Shea Tells Town of Ongoing Interest in Butterfield Site — Even Without County

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Philipstown remains so interested in the former Butterfield Hospital that if Putnam County cannot purchase the site, the town will explore alternatives for doing so, perhaps with the Village of Cold Spring and private developers, Supervisor Richard Shea told the Town Board at its October monthly meeting.

“This is an ongoing thing,” he said Oct. 7 in regard to the 5¾-acre property. “We’d like to see it utilized for town purposes and the village would like to have a hand in that.” Putnam County has sought to acquire the site. “Whether that’s going to happen, we’re not sure,” Shea said. He estimated that the county could acquire Butterfield “at a net-zero cost,” given the revenue from the existing Lahey Pavilion medical offices and the cellular phone tower affixed to the building, the Town’s desire both to lease space “and actually help with the improvements,” and the potential for attracting other occupants, such as the post office, he said.

In addition, he noted that the site might accommodate Cold Spring Fire Company Number 1 and act as a nucleus of local government consolidation, including merger of the town and village justice courts. “To get all those services under one roof, on one campus, is what New York State is looking for,” Shea said. “We have three courts within a mile of each other. Do we need all those courts? Probably not.” The Villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville and Philipstown run their own justice courts, all in separate offices strung out along Main Street.

Shea noted that one obstacle raised in Carmel is that the county should buy property only for its own benefit, not to lease to other jurisdictions. “We’re still part of the county, so I think that’s a grey area,” he said. In any case, “if the county doesn’t purchase it, we’re going to approach the owner and try to work something out with him.” Shea said, suggesting that options include development of the facility by the owner, with the town leasing space. The old hospital is also a prime location for a senior citizen center, he said. All in all, he summarized, “we’re going to continue to have dialog with the county. We’re going to talk with the owner of the property. We’ve also reached out to some private individuals to see if there’s any interest on that side.” One possible price tag for Butterfield is $2.65 million, he said. “We just don’t have that kind of money. I wish we did. But we’re willing to come up with some money to secure or to lease the site.”

Turning to other matters, Shea announced a series of upcoming meetings on the town’s 2011 budget. Town departments submitted their budget outlines before Sept. 30. Revisions followed, producing a tentative 2011 budget of $8,573,451. The current 2010 budget is $8,821,300. “We’re looking for everyone,” in all town offices, “to take a portion of the burden,” Shea said after the meeting. “Every source of revenue we see is either down or drying up completely.”

During the portion of the meeting devoted to committee updates, Councilwoman Nancy Montgomery reported that the town Planning Board continues to review plans involving Garrison Station Plaza, once home to the much-beloved Guinan’s pub. “What’s before the Planning Board now is a plan for office space at a riverfront,” Montgomery said. She said that Cold Spring has already lost some access to the Hudson River and that “I think we’re losing all viable access to it now in Garrison. I hope the Planning Board takes that into consideration.”

Before the board adjourned, David Vickery, known for driving the “Re-Zoning Information” truck sponsored by opponents of town efforts to revise the zoning code, called the board’s attention to a new concern: Rock “fracking” or fracturing, used  to extract natural gas from shale. “We know that water is life,” Vickery said, describing rock fracturing as “devastating” to the environment and wells. “For the little bit of gas we get out of it, to poison the people in the East Coast of our country all the way down to the Chesapeake is not worthwhile.” He urged the board to pass a resolution opposing fracking and encouraging the New York State government “to be very vigilant about protecting this water.”

Rock fracturing can so taint an aquifer that “it actually lights the tap water on fire,” Shea replied. “That’s not anything anyone wants to see. In the balance it is definitely not worth it. I think we should adopt  a resolution and send it on.”