2012-05-09 / Front Page

NEWS FLASH: Guillaro to pull out of Butterfield

Whither private property in Cold Spring?
By Tim Greco
Douglas Cunningham

Developer Paul Guillaro makes his case before the Cold Siring Planning Board.  Tim GrecoDeveloper Paul Guillaro makes his case before the Cold Siring Planning Board. Tim GrecoNEWS UPDATE :

In a turn of events that says much about private property rights in Cold Spring, the Butterfield project has fallen apart. Developer Paul Guillaro has dispatched a letter to the village Wednesday indicating his withdrawal, just hours after a Planning Board meeting concluded with the scheduling of another workshop.

 He cited as key reasons his frustration with the overall process in Cold Spring, the Planning Board's unwillingness to work with him, time constraints and rising costs. A key sticking point appears to be the Planning Board's refusal to allow market-rate housing for seniors to be part of the project. Guillaro has maintained that the market-rate housing was vital to making the project work financially. 

 Meanwhile, reactions to Guillaro’s announcement almost all included a measure of disappointment. However, the latest turn can't be entirely unexpected: Cold Spring and its boards have been putting Guillaro through the wringer for months, and both Cold Spring and greater Philipstown are areas where developers have come to believe they're viewed with suspicion, if not hostility. In addition, Guillaro, the owner of the site and a developer who already has a well-regarded track record in Cold Spring with a housing project at the former lumberyard near the waterfront, has become increasingly frustrated at the lack of a back-and-forth dialogue with the planners to move toward resolution.

 Also yet to be seen is how higher officials in Cold Spring and Philipstown will deal with the public discontent over the Cold Spring Planning Board's activities. Discussion in the community indicates that many are furious that a small group of people -- a narrow majority of just three people on the Planning Board -- has so stymied progress on the project, to the extent it's now fallen apart. Further, other officials with a broader mandate -- such as the Cold Spring Village Board -- have apparently been unable to reel in the Planning Board's dictates.

Though the project is in Cold Spring, Philipstown is perhaps the most affected by the project’s demise; the town had hoped to move all of its municipal operations to the Butterfield site. Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea said, “We had high hopes and it’s a real shame a compromise could not be reached."

Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher and Shea both have maintained for some months that they strongly supported the project, though the Cold Spring Planning Board continued on its course regardless and Gallagher and Village Attorney Stephen Gaba were apparently unable to affect the Planning Board's rejection of market-rate senior housing. That turned out to be the dealbreaker.

 The pullout likely means that a new community room or similar facility for seniors, which would have been included in the project, will be scotched for some time. Both Shea and Gallather have drawn a good bit of support from seniors.

While both have spoken extensively about the need for the new senior facilities, neither has demonstrated strong support for private property rights while in office.

 Guillaro had already made a number of compromises, particularly on open space. He had also sought to incorporate the wishes of the boards of Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown, and of Putnam County, to provide for joint municipal space and room for a vast number of county services at the complex.

In Carmel, the county watched as Cold Spring dallied with Guillaro. County Legislator Vinny Tamagna said, “The county had a lease agreement ready to go. We have been working on this since 1996, this is just despicable … There are more egos involved here than anything else … This property is the gateway to the Village for Cold Spring and Philipstown; this is a huge disappointment, and it’s just terrible.”

Some Philipstowns residents feel Guillaro is bluffing and will return to the table, although there is not even a remote sign from Guillaro that such a prospect is likely. 

With the Butterfield project hitting the skids, the Mayor and Board of Trustees will now have to scramble to figure out what to do with the Post Office, which had been thought to be headed to the Butterfield project. According to all indicators, it’s a real possibility that Cold Spring could face losing its Post Office, particularly since the other option across Route 9D has generated such opposition.

Cold Spring Deputy Mayor Bruce Campbell said he's disappointed at the Butterfield project’s demise. Gallagher is recovering from a bicycle accident; his comment was not immediately available.

