Orangetown to discuss Pointe at Lake Tappan Tuesday
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
A long-delayed upscale senior citizen condominium project planned for the shores of Lake Tappan in Pearl River is apparently back on the agenda again, after years of delays.
The massive housing development, the largest ever constructed in Orangetown, has been on the drawing boards for nearly a decade, but has been repeatedly stalled by changes in ownership, financing, design, land swaps and debate over the future of a historic Dutch sandstone house that is slowly decaying on the otherwise vacant site.
Attorney Donald Brenner of Pearl River, who represents the owners and developers of the proposed “Pointe at Lake Tappan,” made a last-minute appearance at Tuesday’s Orangetown Town Board meeting, requesting a closed-door meeting with the council to discuss his client’s plans for the project.
Instead of granting the request, the council decided to put the item on their agenda for a workshop meeting next Tuesday, and invited Brenner to return and make his comments to them at that time, in public session. Brenner eagerly accepted the offer and said he looked forward to finally getting the project off the ground and into the construction phase.
The project has a long and controversial history.
Most of it was originally part of the vast estate of several hundred acres in the Nauraushaun area of Pearl River owned by industrialist M. Montgomery Maze, who used part of the site for his privately operated Blue Hill Golf Club.
When maze died his estate was split by the executors, selling half to Orangetown which has continued to operate the golf course there as a public facility ever since. The other half was sold to the Uris Brothers Corporation of New York City, which constructed the two huge buildings comprising the Blue Hill office complex there on the south side of Veterans Memorial Drive.
Following the death of the Uris brothers, the land was subdivided once again, with a portion going to the Pearl River School District for construction of its Middle School, another to developers of the Pearl River Hilton Hotel, another to an assisted living facility and yet another to the Mercedes-Benz Corporation, which intended to move its North American headquarters there from its current location in nearby Montvale, N.J.
After Mercedes-Benz changed its mind that portion of the site was subdivided yet again, with part going to Hunter-Douglas, a window manufacturer, for its American headquarters; and the rest to a New Jersey corporation for a senior housing project.
That company, originally called ARC, also purchased the adjoining estate of long-time resident William Seth, joined the properties, and submitted plans to Orangetown to construct the sprawling Pointe at Lake Tappan project, an upscale senior citizen condominium project in which units would sell for $500,000 and above, depending on size and amenities.
ARC ran into several problems from the outset, and has spent years trying to ameliorate them.
Rockland County owned a small road through the property, called South Old Blue Hill Road, running from Veterans Drive to Montvale, NJ. When the Lake Tappan Reservoir was constructed a half-century ago by United water, the road was re-routed away from the house to the reservoir shoreline, with the original road effectively becoming Seth’s personal driveway.
It was still a public road, however, and it bisected ARC’s property, severely limiting the firm’s ability to create their senior housing project.
This was solved in a unique land swap, in which Rockland County donated the old roadway to Orangetown, Orangetown in turn donated it to ARC, Orangetown agreed to give the county an equal sized parcel of land at its abandoned sewer treatment plant and ARC pledged to preserve the 1752 Seth house rather than demolish it, as originally planned.
Negotiations for the county were handled by Highway Commissioner Charles “Skip” Vezzetti. He had used the old roadway, now a driveway, to dump highway snow he plowed in Orangetown every year. Through the swap, he is now able to dump the snow at the old sewage station, and will also get a building there to store his highway equipment indoors instead of having to leave it outside and subject to the elements.
The historic Seth house was also a major bone of contention throughout the decade of negotiations over the housing project.
Preservationists, led by Orangetown Historian Mary Cardenas, had lobbied ARC and Orangetown for years to preserve the structure, although was rapidly deteriorating in its abandoned state and with no maintenance. Outbuildings, including a sandstone out-kitchen and a Dutch barn, were demolished; and scavengers routinely vandalized the house.
A historic site survey was undertaken at the property in 2010 by Historical Perspectives, Inc., a private firm hired by ARC as part of its performance review before various Orangetown planning agencies.
That firm’s report indicated that the house, one of the oldest in Rockland County, was built in three sections, the first in 1752, the largest portion in 1776 and a third kitchen wing in 1830. Known as the Perry-Blauvelt house, it was built and occupied by members of those families, among Orangetown’s earliest settlers. An earlier house, built about 1728, occupied the same site, but was apparently demolished and replaced by the 1752 structure.
Numerous American Indian artifacts were found on the property, along with artifacts from the early Dutch settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries, the report says.
At the urging of Cardenas and Orangetown agencies, ARC eventually agreed to preserve the Perry-Seth House, as it is now called, and restore it to its former glory.
