React warily to Guillaro request for commitment, county position unclear
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong and Michael Turton
The Cold Spring Village Board’s May 13 approval of new zoning for the old Butterfield Hospital property left developer Paul Guillaro with a victory and three municipalities with a dilemma: should they rent space in an envisioned inter-governmental “municipal” building on the 5.7-acre site, and, if so, at what cost?
A few years ago, leaders of the Cold Spring and Philipstown governments expressed tentative intentions to take space at Butterfield. Last fall, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell followed suit. The county has been interested in Butterfield since at least 2010. Nonetheless, throughout the long, frequently contentious public debate before the B4A zoning change, all three jurisdictions could delay decisions on a Butterfield presence and — proverbially — kick the can down the road. This summer, that can hit a STOP sign, as Guillaro began seeking real commitments.
In a June 6 letter to Cold Spring Mayor Ralph Falloon, Guillaro wrote: “It is important that the Village of Cold Spring contact us if they are interested in leasing space at Butterfield.”
The concept plan designates Building 1 (of six) as a “municipal office, retail” facility — which could presumably include a senior citizen-community in the government space.
The U.S. Postal Service is reportedly talking to Guillaro about Butterfield, but also exploring three other potential sites for a new Cold Spring post office.
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea received a June 6 letter identical to Falloon’s. Guillaro did not write to Nelsonville, which has remained on the periphery of Butterfield deliberations. Whether he wrote to Putnam County is unclear. Two email inquiries to Guillaro came back as undeliverable and a phone call had not been returned as of press time. Two emails and a phone call to Odell also produced no response.
A unified stand?
Falloon and Shea urged a unified position on Butterfield occupancy.
“Personally, I believe moving together with the town and county is the consolidation and down-sizing of government that most people want to see,” Falloon told The Paper. “I am in favor of a consolidated effort at Butterfield with the proper planning and funding.”
Shea said July 8 that the town government “will be looking to set up a meeting with Putnam County and the Village of Cold Spring and Nelsonville to work on a coordinated response. This makes the most sense to us in light of the fact that all our interests are aligned. A fragmented approach to a common issue will not assure success. Working together will.”
What to relocate
Village, town, and county governments have periodically suggested what civic functions might decamp to Butterfield.
In June 2010, the Village Board voted 4-0 in favor of relocating the justice court and police department there. Moving the Village Hall proved more contentious. Trustees Airinhos Serradas and Charles Hustis voted in favor of relocation and Mayor Seth Gallagher and Trustee Bruce Campbell opposed it. Falloon, a trustee then, was absent.
That July, writing to the Putnam County Legislature, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea described Butterfield as “a tremendous asset for the entire community.” He noted that “Town Hall is overcrowded to the point of being a safety hazard,” with records storage “overwhelming our current space” and “little room for the daily functions that local government provides.” Shea said possibilities for Butterfield include consolidated local justice courts, emergency services, and a senior citizens-veterans center, plus “a more functional and accessible building for town government …”
On May 24, 2011, the Cold Spring Village Board passed a resolution expressing a desire to lease 2,000 square feet of unfinished space at Guillaro’s estimated charge of $12.75 per square foot, without utilities and subject to a mutually acceptable lease.
About a week later, Shea wrote a similar letter, “establishing the Town of Philipstown’s intent to occupy 4,000 square feet of a building to be constructed on the site of the former Butterfield Hospital.” However, Shea explained, “due to the very preliminary nature of this project, this letter cannot be construed as binding …”
In 2012, Shea asked his Town Board colleagues if they “want to spend money here [at Town Hall] or spend money over there at Butterfield? It’s time to consider moving the entire town government to that site.” The Town Board authorized Shea to send another letter of support to Guillaro. The same week, the Cold Spring Village Board likewise renewed its position, unanimously voting to approve a supportive letter to Guillaro.
Odell also has spoken positively of Butterfield and a county presence there. “The county has a very real interest in leasing approximately 5,000 square feet of office space” at Butterfield,” she wrote Sept. 5, 2013, to Richard Othmer, then chairman of the Putnam County Legislature. “By doing so, we could bring much needed and long overdue services to the western side of the county. I am writing to the Legislature stating for the record that I fully support having the county lease space on the Butterfield site.” She recommended using Butterfield for branch offices of the Departments of Motor Vehicles and Personnel, the county clerk’s office, the tourism office, and the Economic Development Corp., along with putting “a modern senior center for Philipstown, Nelsonville, and Cold Spring residents on site.”
Periodically, though, other arrangements also have been discussed, including use of the American Legion building for an updated senior citizen-community center and renovation of Dahlia house, a town-government owned building behind Town Hall to serve some town office needs.
Still Butterfield remains on the table.
Weighing gains and drawbacks
Falloon has cautiously supported moving at least one village department to Butterfield. “It would be nice to get the police there,” he said at a Village Board meeting, June 20. “But at what cost?” Subsequently, in an email to The Paper, he suggested that the police department move to Butterfield as part of a consolidation of Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown justice courts.
The mayor also likes the idea of merging the three municipalities’ building departments. “And if the best, affordable deal is [at] Butterfield, then I support [it],” he said July 15. Nonetheless, he also said he would favor moving the building departments to Dahlia house, if that proved the most affordable.
However, a non-binding “straw poll” by the Village Board July 15 seems to scuttle efforts to create a consolidated building department anywhere — at least soon. In the ad hoc survey, Trustees Mike Bowman, Bruce Campbell, and Cathryn Fadde voted against investigation of merging building departments now. Falloon and Trustee Stephanie Hawkins voted in favor of pursuing the idea.
According to Falloon, Guillaro has not indicated any changes to the proposed Butterfield rental rate of $12.75 per square foot mentioned before.
The Village of Cold Spring owns its 3,500-square-foot Village Hall. Any relocation to Butterfield would mean paying rent. The same would go for Town Hall offices. Nevertheless, at least some of the burden of maintaining aging civic buildings could decrease.
Furthermore, with New York’s state government promoting consolidation of disparate government entities, offering tax incentives and state aid for those that economize and merge or share functions, with financial downsides for those that balk, costs also could be associated with maintaining the villages’ and town’s individual offices.
All that raises a basic question: Consolidations could bring savings and possibly financial aid and boons, but would these offset rent paid at Butterfield?
Asked if surplus office space created by a move to Butterfield could be rented out, providing revenue, Falloon observed that “there are clearly defined rules on the [village government’s] ability to generate revenue through real property. We would have to investigate such an idea.”
In any case, he is not enthusiastic about moving all village offices. “I do not believe there is a willingness to move Village Hall off of Main Street,” he said.
Whatever the Village Board decides it will likely seek public input first. “I absolutely believe a public meeting would be held regarding [all these] issues,” Falloon said. “And I hope … sooner rather than later.”
A Nelsonville perspective
Like Cold Spring, Nelsonville owns its own building free and clear. Moreover, a move to Butterfield would put the Village Hall outside the village’s own boundaries. While Nelsonville Mayor Tom Corless supports consolidation of building departments, establishing a common department at Butterfield is “another question,” he said.
Corless was unsure if consolidating justice courts would benefit Nelsonville. Its clerk, Pauline Minners, “does most of that work already, so it’s really just the judge’s salary” at issue, he said. “Would it [consolidation] be a gain or a loss to Nelsonville? I don’t know.”
He also is unconvinced any government offices should go to Butterfield. “Personally, I don’t know why government would pay rent,” he said. “What would you get — a 15-year lease? And what happens at the end of the lease? Would you be right back to square one?”