Lawyers clash over need to re-examine parking
By Michael Turton
A fundamental difference in legal opinions must be resolved before a long-awaited senior citizen center can move forward as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project. The Cold Spring Planning Board met on May 12 to consider an application by Butterfield Realty, headed by developer Paul Guillaro, that would see the senior center move from the previously proposed location in building number two, now under construction, to Lahey Pavilion, currently home to the village medical center. No changes to the pavilion were included as part of the project’s approved site plan. In the swap now being put forward, the medical offices would move to building number two.
The switch came about at the request of officials from Putnam County, which will develop and operate the senior citizen center, after they determined that building number two is poorly suited for that purpose.
Disparate legal views
As is often the case in Cold Spring, parking is again the central issue.
Planning Board chairman Matt Francisco set the stage for a long, back and forth and often tense discussion when he told the standing room only audience that based upon advice from Building inspector Bill Bujarski and Village Attorney John Furst, the proposed change in uses is “obviously an amendment to the site plan and (as a result) the parking table (must) be updated.” Plans currently call for 35 parking spaces at Lahey. Francisco later pointed out that a loading dock for the new post office, also slated to move into Butterfield, had been approved as part of building number two but would have to be reviewed as part of the new application which shifts the postal facility to the rear of Lahey.
Guillaro, the first of numerous speakers, calmly responded, “Whatever you want to call it … we think it’s a minor amendment.”
Steven Barshov, Guillaro’s attorney, was anything but calm and described himself as “agitated” more than once during the meeting. “This is a very clear situation. There is an error that has been made by your attorney. It is a clear error,” he stated emphatically. “The language of the code is not ambiguous — it was written by the village board in order to give clear direction to the planning board,” he said, later adding, “and it says no additional parking shall be required. It couldn’t be clearer than that. This is not subject to interpretation.”
Francisco and Barshov stuck to their disparate positions throughout the meeting and clashed several times. “We are bound by advice of counsel and (his) interpretation of the code — and that’s the way we’ll proceed.” Francisco said. “You follow the advice of your lawyer.”
Speaking to Barshov, Furst said, “The problem is you’ve moved a medical use … approved for 35 spaces (at) Lahey Pavilion. You’ve now moved that to another building.”
“There’s nothing in the code anywhere that says you can’t move uses around,” Barshov commented. “There’s no prohibition against doing so.”
Barshov questioned the planning board’s motivation for revisiting Butterfield’s parking requirements. “The only reason I can think of,” he said, “is because there are people that are not in favor of this project or have wanted to frustrate it for a long period of time.”
Francisco challenged Barshov, referring to a statement he said was made in another local paper by Mike Finnegan, a second attorney working for Guillaro, stating that the planning board was looking to thwart the project and that a possible result could be the complete removal of uses from the Butterfield site. “We do not have legislative power. We cannot remove uses from the site,” Francisco said. “Nobody’s trying to thwart anything.”
Original plan was ill-conceived
An unprecedented number of Putnam County officials attended the meeting including Transportation Manager Vinny Tamagna, Pat Sheehy, director of the office for senior resources, Legislator Carl Albano and others, each of whom in turn downplayed changes proposed in the new application and urged the planning board to move the senior citizen center project forward quickly.
Sheehy, along with Putnam County Commissioner of Highways and Facilities Fred Pena, outlined why building two was deemed ill-suited for the senior citizen center. Issues included the proposed second floor location which one speaker pointed out could not bear the weight of the required kitchen equipment. In addition the site design did not permit buses to drop passengers off at the building’s front door. As a result, seniors, many of whom are frail and use canes or walkers according to Sheehy, would have to walk a considerable distance outside, then walk down a lengthy corridor to get to the elevator. The elevator itself also raised concerns regarding safe ingress and egress to and from the center. In addition the first floor was not equipped with restrooms.
Francisco questioned how engineering studies that he said cost an estimated $250,000 had missed so many shortcomings in the proposed building two location.
“The main reason is this,” Guillaro responded. “Nobody believed this project would be approved.” He said that both the county and the post office, also slated to be located at Butterfield, had indicated that they would wait for approvals to be finalized before looking at the site in detail.