Philipstown Councilwoman Betty Budney said, “It’s a shame and I feel bad about it … That piece of property would have been perfect for the Village, the Town of Philipstown, Nelsonville and the County… What’s bad about this is the municipal center, which would have housed the Post Office and other municipal offices. I just feel badly over this.  When Paul Guillaro builds something he builds it well, it’s too bad they could not work it out.”

 Check the PCN&R for additional updates as they become available.

Earlier story, from Wednesday's PCN&R:

As of Tuesday night’s meeting of the village Planning Board, the controversial Butterfield project is still in limbo: Everything still hinges on the Planning Board’s decision not to allow market-rate senior housing.

But the main concrete action by the Planning Board on Tuesday evening was to set another workshop, rather than reconsider the earlier vote on the housing mix.

There has been in recent days a behind-the-scenes scramble to see whether the Planning Board would reconsider that decision to nix the market-rate housing, regarded by the developer as key to making the project’s finances work. The Board of Trustees moved their regularly scheduled meeting from Tuesday night to Thursday so they could be in attendance at the Planning Board Meeting, held at the VFW Hall on Kemble Avenue. The regular planning meeting was also pushed back to 8:30, to allow time for the Planning Board to meet with Village lawyers.

In attendance were Philipstown Councilwoman Betty Budney, Trustees Ralph Falloon, Chuck Hustis, Matt Francisco – who is the liaison to the Planning Board – and about 40 members of the public. Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher, a backer of the project, could not attend because he was recovering from a recent bicycle-related injury.

Planning Chair Joe Barbaro made his opening statement and reminded those assembled that the Planning Board was not the lead agency. The Village Board is really responsible for seeing the Butterfield project go forward, he noted, but the Planning Board would send its suggestions to the Village Board for final approval.

Barbaro then turned the floor over to developer Paul Guillaro, who – with the assistance of several charts – reminded the Board that he was in agreement with them on 95 percent of what they were asking for, with the exception of market-rate senior housing.

Guillaro stated that he needed the market-rate housing to make the Butterfield project economically feasible. He reiterated that its inclusion would be tax-positive and that “without market-rate housing, the project doesn’t work.”

He also said, “I need a decision tonight.”

There was much back and forth between Village Attorney Stephen Gaba and Guillaro’s attorney, Richard O’Rourke, who also pressed the board to make decision on the market-rate housing there and then, something the Planning Board was not willing to do.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the bottom line was that Guillaro will submit revised plans for the site and the Planning Board agreed to have a workshop on the matter in the near future.

Although Guillaro agreed to the workshop, his demeanor seemed to tell another story, as he made a beeline to the exit at the conclusion of the hour-long session. He did not field questions from the press.

What happens next?

Is it still possible that Gallagher, Town Supervisor Richard Shea or even Putnam County officials could persuade Barbaro and fellow planners Dick Weissbrod and Arne Saari to concede to Guillaro’s request to have market-rate condos as well as affordable subsidized senior housing?

Or, would some other type of compromise satisfy all parties involved?

The reality is that many things hinge on developing the Butterfield site. Primarily, there is the Town of Philipstown, the Villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, and Putnam County, all seeking space at the Butterfield site, including shared court and justice offices, and law enforcement space.

The County could see 5,000 to 6,000 square feet used for various offices that could include the Office for the Aging, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and even a Senior Center.

Putnam County Legislator Vinny Tamagna – now set to run the County’s Planning Department – told the PCN&R, “I think we are moving at a snail’s pace. Certainly Paul Guillaro has a lot of patience and has been a gentleman throughout the whole process, even working with the municipalities of both the town of Philipstown and Putnam County.

“He has gone literally years trying to get this project off the ground and modifying and changing it. I have no indication he is going to pull out, but I do think he might be frustrated and he may look at doing other projects and re-prioritizing where the projects are.”

Tamagna went further, “The Planning Board has to stop, and the Village Board has to move forward with something that makes so much sense.”

Ahead of the meeting, Mayor Gallagher said he was hopeful that solution could still be worked out. Denying a special-use permit on the senior housing would be difficult, and require a very good reason, he said.

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