Letters of intent and evolving ideas
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Since spring 2010, plans for the proposed Butterfield redevelopment have included an intergovernmental building. Also since then, officials of the Town of Philipstown and Village of Cold Spring have discussed the possibilities. And — despite recent claims by some residents to the contrary — fairly early on, both municipalities declared their intent, albeit tentatively, to take space in the proposed structure.
On the part of the town government, interest in Butterfield also has evolved over time, with the Philipstown Town Board now considering use of the American Legion site, as an alternative to Butterfield.
Meanwhile, the role of Putnam County, the third major government occupant of the proposed intergovernmental “municipal” building, also has changed. Two and a half years ago, the focus was on County Legislature discussions of county purchase of the whole Butterfield property, an idea that eventually fizzled out.
Now, with idea of the intergovernmental facility still on the table and the current County Legislature yet to weigh in on it — having been at work only since early January — the principal county player has been County Executive MaryEllen Odell. She vigorously backs a Putnam presence at Butterfield. Whether the legislature shares her enthusiasm remains to be seen.
Village and town action 2010
Well before Butterfield owner Paul Guillaro’s latest design configuration for Butterfield debuted, Town and Village Boards expressed their backing for the Butterfield project in general and the municipal building in particular. Both saw the latter as a way to get better offices, justice court quarters, and public meeting rooms, and better comply with federal laws on handicapped-accessibility.
At a June 15, 2010, workshop, the Village Board voted 4 to 0 to recommend using Butterfield for the post office, village police department, justice court, senior citizen center, garage for the trolley stored under county auspices in Carmel, and a new firehouse, with a renovated Grove, the adjacent 1853 village-owned house, linked to the overall Butterfield complex. The only question arousing controversy was whether to move the village hall to Butterfield as well. A motion to include it produced a tie vote, with then-Trustee Airinhos Serradas and Trustee Chuck Hustis in favor and Trustee Bruce Campbell and Mayor Seth Gallagher opposed.
The following month, in a letter to the Putnam County Legislature, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea described the Butterfield site as “a tremendous asset for the entire community. Currently our Town Hall is overcrowded to the point of being a safety hazard. Our need for records storage alone is overwhelming our current space. This leaves little room for the daily functions that local government provides,” he wrote.
He outlined possible entities to house in a Butterfield building, including consolidated local justice courts, emergency services, and a senior citizens-veterans center, adding that these, along with “a more functional and accessible building for town government are just the beginning of what we envision.”
That October, Shea said that if the county didn’t buy Butterfield, he regarded its potential for local government as so important that he would like to see the town acquire it, although he acknowledged “we just don’t have that kind of money. I wish we did. But we’re willing to come up with some money to secure or to lease the site.”
2011: letters of intent
Several months later, on May 24, 2011, the Cold Spring Village Board passed a resolution noting its previous backing and expressing desires to lease 2,000 feet of unfinished space in the intergovernmental building at Guillaro’s estimated charge of $12.75 per square foot, without utilities.
“The Village Board finds that such a leasing arrangement would be in the best interests of the village,” the resolution declared. Approved by Gallagher, Hustis, Campbell, and Trustee Ralph Falloon, with Serradas abstaining, the resolution authorized the mayor to send a letter of intent to Guillaro. Gallagher did, noting, as per the board’s wishes, that the deal would be “subject to negotiation of a mutually acceptable lease agreement.”
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,” again at an estimated lease rate of $12.75 per square foot. However, Shea pointed out, “due to the very preliminary nature of this project, this letter cannot be construed as binding legally or in any way with regard to the Town of Philipstown.”
At a Village Board workshop in October 2011 at which Guillaro unveiled his initial concept, Shea — a member of the audience — pointed out the developer’s reputation for quality work. “Paul has such a good track record,” he said.
The town supervisor remained sanguine about the project as 2012 unfolded. “There is no legal document” binding the town to the Butterfield location, but “we would like to sometime formally commit to taking space there,” Shea said at a Town Board meeting in January 2012. As on other occasions, he referred to Butterfield as “an opportunity” to get much-needed facilities without the town having to pay for the construction or attempt to immediately re-do Town Hall, a costly proposition given the out-of-date wiring, work needed on windows and insulation, and accessibility problems, among other challenges.
“Do we want to spend money here or spend money over there at Butterfield?” Shea asked his Town Board colleagues. “It’s time to consider moving the entire town government to that site.” With Councilor Dave Merandy abstaining, and Councilors John Van Tassel, Nancy Montgomery, and Betty Budney joining Shea in the “yea” votes, the Town Board then authorized Shea to send another letter of support to Guillaro, as Guillaro had sought.
The same week, the Cold Spring Village Board likewise renewed its support, unanimously voting to approve a letter from Gallagher. The letter termed Guillaro’s plan “an exciting, dynamic, mixed-use development, which will benefit the village of Cold Spring in many ways.”
Nonetheless, in their discussions the mayor and trustees also noted a few downsides to what Guillaro then had on the table, a plan that provided for the municipal building, retail space with room for the post office, upscale condominiums for retirement-age buyers, and retention of the existing Lahey medical clinic but also included a range of apartments for modest-income senior citizens. Although generally optimistic about the plan, board members expressed reservations about the expected dearth of tax revenue from modest-cost senior housing, as opposed to ventures that generate higher revenues.
Guillaro briefed the Town Board in February 2012, but after that the action mostly occurred at the village level, with a public forum in April to get citizen input and long discussions by the Planning Board, Village Board, Historic District Review Board, and the Butterfield project committee, a short-lived attempt at inter-board cooperation and joint review.
In May 2012, Guillaro withdrew his plan. He returned in late July with a new design that dropped the senior citizen apartments while retaining the other components and boosting the commercial tax-generating element. However, as summer became fall and bitter wrangling continued over demolition of the old hospital, the Town Board began shifting some of its focus toward another site, the American Legion.
During a meeting Oct. 18, Shea suggested a revamped American Legion building, located on Cedar Street, behind the Town Hall, might serve town government needs if Butterfield didn’t. An upgraded
facility at the legion property could provide space for a court system, other town functions, a senior citizen center, and veterans’ activities, he said. “The Butterfield project is up in the air. We can’t wait forever to go to Butterfield,” he said.
The board briefly revisited the American Legion idea in November and December, and again this week. “Definitely we’re exploring a lot of options,” Shea said Wednesday, Jan. 23. The legion property “is attractive for a lot of reasons. It’s proximity. Everybody could realize their goals. And we could do it, probably — hopefully — a little quicker.”