BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The sprawling Orangeburg Commons shopping and motel center on Route 303 in Orangeburg is poised to expand even further next year, owners and their attorneys told the Orangetown Town Board Tuesday evening.
Lawyer Geraldine Tortorella of White Plains, who represents both owners and developers FB Greenbush and FB Orangeburg, told the council she will return next week to officially seek an amendment to their current special development permit and to seek a new expansion special permit, both of which are expected to be approved by the five-member board.
The permits are needed for the developers to proceed with plans to demolish the historic 1752 Lent House that now occupies the site to be developed, and to begin re-grading the land and start construction of a new 18,304 square foot structure which will contain about 10 new retail stores, restaurants and service establishments.
When completed, the new building will join existing structures constructed over the past two years on adjacent sections of the property, now containing a Stop and Shop Supermarket, Lowes Home Improvement Center and a Marriott Residence Inn.
The new building will generate an additional $58,000 in property taxes to the Town of Orangetown, South Orangetown Central School District, Rockland County, and local fire, ambulance and library districts, Tortorella told the board.
Tortorella said the project has been very successful so far, and the owners and developers are anxious to begin construction on the newest addition to the growing complex, which already dominates the South Orangetown landscape.
The property was once the home of the Orangeburg Manufacturing Company, which for nearly a century manufactured tar and asbestos sewer, water and drainage pipe in an 1880’s red brick factory on the site. The pipe was the industry standard for all new construction in the eastern United States for decades. The firm died in the 1970’s when its primary product was deemed toxic, and its buried pipes began deteriorating and collapsing, creating massive financial liabilities for both municipalities and homeowners who had to remove and replace them.
The vacant plant lay fallow for a decade and was eventually demolished. Since the multi-acre site was declared a state and federal environmental waste dump, no one wanted to buy it and attempt any redevelopment, because of the staggering costs involved in remediation.
Eventually developers devised a plan to dig a huge hole on the site, line it with plastic and bury all of the debris, waste and chemicals, covering it all with a layer of fresh topsoil. This essentially encapsulated the contaminated soil and building debris, and met state and federal guidelines that led to approval of redevelopment plans. A meandering drainage pond was also created to catch surface runoff, which is constantly aerated by three fountains colorfully floodlit at night as part of the site’s landscaping.
Sitting in the middle of the site is the one obstacle that has yet to be overcome: the 1752 historic Dutch sandstone Abram Lent house. Built well before the Revolutionary War, it sits on about an acre of land midway between Stop and Shop and the Marriott Motel. It was occupied by William and Mary Chownes until about a decade ago, when it was sold to landscaper Thomas Graff.
Graff used it as an office for his Tappan Landscaping Co., and also housed several of his employees there. Graff has now gone into partnership with FB Orangetown, allowing his land to be used to construct the new storefronts.
This means the Lent house will be removed, and replaced with the planned 18,000-square-foot retail building.
Graff has been actively working with Orangetown Historian Mary Cardenas to find a new use or a new site for the Lent house but so far to no avail. He has pledged that the house can be moved if someone can be found willing and able to take it, or it can be dismantled at the site and either stored elsewhere, or moved to a different property and re-constructed. The buyer would be responsible for all costs.
Anyone with an idea on salvaging the Lent house can contact Mrs. Cardenas at the Orangetown Museum, where she also serves as executive director.
Ms. Tortorella told the Town Board Tuesday she needs a double public hearing soon to both amend the existing special permit her clients have, and to create a new special permit which would allow an expansion of the existing Orangeburg Commons to include the proposed new retail structure.
The original special permit was granted by the town a couple of years ago; to allow the Commons to be created on land that was zoned LI, or “Light Industrial,” because of the old pipe factory. Retail and hotel uses are not permitted in an LI district except through a special permit.
She has appeared before the board several times in the past year, keeping council members appraised of her client’s latest plans.
Board members acknowledged that fact Tuesday, along with their gratitude for her keeping them so well informed as plans progressed. Several councilmen said they were anxious to see the Commons finally develop to its full potential, and were anxious to speed the approval process as quickly as possible.
Based on that mutual admiration, both sides decided the board would vote next Tuesday, Dec. 9, to schedule joint public hearings. At the same time, they will declare themselves to be the lead agency on the project, and will refer the requests to the other agencies that must be given the opportunity to comment on the plans. Those referrals include the Orangetown Planning Board, various town government departments such as building, engineering, highway, sewer and police, the Rockland County Planning Department and various state and federal agencies because of the contamination designation for the site and its location on a state highway (Route 303), an interstate railroad (CSX West Shore Line) and the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
Supervisor Andrew Stewart said he was hopeful the joint public hearings could be held later this month, or in January at the latest.
Following the hearings, the board will then take a vote on amending its original special permit for the overall development, and the new expansion special permit allowing construction on the new building to begin.
Ms. Tortorella said the new structure would complete development of Orangeburg Commons for the time being. It will share all amenities with the rest of the development, such as roadways, parking lots, underground electrical, water and sewage lines, surface drainage, entrances and exits, exterior lighting and landscaping.
Future plans, which are currently on hold, include a second motel and two or more individual structures for a bank and a restaurant. Tortorella said the owners, developers and prospective tenants are waiting to see how successful the existing center is, including the new 18,000-square-foot retail building, before committing to further expansion.