Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart joined local and state officials in meeting with Empire State Development Monday with a goal of attaining aid in marketing the Rockland Psychiatric Center Property in Orangeburg.
"One of the first questions Empire State Development asked us yesterday when we started meeting was, 'Is there community support for redevelopment?" Stewart said. "It's the same question we get from business people who want to expand or build in a corporate park. They want to know, is the community going to be supportive of an appropriate land use here or are they going to say no. It matters a lot."
Those questions are one reason Stewart and the town board held a public meeting before Tuesday's regular town board session to inform residents regarding redevelopment plans for RPC and to take questions and suggestions.
The public meeting drew residents, State Sen. David Carlucci and representatives of the Pearl River School District, which could be impacted greatly depending on how RPC is developed.
"I think it is a great step forward in terms of getting everyone together," Carlucci said. "We have to be specific. When you talk about Empire State Development and regional economic development councils, if we go to those councils with a specific proposal and a dollar figure, that's how those regional development center or councils are working."
Orangetown moved toward more specific plans with the adoption of a revised redevelopment plan put together by Stewart's office in January. Copies of the plan were available at Tuesday's meeting and one is attached to this report.
Stewart outlined some other actions to move the process forward, such as retaining lobbyists to represent the town's interest regarding RPC lands still owned by the state and gathering updated information about the site. Orangetown also interviewed development consultants, but did not hire one.
"The prices ranged between $50,000 and $100,000," Stewart said. "I think the collective wisdom was that it didn't make sense to hire one of those guys as we're pursuing a more collaborative relationship with New York State."
The major step ahead is to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to developers, which would allow the town to gauge the market and find out just how much interest there really is in redeveloping RPC. Councilman Paul Valentine said he would like to see one issued as soon as possible.
"The last time we went through this process, we had a dozen serious proposals put in," Councilman Tom Morr said. "We were hoping for commercial (projects), but none came in. They weren't economically viable at the time. Now the town seems to be attracting a little more commercial."
Any kind of housing development that brings more families into the area could have a major impact on the Pearl River School District, one reason Board of Education member Tom DePrisco and Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Morgano attended Tuesday's meeting. Neither spoke during the session, but district officials have met with the town to express their concerns.
Morr had first-hand experience with the issue from his time on the Nanuet Board of Education.
"Very important also is the impact on the Pearl River School District. You can't overwhelm the district," Morr said. "I was on the Nanuet Board of Ed just after a whole bunch of development was done in the northern part of Nanuet. It caused us to open a fourth building and it was difficult. We have to be very careful not to put that burden on the school district."
Pearl River resident Michael Mandel said that anything that impacts the schools could also hurt commercial interests by raising school taxes. He suggested focusing on housing for older residents, including assisted living facilities.
Pearl River resident Robert Tompkins suggested that too much of the land is earmarked for recreational purposes. Having more land available to develop could make it more attractive.
He also expressed his hope that state grants could be found to help deal with another obstacle, the need for expensive remediation of land and buildings within RPC. The figure suggested Tuesday was $20 million, which could limit interest by developers.
Blauvelt resident Nancy Antonucci commended Stewart for the open and transparent process and called on Carlucci to help the town find state aid in dealing with RPC.
"Senator Carlucci, what I'm asking you and others is to please help Andy and the town get us what funds you can through grants to help us move this project along," Antonucci said. "It's monumental. We really need assistance."
Another variable for RPC is what the state will do with the land it controls, including. Carlucci spoke of the opportunities for public-private partnership in relation to facilities such as the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg.
Carlucci said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget calls for the closure of psychiatric centers at a savings of $25, with facilities being consolidated into regional centers. Representatives of the Office of Mental Health, which currently controls the state property in RPC, were part of Monday's meeting.
"It appears they are dedicated to maintaining a strong presence at RPC," Councilman Tom Diviny said. "It could very well be a regional center."
Carlucci, who was appointed chairman of the Senate committee on Mental Health in March, said that the Office of Mental Health will be doing a listening tour to hear from residents regarding regional centers, including a visit to Rockland County April 15. The time and location have not been confirmed yet.
"They will hear from Orangetown for sure," Stewart said.
Carlucci also promised to ask questions raised Tuesday in Orangetown at a budget meeting with the Office of Mental Health Wednesday.
Editor's note: Check back with Patch for more from Tuesday's meeting.