One of the last remaining places within the village where homeless humans and other beings may live free, the “pit,” has long been eyed as a place for the type of infill development that urban planners prefer to suburban sprawl. Once public land, the 2.4 acres bounded by Hasbrouck, Plattekill and Elting avenues along with a municipal parking lot was sold off in dribs and drabs in the latter half of the 20th century, with its ownership eventually consolidated and sold to the Lalo Group. Luis Martinez, principal of that company, has proposed a number of different plans for building in the pit, beginning with structures that would have rivaled the height of nearby college buildings — which exist because local zoning doesn’t apply on campus — to a recent idea that adds some apartments into a mix that also includes a hotel, restaurant, banquet hall, and offices. This latest plan was pitched to village trustees at their February 22 meeting, because before it can be reviewed by planning board members there are some restrictive covenants in place which hamper the commercial potential of this land. Village trustees put those covenants in place in the 1960s and ’90s, and their successors are being asked to relax them.
The “pit” is called that because there’s a steep grade from one side to the other. Martinez’s consultants want to work with that grade by putting parking below grade, connecting the several three-story buildings up top. One of the three buildings would include a hotel of 54 rooms, a restaurant and a 5,000-square-foot banquet hall. Another would have 2,000 square feet of retail space below 16 apartments. The last would have another 16 apartments, this above 8,000 square feet of office space — which could potentially be used by employees of Arcos LLC, an Ohio-based technology company that has offices at 15 Plattekill Avenue. Two intersecting walkways would allow pedestrians to traverse the property, but due to the grade one of those would include some sets of stairs.
Attorney John Capello touts a long memory regarding this parcel, having represented another erstwhile developer who wanted to erect affordable housing there. This was at a time when housing was perhaps not valued as highly as it is today, and Capello recalls that an official from St. Joseph’s opposed that project because of impacts it could have had on parking for parishioners. There is certainly a history of parking and worshiping coming into conflict in this village; when free parking on Sundays was abolished, Catholics who got tickets during Easter services in 2019 were in an uproar. All of their tickets got voided, a discussion about how to update the official holiday list ensued, and ultimately the parking meters near the church were removed. However, Capello’s extensive memory did not include knowledge of covenants that limited development to 15% coverage of one of the separate parcels now part of the pit, a fact that was uncovered through a Hudson Valley One review of village board minutes from the time of the sales. The rules also mandate a minimum amount of area that must be used for parking, and preserved some village parking spaces, among other requirements. Covenants such as these are recorded in county land records along with mortgages and deeds, and would be revealed during a “title search” that is used to establish precisely what rights to a parcel of land a seller is able to transfer to a purchaser. That kind of search is needed when a purchaser or lender desires title insurance, which protects against claims to that land by other parties.
Capello clearly wanted the conversation to be about the plans, and not the covenants, but recognizing that their role was to review and act on the covenants, the elected officials kept the focus on that legal language instead. There was considerable back-and-forth about the intent, since the minutes are not particularly clear. When pressed about why in eight years no one on the developer’s team had brought up the covenants until confronted with them, Capello noted that some of the adjacent land is also subject to some of the same covenants, and was sold off separately after being subdivided; it doesn’t appear to the attorney that there was any enforcement of those covenants regarding those other building projects. The crux of that argument is that village officials were equally ignorant, and cannot enforce rules arbitrarily. Capello offered several other arguments, as attorneys are wont to do, but eventually the mayor got around to asking for developers to pay for a land-use attorney and a municipal planner to review those old documents and decide how they should be interpreted. It was agreed that $12,500 would be placed in escrow to pay those consultants, to start.
However that review turns out, it appears that there will be more legal posturing — and possibly even a court case — before it’s clear whether this project can move forward, and in what form.