BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Town of Orangetown will seek public comment Tuesday on its plans to re-develop the 350-acre former campus of the Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg.
The town purchased the mostly vacated campus of the state psychiatric hospital more than a decade ago, and has been trying to decide what to do with it ever since. Compounding the town’s problem is the recent announcement by the state that several hundred additional acres at RPC have now also been declared surplus to the state’s needs, and are available for the town to acquire.
Without knowing what to do with the land and vacant buildings it already owns, the town is hard-pressed to know what to do with additional acreage and structures, let alone whether it should enter into a bidding war for the facilities, how much to pay for the privilege of acquiring them, and what to do with them if they do end up with them.
Orangetown has used some of the land it acquired a decade ago for park and recreation purposes, building several athletic fields on both sides of Old Orangeburg Road on former RPC farm fields.
It has also sold a couple of parcels at the site, to a Pearl River developer to construct a private indoor athletic complex and to the Gaelic Athletic Association for a private soccer complex. The GAA acreage is well used for its intended purpose but the private complex was never constructed and lies fallow. The town also sold nearly 100 acres to New Jersey homebuilder K. Hovnanian & Co., but that firm later reneged on the deal and the land was returned to Orangetown.
The town also temporarily converted a dozen former hospital staff homes into low cost housing for volunteers in local fire departments and ambulance corps, and leases two more to the Rockland Paramedic Service. Yet another house has been converted into a town museum.
The vast majority of more than 100 vacant buildings on the campus remain empty and boarded up however, including the superintendent’s mansion, a fire and police headquarters, a huge auditorium and bowling alley, a laundry, central kitchens and warehouses, schools, a medical hospital and dozens of three and four-story steel and concrete buildings that used to house 10,000 mental patients and 10,000 staff, for a one-time resident population of nearly 20,000 people.
Today the patient population is less than 500, housed in three buildings at the east-central portion of the sprawling campus. No staff live on campus.
As soon as Orangetown found out that additional land and buildings were going to become available for disposition, they notified the state of their interest in acquiring them.
These include the 1970’s Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center on Convent Road, which was closed more than a year ago and also lies vacant; as well the former resident apartment houses along Staff Court off Old Orangeburg Road, the soon to be closed power plant and adjacent maintenance buildings and other smaller parcels scattered throughout the campus which once measured more than 1,000 acres.
To assist it, the Town Board has hired two private consultants, one to help draw up a proposed master plan for the re-development of the entire RPC campus and the other to help the town lobby for best price and conditions for the property with various state agencies in Albany.
Orangetown is hoping to acquire the additional land and buildings for free, or as cheaply as possible, based on an arguing position that the state has imposed an undue burden on the town for three-quarters of a century by requiring town services at the huge hospital center and yet contributing nothing in return.
Town Supervisor Andy Stewart announced Tuesday evening that he contacted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff in charge of the Empire State Development Corporation, which is assisting the state in disposing of the property. EDC staff will tour the campus in Orangeburg next Tuesday “to better understand the town’s assets and goals,” Stewart said, and a report will be made of the visit at that evening’s Town Board meeting.
At the same time Stewart said he led the Town Board in agreeing to update the town’s decade-old re-development plan for the RPC campus. That lengthy document was completed last month, and has now been posted on the town’s web site where residents can view or download and print it for their own perusal. The town’s website is www.orangetown.com.
“I’m passionate about reactivating the RPC project in order to improve the tax base and create new parks,” Stewart said after this week’s Town Board meeting. “Recent progress includes completion of the revised redevelopment plan, which everybody should read, and getting the Empire State Development Corporation involved, because they are the state’s main economic development agency with the ability to help the town accomplish our plans.”
Stewart said next Tuesday’s meeting will be held in the Town Hall auditorium at 26 Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg, starting at 7:30 p.m. Copies of the new redevelopment plan will be available for attendees to view, along with exhibits of the RPC site including blown up photographs, sketches, renderings and site plans.
Those attending the meeting will have the opportunity to ask questions about the plan, as well as make comments and suggestions to the Town Board and the town’s consultants. Stewart said a proposed trail and park along the Lake Tappan western boundary of the RPC campus will also be previewed, along with plans and ideas for development of other portions of the sprawling campus the town already owns, or hopes to soon acquire.
In preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, and for the days and weeks following, Stewart said he would be available to make presentations on the RPC re-development plans to any interested organizations, groups or associations, upon request. His chief of staff in charge of the re-development plan is Suzanne Barclay who he said can be reached at town hall at (845) 359-5100, ext. 2293 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He added that the entire re-development plan can also be viewed directly at http://www.orangetown.com/
In Other Business
Also at next week’s business meeting of the Town Board the council is expected to:
- Authorize Police Chief Kevin Nulty to designate one of his experienced officers to full-time duty with the federal narcotics task force run by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In return, the DEA will authorize Orangetown to receive about $200,000 from a special property seizure fund, comprised of money, drugs, vehicles and homes seized during drug raids. Nulty thanked the council for the unexpected authorization, but warned them there would be cost consequences to the town, including the officer’s salary and benefits and the cost of overtime for other officers to assume his normal duties. In an even more unexpected move, the council indicated it might even give him permission to hire an additional officer for the town’s short-staffed department, to prevent overtime from rising even more.
- Designate the month of March as Irish Cultural Heritage Month in Orangetown. Stewart said the proclamation would be “great, noting Irish contributions to art, government and other fields, with references to local achievements.” He said it would also involve a bagpiper, Senator David Carlucci, and local Hibernians Mary O’Sullivan and Carmel Reilly, among others. “It’s been fun working with Mrs. O’Sullivan and Mrs. Reilly to put together this proclamation, apparently a first for the Town Board in Orangetown,” Stewart added. “I’m looking forward to marching in the parade, in memory of my grandmother, who loved St. Patrick’s Day so much.”
- Re-appoint and name a few new members to several advisory committees, including the Blue Hill Golf Course and Broadacres Golf Course, Volunteer Health Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee, Parks Development Committee, Substance Abuse Committee, Traffic Advisory Board, Bureau of Fire Prevention, Shade Tree Commission, Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, Project Review Committee, Youth Recreation Assessment Advisory Committee, Environmental Committee and the Office of Emergency Management.
- Approve a request to use the town’s showmobile by St. Thomas Aquinas College for its April 16 Springfest.
- Grant work registration certificates to five construction firms to perform sewer work in the township.
- Authorize Highway Superintendent Dean to attend the Grassroots Advocacy Campaign’s local roads and bridges conference in Albany March 5 and 6.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the board meeting room of the Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg. The public is permitted to speak on any item on the agenda for three minutes each at the start of the meeting. Agendas are distributed at least an hour before the meeting, and are normally posted on the town’s web site at least the day before.