money.
As a result of this shift, ARC now wants to build more units, 159 to be specific, and they will all be rental units, Brenner said. The community will still be gated and private, and will contain a community center and a swimming pool, restricted to residents of the development.
In another dramatic change, Brenner said ARC now longer wants to spread the houses out over the entire acreage the company owns, stretching along Blue Hill Road South from Veterans Memorial Drive to the state border at Montvale. Now, he says, they want to “cluster” all of the units on the northern half of the property, closer to Veterans Memorial Drive, and leave the entire other half of the site “forever wild” forestland.
In yet another change, Brenner said ARC is no longer interested in building under the town’s special zone in which they can get additional units if they reserve a small percentage as “affordable” units that can be sold to middle income buyers. Instead, he said the company will now build all rental units, and all will rent at market rates for the high end of the market. It will remain an active senior residence, however, open only to people 55 and over who can live independently.
One aspect of the project that apparently hasn’t changed, at least so far, is the preservation of the historic Seth House, which is located approximately in the center of ARC’s property.
The Dutch sandstone home, built in the mid 18th century by the Perry family and occupied until about 20 years ago by the William Seth family, has been vacant since then and is severely deteriorated, despite repeated efforts to salvage the decaying structure.
Orangetown obtained a $500,000 grant from then State Senator Thomas Morahan to move the house to a nearby town-owned site and restore it as a museum but that fell through when a previous owner of the property refused to cooperate and the grant was about to expire. To save the money, the town and Morahan got Albany to agree to let Orangetown use it for other historic purposes.
When ARC proposed its Pointe at Lake Tappan project, Orangetown granted its application on the condition the company would provide $300,000 to move and restore the Seth House. Nothing came of that either since ARC never applied for its building permits, and the house has continued to deteriorate.
Now, Brenner says, the company will still honor that agreement, but instead of moving the house they will restore it where it sits, and attempt to find some other use for it once it is fixed up. Neither he nor ARC have any idea what that use might be, ranging from a private residence to a restaurant to a clubhouse or museum, but he says the firm remains open to suggestions.
He also stressed after this Tuesday’s Town Board meeting that his own personal preference would be to use the money to demolish the house, since it is so deteriorated he has doubts it can ever be salvaged. Despite his own feelings, however, Brenner said he would be guided by the wishes of his client, ARC Properties, and with whatever restrictions town officials may place on their latest proposal.
The entire parcel of land was once part of the huge estate of New York financier M. Montgomery Maze, an eccentric millionaire who owned several hundred acres of land in the Nauraushaun section of Pearl River during the first half of the 20th century.
An inventor and sportsman as well, he constructed his own private airport on a portion of the land now underwater beneath Lake Tappan, and constructed Rockland County’s first private golf course on another section, along Blue Hill Road and the Hackensack River.
He later gave the airport to the Civil Air Patrol, and it became known as CAPROC Field. It was destroyed in the 1960’s when the land was purchased by the Spring Valley Water Company which dammed the Hackensack and created the Lake Tappan Reservoir. The water company also took two or three holes of Maze’s Blue Hill Country Club that were east of Blue Hill Road, and flooded them as well, forcing Maze to relocate those holes further west.
Following Maze’s death, Orangetown purchased his golf club and made it the first public golf course in Rockland County. The rest of the Maze estate was sold to the Uris Brothers of Manhattan, who built the two huge office buildings now called Blue Hill Plaza, on Veterans Memorial Drive. They had planned to construct similar office towers on the rest of the wooded site as well, but died before they could accomplish that fear.
The vacant land was then divided and sold to various developers, including the Hilton Hotel, an assisted living facility, a housing development still under construction between them, and the Mercedes-Benz Corporation, which was going to construct their North American headquarters on the property south of Veterans Memorial Drive, from the office towers to the reservoir.
Again because of the economy, that plan faltered, and the auto giant re-sold the property to a variety of buyers, including Hunter-Douglas and ARC, among others.
Although ARC already received site plan approval from Orangetown for their Pointe at Lake Tappan project, it is now so altered that they must return to the Town Board for either a new site plan, or an amendment to their original one.
That will be the purpose of the public hearing on June 26, according to Town Attorney John Edwards, who will advise the town council during the proceedings. ARC will be guided by Brenner, who is their attorney on this matter.
He noted Tuesday that the new plan is still a benefit for Orangetown, because it will provide much needed housing for senior citizens, will generate millions of dollars in additional real estate taxes for the town, county and Pearl River School District, and will require virtually nothing in services since it will generate no children who would have to be educated by that school system.
Since it will be a public hearing on June 26, anyone desiring to speak and offer opinions or ask questions can attend the session and participate. It is scheduled to begin at 8:05 p.m., immediately after another public hearing at 8. The earlier hearing is on a request to amend the town’s fire prevention code to change the working hours of fire inspectors and to increase the fees they will charge to property owners requiring inspections. If approved, the fees will be raised for inspections evenings and weekends, when the inspectors are normally off duty, and must be called in at overtime rates.
