GOSHEN—The County Legislature voted on June 2 to pay Mountco Construction and Development Corp., the would-be developer of the former Camp La Guardia site, $1.2 million to cancel a contract it had with the county to develop the property.
Mountco had planned to develop mostly high-density housing and a around 200,000 square feet of commercial on the site but could not get the infrastructure it needed.
Because the contract was never fulfilled, Mountco never owned it, but still had the rights to develop it. The buyout will give the county full control over the site once again, to develop as it sees fit.
While most legislators approved the payout, it was not unanimous.
“What we’re doing is paying a ransom,” said Legislator Michael Paduch. “We own this property already. You want to take $1.2 million taxpayer dollars out of the undesignated fund balance and give it to Mountco.”
According to the resolution, the money would come from the County’s fund balance, its rainy day fund, and would be used by the Real Property Tax Services Office to pay Scarsdale-based Mountco for the predevelopment work it did.
The county bought the property and buildings for $8.5 million from New York City, which operated it as a homeless shelter from 1935 to 2007. In 2008, the county accepted a proposal from Mountco to develop it.
Plans for the project stagnated because the county could not provide the water and sewer services the site needed, and the locals opposed the high density housing.
The 258-acre site, which straddles the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove and the Village of Chester, is now being marketed by the Orange County IDA for commercial use.
One point all the legislators who spoke agreed on was that the deal they made with Mountco was a mistake.
“It’s hard to believe that … the county, with all its resources, with all its attorneys, and all its capable people, makes mistakes that could potentially cost tax payers millions of dollars,” said Democratic Minority Leader Matthew Turnbull.
Legislator Mike Anagnostakis agreed, saying they “blundered” and wasted taxpayer money with the deal, but if they did not buy Mountco out of the contract, it would be even worse.
“I don’t like any more than some of my other colleagues that we have to pay money to get that back. I hate that,” he said. “But I hate even more what was done in the past administration and we need to correct that and move forward.”
Legislature Chairman Stephen Brescia warned that if they did not approve the $1.2 million transfer, “we could be tied up for years.”
“It was not on the tax rolls before and it’s not on the tax rolls now,” he said. “At least this way we have an opportunity to put that land on the tax rolls.”
The resolution passed with 19 ayes and two nos from legislators Paduch and Jeff Berkman.
Shortly after the vote, County Executive Steven Neuhaus released a statement applauding the legislature on its decision, citing the jobs and the tax revenue that could be generated if businesses were to move in there.
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