No specific use for the house has yet been identified by either the developer or the town, although ideas discussed at various meetings years ago included a residence for an on-site manager for The Pointe, a clubhouse for residents of the gated community, an office for the complex or some similar ancillary function.
On Tuesday Brenner said that concept remains and the historic house will become an integral part of the Pointe At Lake Tappan project, although he declined to specify its exact future until he meets with the Town Board.
In its short business meeting Tuesday evening the town Board unanimously approved 12 resolutions with little controversy.
Four of those votes pertained to approving the 2015 budgets of the four hamlet libraries that receive their funding from the town. The council voted to appropriate from taxes $692,419 for the Blauvelt Free Library, $488,118 for the Orangeburg Free Library, $374,282 for the Palisades Free Library and 4675,068 for the Tappan Free Library.
The only item not voted Tuesday was a request by the Rockland County Ancient Order of Hibernians for town assistance in putting on its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Pearl River on March 22. Highway Superintendent James Dean submitted his request list for the event, including trash barrels, barricades along the line of march and the painting of a green strip down the center of the roads used in the parade.
Not included were the similar lists from Parks and Recreation Superintendent Aric Gorton, which normally includes the rental of portable toilets and use of the town’s showmobile for a $350 fee; and Police Chief Kevin Nulty, which typically includes police overtime and the use of volunteer auxiliary police.
Council members said they didn’t want to vote on the approvals separately, and urged Gorton and Nulty to add their requests to Dean’s list for the next board meeting. Both indicated they would.
The board approved entering into a contract with GHD Engineering for a study of Orangetown’s wastewater treatment plant. The study will cost $35,000, with Orangetown paying half and Rockland County Sewer District No 1 paying half. The joint study is aimed at “identifying cost-saving efficiencies and options for shared services” between the town and county sewer plants, which are located adjacent to each other off Route 303 in Orangeburg.
The board also approved a resolution allowing Orangetown Police to use the Town of Ramapo’s police firing range for practice and training purposes, at no cost to Orangetown. Orangetown will however provide insurance coverage, naming Ramapo as a co-insured party.
The board approved a $30,482 contract with the non-profit CANDLE agency to provide drug awareness and related services to town youth this year.
The board also accepted with regret the retirement resignations of long-time employees Bert Von Wurmb as assistant building inspector and George Linderman as auto mechanic in the Parks and Recreation Department.
During the public comment portion of the meeting Pearl River resident Heather Hurley complained that recent minutes of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting have not been posted on the town’s web site. Because a hearing was held by the ZBA regarding the proposed Annellotech chemical manufacturing firm expanding at the former Lederle Laboratories complex in Pearl River, Hurley said it was very important that residents in the area be permitted to keep up to date on all developments concerning the proposal.
Joanne Coffey Fassullo said she wanted a much most extensive breakdown of how her property taxes are to be used than just the total and a single listing for the county Medicaid portion. She said she wants to know how much the town, the county, the state and other entities are getting of her tax bill, and for exactly what expenses.
Supervisor Andrew Stewart and Tax receiver Robert Simon both sympathized with Mrs. Fassullo but said they don’t control the layout of the tax bill, because state law mandates it.
Michael Mandel of Pearl River complained that while the Town Board boasted they kept the tax increase below the state mandated cap of two percent, his bill went up more than five percent, and he wanted to know why.
Former Councilwoman Eileen Larkin of Palisades requested the board re-activate the moribund cable television franchise committee, because she was just informed by her cable provider that her monthly fees will be going up this year.
Gina DiMarsico complained that the Orangetown Mighty Midgets youth soccer league is seeking use of athletic fields at Tappan Zee High School because they have outgrown their own fields off Veterans Memorial Drive. They are utilizing most fields throughout the town, she asserted, and it is not fair to other sports teams and leagues that will now be pushed off the high school facilities as well. The school’s own lacrosse team will also suffer by losing space and time for practice and games to OMM, she added, calling on the town to help reign in the fast-growing soccer league.
Blauvelt resident Watson Morgan was the final speaker, urging that OMM instead rent vacant land adjacent to its own fields that is owned by the STEJ Corporation of Pearl River. STEJ bought the land about a decade ago, saying to wanted to construct a private indoor-outdoor sports complex. Nothing has happened for ten years, Watson complained, urging the council to pressure the firm into cooperation with OMM, partially to get income, partially to be a good citizen and partially to penalize the firm for lack of action.
The council’s next meeting will be a workshop session next Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m. followed by a business meeting a week later, on Jan. 27, starting at 7:30.