By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Municipal bonds, an eagerly sought appraisal, and elimination of the Garrison post office all figured in the Cold Spring Village’s Board’s review last Tuesday (Sept. 28) of options for the old Butterfield Hospital property in the village.
With County Legislator Vincent Tamagna present and a memo from Mayor Seth Gallagher providing an update, the board again discussed possible government acquisition of the Butterfield property, purchased a few years ago by Paul Guillaro, a private developer. Tamagna has been instrumental in efforts by Putnam County to purchase the Butterfield site and use it to house various Putnam County, Town of Philipstown, and village offices and agencies — and perhaps an enlarged U.S. Postal Service branch to serve both Cold Spring and Garrison.
Gallagher said that he, Tamagna, Putnam County Executive Robert Bondi, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, Town Councilman John Van Tassel, and others conferred earlier on Tuesday about the Butterfield site.
The post office in Cold Spring has quarters adjacent to the Foodtown grocery, but its lease ends next July. Constantine Serroukas, owner of the shopping center, has promised Foodtown that it can expand into the space at that juncture. That leaves the question that has pre-occupied the Cold Spring Village Board, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals for months — where a new post office might go. Putting it at the Foodtown plaza complicates issues of traffic and safety and Tamagna and others have proposed using the Butterfield site instead, assuming it becomes government property. Mayor Gallagher suggested on Tuesday that another site might be available as well, adjacent to the Nest child-care center, across from Foodtown.
“The post office becomes a very, very important piece of that” overall scheme for Butterfield, Tamagna said. He noted that the previous weekend he had seen yellow caution tape at the Garrison post office. “That’s certainly another sub-standard facility — no handicap-accessibility and a whole bunch of other things,” he said. “As a county legislator, I say: `Why can’t we have one great facility? Why can’t we have good government services officered in a good facility?’ I think we need to move forward on that.”
Tamagna, who chairs the County Legislature, proposed that the county, town, and village simultaneously issue bonds “when we actually go forward and buy the property.” The county cannot “bond” the entire project when the town and village are also involved, he explained. “That would be perceived as us using our bonding power for the benefit of someone else and that’s a big no-no under general municipal law. I hope we would come to an agreement — we have to include Nelsonville as well — that we get three municipalities to all support and agree to this.” Whether Nelsonville backs relocation of offices, perhaps even its own village headquarters, to neighboring Cold Spring remains unclear.
Mayor Gallagher also emphasized in both his memo and remarks at the meeting that until the county receives an appraisal on the Butterfield property — now in the works for about a month — none of the governments can proceed in any substantive manner. “We need to get the appraisal,” he told Tamagna. In his memo, he elaborated: “The value of the property is critical to any municipal or county effort to purchase the property because a government may not pay more for property than it is worth as determined through appraisal. If the property comes appraised at lower than the asking price, the county- town- village could only make an offer at the appraised price and see if the owner is willing to come down.”
Tamagna said the Butterfield owner won’t delay his own initiatives forever. “He is very interested in either moving forward or doing his own thing there,” Tamagna said. He agreed with the importance of getting the appraisal. “We’re hanging and waiting on that one thing. I don’t know what’s taking so long. I’ll push it.” In a follow-up on Wednesday (Sept. 29) Gallagher informed Philipstown.info that “I talked to the county attorney today and she says they should have the appraisal by Friday or Monday.”
“The concern I see is traffic flow” if the post office stays at the Foodtown plaza and a grassy area at the corner of Benedict Road and Marion Avenue becomes a parking lot, Trustee Charles Hustis said. “That’s the reason I put it on the agenda. I didn’t do it to cause massive pandemonium and scare the holy heck out of people.”
Tamagna urged direct talks on the post office with U.S.P.S. officials, to “tell them how important it is that we keep it [a post office] right there in the heart of our village.” However, he added, “It can’t be at the Foodtown. It would impinge on the poor residential community there.”
“Where is the post office” in all the debate, Trustee J. Ralph Falloon wondered. “How dare they tie us up when they won’t tell us what they want?” Because the post office rents from Serroukas, it appears that it has dealt mainly with him. Gallagher said the U.S.P.S. plans to advertise for rental space and reportedly needs 3,000 square feet. Before proceeding with options at the Butterfield site, “they’re going to want something very definite,” he said. “That’s why we need to get the appraisal” and find out whether the purchase price is affordable.
Tamagna said that the site was previously appraised at $2 million-plus, but the asking price could be $3 million now. “The debt service on $3 million is $250,000 a year,” he calculated. But the old hospital site generates income from a cell tower structure and the Lahey medical clinic building and income from a post office lease would be another asset, he said. “Even consolidate the Garrison post office there and have 5,000 square feet and then we’re ahead of the game,” he added.
Gallagher asked who would underwrite the post office’s share of upfront costs. “How is that portion going to be purchased — the part that would be used by the post office?”
“I think that’s the least of our problems,” said Trustee Airinhos Serradas. “I think what Chairman Tamagna is saying is, ‘let’s get all our ducks in order.'”
“That’s a huge duck!” Gallagher responded. “Who’s going to pay for this?”
Falloon raised another point: “Who or what should be the lead agency on this thing?”
“It’s going to be a partnership,” Gallagher said, although “the Town is actually almost the most important component.”
“If we don’t come collectively together “¦ we have the option of losing the post office,” Serradas concurred.