Orangetown Parks Changes Surprise Many

BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

Changes and discussions regarding the status, location, size, rules, use and other criteria of several Orangetown public parks occupied much of last week’s Town Board meeting, catching several audience members off guard and surprised by the varied proposals.

A routine 12-page, 29-item agenda surprised no one attending last Tuesday’s regular council business meeting, but the discussion that ensued dragged a typical one-hour session of the Town Board into a more than two-hour marathon, and came close to witnessing the expulsion of a frequent Town Board critic for refusing to sit down and stop speaking after her three-minute time limit had expired.

Bike Trail Dispute

The evening got off to a poor start when Supervisor Andrew Stewart called on Upper Grand View resident Ruth Weber as the first of more than a dozen speakers requesting time to address the board on any agenda item of their desire, or even any topic not listed on the printed meeting blueprint.

Ms. Weber, president of the Upper Grand View Civic Association and a staunch defender of the primal wilderness beauty of Clausland Mountain Park, blasted the board for continuing to allow mountain bikers to create and then use a trail they have built through the joint state, county and town-owned park, accusing the bikers and the town of jointly contaminating the pristine woodland that dominates Orangetown’s shoreline with the Hudson River.

Not only are the bikers introducing new contamination onto the mountain, Ms. Weber asserted, but they are digging up buried contamination placed there by the U.S. Army nearly a century ago, when the mountain served as the base of operations for Camp Bluefields, a World War I Army training camp and rifle range. Given to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission after the war, it was taken back by the Army during World War II and again used as a rifle range for troops headed to Europe from the nearby Camp
Shanks.

Stewart and other town board members reminded Ms. Weber and the public that, contrary to Ms Weber’s off asserted belief, the town had not newly permitted bikes in Nike town park as biking has always been permitted; that the new bike trail is on County park and not within town jurisdiction; that neither Ms. Weber nor the town’s own thorough review of its records provide a shred of evidence that there are hazardous wastes buried at the town’s Nike Park; and finally, that the idea that bikers or hikers on existing trails at Nike could track toxic waste into nearby homes or raise toxic dust clouds is simply ridiculous. Stewart went on to say that Ms. Weber’s continued accusations are offensive to town staff and demeaning to the public forum.

As Ms. Weber continued to attack the council, and the bike club, Stewart and other board members began demanding she observe the time clock and either present new evidence of her alleged contamination of sit down and keep quiet. When Stewart called on subsequent audience members from the list to speak, Ms. Weber continued railing at the board and refused to give up the microphone to those lining up behind her.

Finally, in desperation, council members began motioning for Police Chief Kevin Nulty, who was in the outside lobby at the time, to come forward and handle the situation by taking the microphone from her hand or otherwise ending her tirade. As he approached, she suddenly sat down and handed the mic to the next person in line, thus ending the impending stalemate that could have ultimately seen her physically ejected or even arrested, as has been done in years past in the case of unruly speakers.

No further discussion was held on the uses of Clausland Mountain Park, other than comments from some speakers who said they appreciated the physical effort of the mountain bike club to create the joint new hiking and biking trails on the mountain, and how helpful they were to family recreational use of the otherwise virtually wilderness landscape and unfriendly terrain. After the meeting Stewart and other Council members expressed frustration with Ms. Weber, and indicated they will be reluctant to let her speak
unless she has new information to present them on actual or alleged contamination at Clausland.

Cherry Brook Surprise

Next in line for the startled audience was a giant “Whoops” admission by town officials that they had make a mistake last year on the classification of Cherry Brook Park in downtown Pearl River, and that non-town residents would be able to use that facility free of charge after all.

Under pressure in 2016 to close town parks to nonresidents the Town Board authorized the town Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Town Attorney’s office and other department heads, to research the history of each and every public park in Orangetown and devise a policy that would enable the town to collect fees from nonresidents to help pay for parks and help reduce nonresident demand for certain very popular parks to the harm of resident access.

Those owned and/or operated by New York State or Rockland County would be allowed to follow the occupancy and use regulations of those governments. Those owned and/or operated by Orangetown, primarily though its extensive Parks and Rec. Department, would be split into two categories.

Properties purchased outright by the town using only town money, without any grant assistance at the time from the county, the state or the federal government, would be restricted in use to town residents only, with families from nearby Clarkstown, Ramapo, Bergen County and North Rockland being changed a small fee to use the facility, on the grounds that it was a benefit due local residents since they paid entirely for its acquisition, maintenance and operation.

Properties obtained by Orangetown for free, at no cost to anyone, such as the Dr. Henry V. Borst Arboreal park in Pearl River, donated to the town by his family following the well-known dentists death a half-century ago, would also be in this category.