The Town Board is expected to set the remainder of the agenda for the June 26 meeting at a workshop meeting next Tuesday, starting at 8 p.m. at the Town Hall in Orangeburg.
In other business at this Tuesday evening’s meeting, the Town Board voted to:
Send a strongly worded memorializing resolution to the New York State Legislature, asking that body to amend state civil service law, including the Taylor Law, to eliminate the requirement that municipalities in the state must go into binding arbitration when disputes arise over contract negotiations with police unions. The resolution claims that the current law gives police unions all of the power in such negotiations, and puts towns and villages at a distinct disadvantage in trying to keep salaries and costs down for taxpayers. It cites as an example the recent negotiations in Orangetown, where the council tried to freeze salaries but the state-appointed arbitrator ruled the town must give the police 2.5% increases for each of the five years of the new contract.
Settle two tax lawsuits filed by JP Morgan Chase Bank, to reduce the taxes they owe on two of their bank properties. Under the agreement, Orangetown will return to Chase $744 for their Sparkill branch and $5,780 for their Route 303 branch in Orangeburg. They earlier won a similar reduction for their Pearl River branch.
Settle a similar tax certiorari lawsuit filed by Cornell Manufacturing, in which the town will refund $7,403 for the firm’s industrial building in Orangeburg.
Accept payment by Rockland County BOCES for the school resource officer Orangetown provided at the school’s Nyack campus this past year. The agreement will probably not be renewed this year, Supervisor Andy Stewart said, because BOCES is withdrawing high school aged children from that building this summer, and placing them in another building located outside the Town of Orangetown.
More RPC Land
Re-submit a request to the New York State Legislature in Albany, giving the Town of Orangetown the right of first refusal to purchase any more land declared surplus at the old Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg. The town is specifically trying to purchase the now-closed Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center land and buildings at the north end of the campus, along Convent Road, and the brick buildings and land along Staff Court, off Old Orangeburg Road at the south end of the campus. The town has not said what it wants the land and buildings for, but has indicated in conservations that it might build volunteer housing in the Staff Court area, and might consider the old children’s facility as a new town hall, or for re-sale for commercial purposes. The state has not yet officially declared either site as being available for sale, and the town wants to make certain that when it does, the town is notified first and given the first opportunity to purchase them. If the town declines, the state would then be free to sell the properties to anyone it wants.
Settled a dispute with Veterans Park Batting & Food Corp., which ceased vending food at the Batting Cage and concession stand at Veterans Memorial Park, and re-assign their contract to another firm. As punishment for not fulfilling their contract, the town will keep $5,000 of VPBF’s security deposit of $26,000, and return the balance.
Have town employees cut weeds and brush at an overgrown vacated house at 75 Mountainview Avenue in Pearl River, or hire a private landscaper to do the work, at a maximum cost of $5,000. The exact cost, once determined, will be added to the property owners tax bill due to the town this fall. Orangetown has done the same thing at this property numerous times in the past, according to Edwards, but the owner still refuses to maintain the house or yard. As a result, the town will continue clearing the yard, and will continue billing the homeowner the cost. So far, Edwards said, the owner has paid the fine along with each tax bill without complaint.
Authorize Police Chief Kevin Nulty to enter into an agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the US Department of Justice, in which the federal government will reimburse Orangetown for its participation in local and regional drug enforcement activities for the coming year. Nulty said his officers have always cooperated with the DEA but had never gotten paid for it previously.
School Party Grants
Give cash grants to five local high schools to go toward “Project Graduation” programs at each school. In each case, the school conducts an all-night party within the school building, following graduation, and ending with breakfast the following morning. The purpose is to prevent the graduating seniors from leaving their proms and getting drunk and into accidents. Activities include music, dancing, games, movies, sports, contests and other events calculated to entertain the teens and keep them busy throughout the night. They are chaperoned by teachers and other staff, parents, and community volunteers. Money to support the events is raised by the school districts and their PTAs and similar organizations. Orangetown used to give much more money, Councilman Denis Troy noted, but because of the fiscal recession has had to reduce its contribution each year. This year, the council voted to give $1,500 each to Pearl River and Tappan Zee High Schools, which only serve Orangetown students; $750 each to Nanuet and Nyack High Schools, which also serve Clarkstown, and $200 to Albertus Magnus High School in Germonds, which serves all of Rockland County.
Award a contract for the purchase of a new light utility truck for the town Highway Department to Ted Schultz Ford of Nanuet, for $56,595. Schultz was the lower of two bidders.
Appoint Andriy Turchyn to the Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Department, which requires council approval since the Town Board also acts as that department’s Board of Fire Commissioners.