Camarda development would includes shops, offices, parks, housing
Wednesday night’s public hearing for the proposed large-scale Union Place commercial and residential development in Mahopac was clearly of interest to many residents. The session of the Town of Carmel Planning board was unusually packed, with every seat filled and the doorways packed with people.
The board had convened to listen to public comment on developer Paul Camarda’s plan for the 287-acre parcel bordered by Baldwin Place Road and Route 6 in Mahopac. Pete Bardunias, president and CEO of the Greater Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce, has called it the “most ambitious project ever undertaken in Putnam.”
Many of those who spoke came prepared with Putnam County Tourism Brochures and poster boards showcasing photos of sprawling countryside. While some citizens addressed the board, others fervently compiled their notes, pens steaming.
Planning Board chairman Harold Gary made it clear that no answers would be provided during the hearing; rather this was an opportunity for all to voice their concerns and pose their questions in response to the completed Environmental Impact Statement. Answers would be officially provided in a written document at a later date.
“There are many reasons that this project probably should be, there probably is just a many reasons why it shouldn’t be,” Gary said. “What we want to hear from you is your view on why it should be or why it shouldn’t be, and one of the answers why it shouldn’t be is not, ‘I don’t like it.’ It has to be a valid reason why this will impact you, the town and the County.”
Paul Camarda’s development team presented their extensive studies and an overview of the Union Place project, which would include a main street of retail shops, restaurants, pharmacies, office buildings, parks, and rental housing units, as well as Union Heights, a condominium complex. The project would restructure many of the intersections along Route 6, primarily that of Baldwin Place Road and Route 6. Citing the principals of a “smart growth community,” the team shared their research on successful villages of this kind, specifically Blue Back Square in West Hartford, Connecticut. If completed, the project could bring a good deal of commerce into Putnam, encouraging citizens to shop locally rather than help Connecticut's economy by shopping in Danbury.
“There are other places that you can find if you visit and research on the Internet for ‘Smart Growth Communities,’” said Tim Miller, president of Tim Miller and Associates, a Cold Spring-based land planning firm working on the project for Camarda Realty Invesments. “You’ll see the kind of concepts that we’ve been working on to make this one of the premiere destination places in Putnam County.”
As explained by the development team, Union Place (with the slogan “Live, Work, Eat, Shop, Play”) would revitalize the town, create much-needed jobs locally, increase tax revenue, alleviate the density of traffic, and create a gateway to Putnam from Westchester.
When the floor was opened to the public, Chairman Gary urged residents to avoid repetition in their questions and comments.
However many of the same concerns were raised repeatedly. Issues of school taxes, cost burdens, and safety were discussed. Some raised environmental concerns regarding the drilling of wells (many of which came up dry or ran out of water within the testing period), preserving the land, and sound buffers for nearby homes. Camarda’s own track record with his recent developments was questioned on several occasions, and several members of the public urged the developers to reconsider their plans and open a performing arts venue instead. However, increased traffic was a very popular worry of the evening.
Residents maintained that more people would be coming through 6N, a road that is not designed for the high volume usage, and that traffic can never truly be alleviated because Route 6 can not be expanded.
“It will make matters worse to have to go through a shopping center, traffic circles, and everything, just to get to the same bad intersection,” an audience member said of the traffic lights between Route 6, Baldwin Place, and Route 118. “I don’t see where I’m ever going to use this facility, and my problem is getting around it.”
Many were not satisfied with the development team’s simple statement that jobs would be created. “When they talk about the jobs that are being brought into town, I hope they will be able to categorize, such as how many high paying jobs will be brought into town, how many medium paying jobs are being brought into town, and how many low paying jobs are being brought into town because this is an expensive place to live,” said another resident.
Although the hearing was also open to positive feedback about the Union Place, it became increasingly obvious that there would be none that night from that particular crowd. As the property has been designated an Empire Zone, the project would receive tax breaks. The audience became heated, stating “we” would be picking up an additional tax burden.
Earlier in his presentation, Tim Miller asserted that there would be low adverse effects on existing businesses. But people remarked on the number of “For Rent” signs in our local storefronts. Instead, some residents proposed the building of a performing arts venue that would attract people to the town and fill the gap in cultural opportunities and outlets in Putnam County.
“An economic boom, without the malignant impact of housing, growth in student population and staffing, increase in taxes, traffic congestion, and more retail that will compete with the already fragile, fragile network businesses on the Rt. 6 corridor,” said Ann Fanizzi, who Chairs the Coalition to Preserve Open Space. Fanizzi is well-known environmental activist who frequently opposes development projects.
Legislator Dini LoBue of Mahopac also spoke in favor of revitalization through the arts. “I think by presenting something different, and I’m in favor of preserving the Mahopac Playhouse, not only is it a part of our history, but we have no culture,” she said. “I believe that, and I’m sure most of the planners would agree, most revitalization takes place around the arts and around culture.”
Bringing the “right” project to the 287-acre property inspired an emotional response from those at the meeting. “We must ask ourselves,” one resident said. “Do we want a vibrant gateway to the Town of Carmel as stated in the DEIS report? Or do we want, as the Putnam County Tourism Department once said, ‘This is where the country begins’?”
At the same time, Putnam County bears the distinction of being the 12th most highly taxed of America’s 3,100 counties. Additionally, a recent report from the Tax Foundation said that, out of the 50 states, New York State is the most hostile to business and enterprise, primarily due to its burdensome tax climate. Despite this, Bardunias, the Chamber president, says Putnam could possibly be in a better situation than the rest of the state.
“We’re relatively wealthy per capita and we are in a situation where we’re not over developed—so we have room to grow and some other counties don’t have that luxury,” Bardunias told the Courier’s sister newspaper, the Putnam County News & Recorder, last week. “We actually have some opportunities to develop a way out of this faster than in many other parts of the state.”