Properties acquired by the town with any assistance whatsoever from county, state or federal grants or other funding, would be placed in a second category. Federal law requires that any park acquired with public assistance must be open to the entire public of the United States, and cannot be limited to the tiny village or township within which it happens to be located.

The same law mandates that if the town allows residents to use it for free, it must also allow non-residents that same free use. If it charges residents, it must charge non-residents the same fee and not a higher one. Such state and federal funding typically comes from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency and Local Community Development Block Grant programs (CDBG).

Orangetown’s extensive survey, which took months to prepare last year, showed the town owned about half its parks outright, with no state or federal assistance involved. The other half did utilize state and federal grant aid. The parks were split into the two categories, with the parks department charged with developing a fee schedule for outsiders’ use of the dozen or so facilities they would be permitted to use.

In the course of that investigation, it was learned that Orangetown indeed bought Cherry Brook Park in Pearl River on its own, using only it own money. Apparently because of a lack of internal institutional memory, however, no one recalled at the time that the town did use a federal grant a few years later for a massive drainage project centered on the stream to alleviate frequent flooding in the area. The project involved digging up a half-mile of that park and creating a new filtered streambed and extensive drainage basin from Washington Avenue all the way south to Montvale, N.J.

The acceptance and use of that grant moved hapless Cherry Brook Park from a town-only facility to one open to use by anyone in the United States. The chagrinned council made the correction to their list Tuesday, along with a handful of chuckles from the audience.

Cherry Brook Park is one of the smallest in Orangetown, and starts behind the Pearl River Public Library and Franklin Avenue Elementary School, and ends at Gilbert Avenue near the Montvale border.

Frequently flooded even with the drainage improvements, it is seldom used because of the year-round dampness. Town officials must now decide whether to improve it yet again, at what cost, and allow it to remain open to everyone; or just forget about it and let nature reclaim it as swampland. At its southern end, where it meets Gilbert Avenue, it also created a small lake there called Gardner’s Pond for nearly a century. The lake was eventually drained in the 1960s by a developer, who replaced it with a
cul-de-sac and condominium development. The street and condo complex also frequently flood every spring.

New Data Center?

In a surprise announcement near the end of the marathon meeting the Town Board also disclosed for the first time that it is on the verge of selling another parcel of town-owned land for yet another new electronic data center. Supervisor Stewart explained he is working with a data center developer and town staff to assess the feasibility of selling town land at Hunt Rd currently used for parks and highway equipment, and relocating the public facilities to a new and improved site on town land at the Rockland
Psychiatric Center campus. If successful, the land sale would more than pay for the construction of new and improved parks equipment maintenance and storage garage, as well as a place for the highway department to store salt and snow in the winter, activities that currently take place at the Hunt Rd site proposed for a data center. The Hunt Rd site is within the same corporate park zone as the well-known Bloomberg data center and located next to the electrical substation by Verizon, making it an ideal location for another data center.

In a cryptic resolution the board authorized representatives from the un-named prospective buyer to enter the property to study and analyze it. Four other data centers are already locating there, with Verizon and Bloomberg having completed their projects and JP Morgan Chase about to begin theirs nearby. The “new” site is about nine acres of town-owned land that used to serve as the Hunt Road pump station to force feed all Pearl River sewage eastward to the newer pump station off Route 303 in Orangeburg.

It is located at the sharp bend in Hunt Road, mid-way between Orangeburg Road and Blaisdell Road South. It is also located across the street from the Parks Department headquarters and biggest single park, Veterans Memorial; and is adjacent to the Pearl River Little League Field, James Anderson Memorial Field, a couple of homes and small businesses, and two of the four already approved data centers. Town officials were silent on any details of the new proposal, refusing to identify the prospective buyer, the exact size of the lot, the prospective selling price or any other details of the project.

In addition to currently usable vehicles of all types and descriptions, a tour of the site recently disclosed several with no plates or licenses that appeared derelict and possibly ready to sell at an auction, as well as various types of trailers, storage containers, piles of stone, sand, gravel and other paving material and a variety of items that could best be described as “stuff.”

New Soccer Field

In a final parks related matter, the Town Board unanimously agreed to allow the private, non-profit Orangetown Mighty Midgets Athletic Club, LLC to use and improve the existing soccer fields at what is known as the Orangetown Soccer Complex off Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg. The soccer club, which has exclusive use of some of the fields, will specifically sub-contract with Sprinturf, LLC, a Georgia-based firm, to install a new turf soccer field at the complex, “at the sole cost and expense of OMM, which field, upon completion, shall become the property of the town,” according to the wording of the resolution.