BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Soccer is again proving to the biggest sports attraction in Orangetown, with a local non-profit youth soccer league approaching the Town Board recently with an offer to buy an additional 23 acres of vacant land at the former Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg and converting that land into four regulation size soccer fields, as well as a hiking and biking trail and park along the east shore of the nearby Lake Tappan Reservoir.
The Orangetown Mighty Midgets firmed up their offer at a workshop meeting of the Town Board Tuesday evening, at which they agreed to pay the town $100,000 per acre for the land, for a grand total of approximately $2.3 million.
The land involved lies on the east side of the reservoir, running north from Old Orangeburg Road to about the middle of the former RPC campus. It stops just short of the former power plant, laundry and service buildings on the old psychiatric hospital grounds.
Known as “Lot One” on the town’s own subdivision map of the RPC campus, it consists primarily of former farmland, and slopes downhill toward the reservoir on its western and northern boundaries.
The OMM, Orangetown’s largest soccer league, already leases several other fields just to the east of Lot 1, which they have transformed into the county’s largest soccer complex. They also transformed a deserted stone barn on that site into a two-story clubhouse, which they share with Orangetown senior citizens clubs for weekly meetings.
OMM board members Gordon Miller and Frank Payne outlined the club’s newest venture to the town council and audience of about 10 residentsTuesday evening.
The 23-acre site is also adjacent to the new private soccer league, New York Sports Club, which is developing its own training and practice fields and an office and clubhouse there. New York Sports bought the property from the town after a previous buyer, STEJ Corporation of Pearl River, gave up its own sports center plans for the site and gave the property back to Orangetown.
Miller and Payne said OMM hopes to work out some joint ventures with the Soccer League when both are up and operating. A problem is that one is a private, profit-making venture while the OMM is a 501-c-3 non-profit agency. New York Sports pays property taxes for their site to Orangetown, the Pearl River School District and Rockland County, as well as state and federal income taxes. As a non-profit, OMM pays no property or income taxes.
Asked how such a joint venture would work, the two league spokesmen said this was still being explored by the two leagues, and had to overcome several legal and financial hurdles before it can be effectuated.
The officials also told the board that the $100,000 price per acre for the 23-acre site was not a “final” bid, but rather an expression of interest to negotiate.
There are no utilities currently serving the site, they noted, and someone must install sewer and water lines and connections, gas and electric service, roadway construction along with curbs and sidewalks and parking lots, and the construction cost of the hiking and biking trail as well as an amenities along the trailway, such as rest stops, benches, picnic acres, bathrooms and other facilities.
Miller and Payne said the OMM would be glad to install all of these site improvements if the price is lowered, or the town pays the bill.
On the other hand, they said if Orangetown as the seller wanted to make the site improvements at its own expense, OMM could negotiate a higher purchasing offer since they wouldn’t have to lay out the expense.
Similar negotiations were offered by OMM to Orangetown for preparation of site development plans and maps, grading and drainage plans and site improvements, and any use Orangetown might want to make of the facilities once they are completed. All of these could affect the eventual sales price, the two men noted.
Additional concerns are possible site contamination of the 23 acres, which is currently unknown but would have to be verified as part of the sales negotiations.
Much of the former RPC campus has been labeled as contaminated, and must be extensively rehabilitated before it can be sold or used for any other purpose.
Of particular concern with Lot 1 is an existing pond at the rear northwest corner of the site. On various town, county and state maps it is listed as a drainage pond, a water retention pond, a wetland, a cesspool, and a stagnant body of slime-filled muck.
OMM and town officials agreed Tuesday that someone must remediate that site if the land is to be sold and re-used, but who should pay, for what amount, to whose standards and for what purpose has yet to be decided. Miller and Payne said those costs could also become a part of the sales price negotiations.
Describing their proposed use for the site, the men said it would include four regulation-size soccer fields with night lighting, bleachers and a clubhouse with food service, bathrooms and offices. It would probably be fenced, and would contain paved parking initially for about 35 cars.
A question arose from the Town Council when a member asked if the portion of the 23 acres to be used for the trail and park could be considered a part of the 216 acres Orangetown promised New York State would be dedicated parkland when it bought the former hospital two decades ago.
Town Attorney John Edwards said that would have to be investigated, and might depend on who owns the trail-park land, the town or OMM. And OMM’s legal status with the New York Sports Club would also have to be clarified, Edwards opined.
Also entering into that debate would be the exact location of some of the land to be included in the trail-park. Edwards noted that some of the 216 available acres lie underwater, beneath the shores of Lake Tappan. It would have to be ascertained if that land is owned by Orangetown, New York State, Suez Water Company, OMM or some other entity, and then determined what riparian rights the presumed owner would have to declare such land “park land” to include it in the state-required minimum reserve.
Further complicating the process is that Miller and Payne said OMM would also be entering into a joint-use agreement for the 23-acre site with the Orangetown Lacrosse Group, another youth sports league that currently has no fields of its own. It has a membership of over 300 youth and rapidly expanding, they said, and is in desperate need of fields. Since soccer and lacrosse can both be played on the same fields, leaders of the two groups immediately saw the benefits of cooperation, they explained.
Their cooperative venture with the private, profit-making New York Sports Club was a different matter, however, as nearly everyone present seemed to feel this presented a minefield of potential danger.
The nature of the relationship was not described by anyone Tuesday, but OMM officials hinted that it might include mentoring and possibly coaching and training of the youth by the adult league, and the creation of an informal “farm system” for recruiting young players.
The New York Sports Club is the New York affiliate of the internationally ranked Manchester Soccer Club in England.
If and when Orangetown and OMM get close to an agreement on the sale, officials said a public hearing and a possible public referendum might be required.
A similar public hearing is already scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, on the proposed sale of 61 acres of other RPC property to JPMorgan Chase Bank, for the construction of the bank’s regional backup data bank.
The site contains what is known as the “Core” of the old hospital site including the hulking remains of more than 40 deserted buildings. Chase has agreed to spend up to $40 million to demolish and remediate contamination from all of those buildings, with work commencing late this year and hopefully being completed by the fall off 2019.
The first step in the process is to change the zone on that parcel of RPC land from the current R-40 designation (one single-family home per lot, with minimum lot sizes of 40,000 square feet, or an acre.) to RPC-OP, which can be used for office-park purposes on the campus.
Officials from Chase will be at the hearing to further explain their proposal, and to urge the Town Board to grant the zone change so the purchase process can begin.
Similar to negotiations for Lot 1, the sale of the “core” lot to Chase is heavily dependent on development and remediation cost estimates and deciding who must pay for them, the buyer or the seller.
Further discussions may take place at the Town Board’s next business meeting, Tuesday, March 7, at 7:30 pm. at the Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg.
The board will then hold a workshop meeting the following Tuesday, March 14, at 8 p.m. to consider the request to re-zone the RPC “core” lot from R-40 to RPC-OP.