Giving up the ghost

Haverstraw set to demolish two Letchworth buildings 
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Stewart Hall, Letchworth Village
Stewart Hall, Letchworth Village
 Stewart Hall, Letchworth Village
Stewart Hall, Letchworth Village

At least two of the crumbling buildings located on the Haverstraw section of the Letchworth Village property will finally be demolished, thanks in part to the recent award of state money through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). The award is part of the annual distribution of state funds overseen by the 10 Regional Councils established by Governor Cuomo in 2011, as a way to streamline the grant process and promote economic development at the local level.

“We are very pleased with the $500,000 award,” said Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips.

There are 20 buildings in various states of decay scattered over the 175-acre Haverstraw parcel, empty since the state closed the facility in 1992. A dozen or so others rest on Stony Point property. The Town of Haverstraw acquired the property for $20,000 an acre in 2002, but has been hampered in its efforts to redevelop it because of the poor condition of the buildings, as well as the economic crash of 2008.

“By the time we got them they had been without heat or protection from the elements for 10 years,” Phillips explained. “That, along with the problem of asbestos and lead paint, has made it very costly to renovate or remove them.”

The two buildings earmarked for demolition are the Reville Building, which at one time served as the main hospital for the Letchworth community, and Stewart Hall. Both structures have suffered severe fire damage, which has left essentially nothing but bare shells. For that reason they pose the greatest threat to public health and safety, according to Phillips, which is why they will be the first to go.

“We want to develop this property so that it can become a source of revenue for the town and the taxpayers,” he says, “but we don’t want to do so at the expense of taxpayer money.” He adds that an application for a Rebuild New York grant was denied three years ago.

Phillips believes that making remediation of the property more attainable will be the key to attracting developers. Unlike neighboring Stony Point, which is currently in the process of prospectively altering the zoning laws for its portion of the Letchworth property as a way to make development more feasible, the Haverstraw board is more inclined to rezone the area in accordance with proposed uses, once a plan has been approved.

 A fire consumed Stewart Hall in 2006 on the same night as a fire convention at the Training Center in Pomona.  Over 30 fire departments emptied out of the building to spontaneously fight the fire.
A fire consumed Stewart Hall in 2006 on the same night as a fire convention at the Training Center in Pomona. Over 30 fire departments emptied out of the building to spontaneously fight the fire.

“We will fit the pieces of the puzzle, so to speak,” says Phillips. “We are open to proposals from developers for colleges, resorts, commercial businesses. But one thing we will not approve is any use that would be considered industrial.”

A plan by WCI Communities to develop the property as a 55-plus housing community fell through in 2008. Recently, Merlin Entertainment has shown interest in building a Legoland Theme Park on the site and has received a $3.1 million CFA grant to that end. Phillips states that Merlin is looking for a total of about $50 million dollars in incentives before committing to the project.

The proposal has received mixed reviews in the public eye; many see it as a promising source of revenue for the town, while others worry about impacts to the environment and the special character of the area, as well as the impact on traffic, water and sewage. Phillips points out that he and the town board are as concerned about the traffic question as any of the Haverstraw residents.

He also points out that between Stony Point, the North Rockland School District and other tenants there will be enough of the distinctive Letchworth fieldstone buildings remaining to retain the historic character of the area. Although that might not satisfy residents who would like to see even more saved, the buildings on the Haverstraw property are in such bad condition that they are probably not salvageable under any circumstances, Phillips said.

In fact, at the time that the WCI proposal was still on the table, the state had approved the demolition of 14 of the structures. Since then, the conditions have only deteriorated further.

However, Phillips says, “This is not a fire sale. Our door is open, we will consider any good faith proposal. We want to make sure that whatever goes in there will be for the benefit of the Haverstraw taxpayers.”