After hours of presentations, debates and comments from both officials and the public Monday night, the pressure is off of the Southeast Town Board.
In an 8-1 vote at a special full meeting of the Putnam County Legislature, the body chose to move forward with a pre-application for a 100-acre veterans’ cemetery, instead of the 136-acre proposal discussed at the start of the meeting. The property, which officials say is owned by Tenth Jam Development LLC., is located in Southeast, to the east of John Simpson Road and the north of Route 6.
The decision allows the pre-application to be submitted by the July 1 deadline, which officials say is essential because of funds earmarked for the project in Albany.
It also takes the spotlight off of Southeast officials. Last month they discussed the fact that the 136-acre proposal would require them to surrender a 10-acre Independent Way parcel of land, which the county had handed over approximately seven years ago, according to Councilman Bob Cullen. The Town is free to use the property for municipal purposes before 2014, at which time it reverts back to the county if it remains untouched.
The board discussed the proposal briefly at two work sessions this month but council members were waiting until Monday’s meeting to learn more.
While nearly everyone who spoke at the Southeast work sessions and Monday’s meeting prefaced their concerns with support for a veterans’ cemetery, the majority of legislators and Town Board members were perplexed with the deadline.
According to Jim Coleman, State Sen. Greg Ball’s (R, C - Patterson) chief of staff, Ball secured $500,000 in state funding to be put toward a cemetery, and those funds may not be available next year.
“The federal government will pay up to 90 percent of the construction costs, where the state has to come up with at least 10 percent…” Coleman said, adding that the projected first phase of the project will cost $5 million.
Coleman’s comments followed a presentation — which Legislator Dini LoBue called “insane” — from Terri-Ann P. Hahn, principal at LADA, P.C., a firm of “land planners.” Southeast resident Ann Fanizzi stood up and demanded to know whom Hahn was working for. She identified herself as a volunteer and explained the site plan for the 136 acres, using a diagram.
After the site plan discussion and comments from Coleman and County Executive Paul Eldridge, several legislators were still concerned with the time line of the project. Eldridge said the first meeting he was involved in to discuss this specific proposal was sometime in April. Since then, he said, legal research transpired to confirm that the project was feasible.
“I know it’s quick, there could always be a reversion clause,” Chairman Vincent Tamagna said. “We don’t want it to look like there’s a smoke screen going up there and that we’re going to take this [10-acre parcel of land] because we want some kind of development, because we don’t. We want the opportunity to put the application in so the application has the most strength.”
He and Eldridge stressed that when it comes to the pre-application, the more land, the better.
Other legislature members said the process was too hurried and they did not feel comfortable with negotiations surrounding the parcel. Legislator Sam Oliverio has received phone calls from constituents asking, “What is the rush?” He stressed the need for due diligence.
Legislator Richard T. Othmer Jr. said he was “pissed off” that the body was under pressure to make a decision about land that belongs to the people of Southeast.
Five other legislators sided with Oliverio and Othmer’s sentiments. The body passed an amendment, 7-2, modifying the resolution to specify 100 acres rather than 136. Tamagna and Legislator Carl Albano voted against it.
- Officials referred to the owner of the property as Tenth Jam throughout the meeting. Afterward, Eldridge said he was unsure of "whose name" is behind the company. When asked who he has been in contact with, he named developer Harold Lepler and told Patch he is unsure "what the relationships are" between the company and Lepler.
- Tamagna said he and officials estimate that the cemetery would attract 715 burials per year, based on the number of veterans living in the five counties outside of New York City alone.
- According to Coleman, projections from the federal government suggest that maintenance would cost approximately $438,560 per year. In October, the burial allowance from Washington, D.C. is slated to reach $700. If the cemetery garners 715 burials annually, Coleman says the government allowances would cover maintenance and then some.
- Eldridge said his understanding is that the federal government would provide all the equipment needed "at the beginning" of the project, such as backhoes.
- The 136-acre plan Hahn presented would have offered as many as 70,000 plots in total, depending on the types of burials. She did not provide a total number of plots for a 100-acre project. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Solomon-Saratoga National Cemetery could accommodate "175,500 veterans and eligible dependents."
- The facility would create eight jobs.