Suffern Takes Up Orange Avenue As Other Issues Simmer

Posted on 11 May 2015 by Editor

The vacant Suffern VFW property has surfaced as a divisive issue for the Board of Trustees. The VFW agreed to sale the property to the village in an apparent win-win deal but that agreement has now come under scrutiny.

The vacant Suffern VFW property has surfaced as a divisive issue for the Board of Trustees. The VFW agreed to sale the property to the village in an apparent win-win agreement that has now come under increased scrutiny.

Suffern Village Board meetings have lately become lively political theater with a dash of community confession. While Orange Avenue development project finally makes its way back onto the agenda at Monday night’s meeting, there are other, unresolved issues bubbling about under the Roberts-Rules-of-Order surface.

Joshua Goldstein (on the right at the podium) at one of the many Orange Avenue Associates presentations on the proprosed apartment complex in downtown Suffern.

Joshua Goldstein (on the right at the podium) at one of the many Orange Avenue Associates presentations on the proposed apartment complex in downtown Suffern.

After several last-minute delays, Orange Avenue Associates once again delayed its presentation until May 18 as it corrals ducks and other loose ends. The years-long effort is a zone change request related to the group’s proposed plan to build 91 luxury rental apartments in a specially created Transit Development District (TDD) on a 1.48 acre site that includes the Lafayette Hotel — now used mostly by its owner as revenue source for subsidized, government housing.

Orange Avenue Associates has been tied up with gaining control of the final parcels of land in accordance with the Suffern Urban Renewal Plan that is specific to the Orange Avenue development. The steps for the proposed development still includes board approval of the project’s PILOT and TDD zone change. The proposal would then go through a Suffern Planning and Zoning approval process as well as any environmental impact assessments (EIA) modifications related to its impact on the the surrounding area.

At a recent Suffern Village Board meeting a resident Paul Gerard queries Trustee Robert Morris about his use of an outside accountant to help him determine village budget numbers.

Suffern’s recent budget hearing process clarified sharp the sharp political divisions on the board. After a number of budget workshops and public meetings, the Suffern board voted on it approximately $12.9 million budget that included a 16 percent tax hike, a 5% rate increase for water usage and a 4.5% raise in the sewer rate. The budget passed on a 4 to 1 vote, with Mayor Trish Abato voting against the tax hike and water and sewer rate increases.

During the proceedings, Trustee Robert Morris repeatedly cited recommendations by an outside accountant in determining how to make various budget cuts and adjustments. Morris’ refusal to disclose information about who the outside accountant was created several animated exchanges during the proceedings and contributed to Mayor Abato’s no vote — the mayor said that she couldn’t vote on a possibly impaired process.

SuffernVFWsign2Another hotly debated issue that surfaced from the budget process was Suffern’s possible purchase of the Ramapo Valley Veterans of Foreign War Post # 2973 property at the corner of Ramapo and Maple Avenue near the Suffern Train Station. According to Mayor Abato, VFW officials approached the village about purchasing the property at an undermarket rate of $150,000, with an apparent covenant in the contract that provides for the VFW, a New York non-profit, to continue to meet in the building in perpetuity.

Resident Susan Golden queries Suffern Village Trustee Robert Morris and Trustee Frank Hagen about their involvement in a counter real estate offer proffered for the Suffern VFW property.

The village agreement presumes that the VFW property would pay for itself with the continued annual rental of 38 parking spaces that pay approximately $40 per month per space. The VFW at one time also used the property as party rental space. At this time, the VFW’s diminished membership and officer’s apparently determined the property might benefit the village itself rather than find its way to the commercial market and perhaps be leveled and lost.

Suffern VFW property that the village has agreed to acquire that includes valuable rental parking spaces.

Suffern VFW property that the village has agreed purchase includes valuable rental parking spaces.

The VFW now stands mostly empty, with the organization having donated its memorabilia to the Village of Suffern Museum. The contract between the village and the VFW is currently under review with office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a standard review practice with a non-profit designation such as the VFW entering into an agreement, especially with a municipality.

Trustees Morris and Markunas are in vocal opposition of the village’s agreement with the VFW, with Trustee Markunas arguing that the village is running a budget deficit and should not be acquiring a property at this time. Markunas also asked about the logistics of the village competing against local businesses with the property run as rental and entertainment facility.

Trustee Morris actually made a motion during one Village Board meeting to cancel the VFW contract — the motion found no second. Morris then apparently approached his son about his reservations related to VFW/village agreement. Morris’ son, who is a vice president of a real estate company, moved forward with his own contract for the property — an apparently similar offer that was delivered to the VFW by Suffern Trustee Frank Hagen.

Village Trustee Matt Byrne’s law partner, Richard Ellsworth, represents the VFW. Ellsworth is Sloatsburg’s Village Attorney. Byrne regularly recused himself from proceedings when the board discussed the VFW agreement.

Trustees Morris and Markunas have both argued that the VFW could get a much higher sale price on the open market, citing valuations ranging from $700,000 to a possibly a million dollars plus. Though not officially on the market, which can impact valuation, the real estate cite Zillow has the property valued at $291,000. The only other lot the size of the VFW property is another corner lot in a more private location valued at $329,000. Zillow property valuations are general and related to a neighborhood’s current and past sales prices as well as an area’s property taxes.

Michael Curley, proprietor of the Shamrock Hotel, reviews the recent village VFW agreement, then cranks up the volume.


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