Resident Kathleen Foley was taken aback by what she heard. “Taxpayers in this village believed that these issues were being thoughtfully addressed under SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) … thoughtfully and professionally addressed under the site plan review,” she said. “I am astonished to hear professionals stand in this room and say that you didn’t realize what your needs were in theses buildings that we have been talking about for years.” She called into question the integrity of the SEQR process, the site plan process as well as “the integrity of the professionals associated with (the project) in every step of that process … it makes me call into question their professional licenses.”
Mayor speaks out – as a resident
Dave Merandy, who said he was speaking as an individual and not as mayor, took exception to Barshov’s suggestion that anyone was against the Butterfield development or trying to obstruct the senior citizen center. “This (planning) board is not, nor is Matt, delaying this project;” he said. “It’s the responsibility of this board to take a closer look if this switch happens. “
Merandy said that for years the plan had been based on having the senior center in building number two. “And now at the last moment we’re switching it — and all of a sudden it becomes this planning board’s problem. This board is not delaying it — they’re doing what they volunteered to do. They represent the village. “ Merandy said the project could have been built by now. “There’s one building going up there that hardly anyone worked on all winter and that’s fine … but it’s not the delay of the planning board. For all the county people to come over here and try to bully us because they think it’s minor (the change to Lahey) — it’s not right.”
The meeting did produce one area of agreement — that if the senior center does move to the Lahey Pavilion, the impact on traffic and pedestrian safety will have to be addressed. “The last planning board put a lot of time into looking at how people would come and go … now the uses of these two buildings are changing … how people come and go is now all of a sudden different,” current planning board member Judith Rose said. “I need to see that every pedestrian and every car that enters that site is safe.”
Barshov had no problem with that request. “I agree with that. All I’m asking is let’s not open up the door (to) the number of parking spaces,” he said. “(If) you want to look at site circulation … you’ll get a very warm reception from this very agitated lawyer.”
Next step as yet unknown
Furst suggested that the board review his memo outlining his legal opinion on how the code applies to the potential shift of the senior citizen center to Lahey, comparing it to a similar memo from Barshov that details a completely different interpretation.
After the public meeting adjourned, the planning board held a closed-door session to confer with Furst. Contacted by The Current earlier this week, Francisco declined to comment on next steps.
The beginning of this article states: “A fundamental difference in legal opinions must be resolved before a long-awaited senior citizen center can move forward as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project.”
Rather then working with the property owner to address this change, it sounds like the Planning Board prefers to have a battle of lawyers over a few parking spaces. A lawsuit neither benefits the Village taxpayer, nor the Village coffers.
The personal vendetta that some in this community have attempted to carry out towards Paul Guillaro – two of whom are now prominent members of the Planning Board – is well documented.
Stop the game playing, and let this move forward once and for all!
Michael, why must this be so politicized? Vendetta? Let’s not make this “them” against “us.” It gets very tiresome and does not speak well for our community politics.
Not sure how I am responsible for “politicizing” this issue. When I was on the Village Board I tried to work with the Butterfield developer to move the project forward to benefit the taxpayers of Cold Spring. It will be a sad day in Cold Spring when thousands and thousands of dollars are wasted to defend against a lawsuit over a grey area in Village code.
If the Planning Board chair is truly not out to thwart anything, perhaps he should direct the Village Attorney to prepare a memo on the subject of how best to proceed to compromise with Mr. Guillaro, rather then using council as a scapegoat. Lawyers love conflict, and judging from the legal bills in Cold Spring the past few years, our attorneys love us!
In the end, this is just another chapter in the Butterfield drama, the longest running show in Philipstown. And I will agree, the fact that is has taken the better part of a decade to get to where we are speaks volumes about the priorities of our local community politics.
“So I will say it with relish. Give me the hamburger, but hold the lawsuit.” –S.I. Hayakawa
There is one reason, and one reason only, as to the delay in the senior center construction and that is the embroilment of the Odell administration and her bullying representatives with her extravagant plans to pay back her supporters for the privilege of filling the county executive seat in Carmel. What should have been a relatively simple matter of a senior center has turned into a scheme to install satellite county offices including tourist, thereby necessitating the involvement of the legislature in all matter of leases at one time signed, then unsigned, and funding and term-of-lease requirements. She has turned a matter which should been the purview of the town’s citizens and its duly appointed planning board into a cauldron of conflict, accusations, suspicions and wresting of political power not seen in what was this formerly quiet, civil community. And no senior center but loads of threats of lawsuits.