Plumbush School Approved by Town Planning Board

Warehouse plan for Cyberchron also reviewed

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Planning Board Thursday (Nov. 21) approved plans for turning Plumbush Inn into a primary school, after the applicant, Manitou Properties Co. LLC, agreed to install a sprinkler system to increase safety in the historic building.

At the meeting, its monthly session, the board also began reviewing a proposal to convert the Cyberchron facility on Route 9 into a warehouse, nearly double in size of the current structure. (Some 75 Cyberchron employees once produced rugged, military-scale computers there.)

Manitou Properties school at Plumbush

Although their attorney argued that the law does not demand a sprinkler system, another Manitou Properties representative promised to provide it after Planning Board members again sharply questioned why the school, a for-profit venture, would not include sprinklers, required or not. A blaze broke out in the building in 2010 but did not thwart inn operations for long. Last summer, Manitou Properties announced plans to buy the property – now formally known as Plumbush Inn at the Parrot House – for a new school for children from preschool to grade 6.

Planning Board Member Anthony D. “Ande” Merante noted that the house is “an old wooden building with 75 young children” anticipated as enrollees. He said that in an emergency “you’re going to have significant problems” getting everyone out and that the board did not feel confident the pupils would be safe. He also observed that the building would have no elevator, which, he said, would bar handicapped individuals from seeking employment in the upstairs offices. Manitou Properties indicates it “can’t afford an elevator and can’t afford a sprinkler system. I find that a bit objectionable, to say the least,” he said.

Fire safety remains a concern for the proposed school at the Plumbush property. File photo by L.S. Armstrong

Fire safety remains a concern for the proposed school at the Plumbush property. File photo by L.S. Armstrong

Board Member Pat Sexton echoed his concerns, terming it “irresponsible” to ignore a sprinkler option. “You didn’t even look into it,” she said.

Camille Linson, Manitou Properties lawyer, told the board its job is to determine whether the project site plan meets requirements of the town code. “The code does not permit you to impose conditions as to fire safety or handicapped access, as valid as those concerns may be,” she said.

Referring to himself as “one of the applicants and owners” of the school venture, Rajay Bagaria then informed the board that “I think we’re comfortable going ahead with a sprinkler system. We haven’t costed it out. The reality is that we don’t own the property today, so our access has been very limited.”

Planning Board Attorney Steve Gaba said that “all site plans are supposed to be consistent with the public health, safety and welfare in the town” and “to say that on site-plan approval the board has no consideration whatsoever of fire safety is a bit of an overstatement.” However, given Bagaria’s declaration of Manitou Properties’ willingness to install sprinklers, he added, “it looks like that’s a non-issue.”

Gaba quickly drafted language, incorporated in the resolution granting site-plan approval, noting that “the applicant has agreed and presented that the main building would be fully equipped with an appropriate sprinkler system.” A similar notation is to be inscribed on the site plan itself.

The board passed the resolution.

Cyberchron building

The board took up work on a new submission, from Olspan LLC, to expand the 10,798-square-foot Cyberchron building by adding a new 8,676-square-foot wing, to create a private warehouse of 19,474 square feet. The site is near a wetland and along with the Cyberchron building the parcel includes a single-family dwelling. Olspan proposes retaining the house as a caretaker residence, after it buys the five-acre plot from its current owner, the CF Diversified Corp.

According to Tim Miller, of Tim Miller Associates Inc., a Cold Spring-based consulting firm, Olspan intends to use the ex-Cyberchron building as “a passive warehouse” for the owners’ personal items. Miller said the warehouse would not be open to the public and would generate little traffic. Also, he told the board, “there will be no disturbance whatsoever to the wetland,” no large lights will be installed, and no bright lights will be used on the side near the wetland. Moreover, the enlarged building “is going to be largely hidden from view of Route 9,” he said. In a letter to the board, he also explained that the expansion “will be constructed within the footprint of an existing paved parking area.”

Board Member Neal Zuckerman wondered “what is going to be stored, and for what purpose?”

Miller did not provide specifics.

Olspan’s name and interest in a warehouse call to mind the proposal by Nancy Olnick Spanu in 2012 to build a large structure in Garrison to house her family’s art collection. Subsequently encountering opposition from neighbors, she withdrew the application.

Two sources familiar with Planning Board activities confirmed that Olspan’s project involves Spanu.

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