Merits of New Highway Garage, Revitalization Project Outlined

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Nearly 90 minutes was spent at last week’s Yorktown Town Board meeting to discuss the merits of relocating the town’s highway garage and replacing it with a mixed-use building envisioned to be the lynchpin for revitalizing the downtown Heights area.

“We are looking to do something with a vision for the future,” said Supervisor Michael Grace, who has been championing the Depot Square project. “We have to be proactive in promoting our town, creating a town that’s aesthetically pleasing. We have to make Yorktown more liveable and more affordable.”

Plans first unveiled in 2013 include the existing 17,000-square-foot highway garage at the corner of Front Street being torn down and replaced with a 27,000-square-foot mixed commercial/residential building. The Highway Department and Parks and Recreation Department would be relocated to an approximately 62,000-square-foot steel butler-type building on Greenwood Street.

Grace emphasized snow plows and other equipment was currently being stored outside on tennis courts at Downing Park, shortening the lifespan of many vehicles.

“There has to be something done for parks to work effectively,” he said. “Employees say they drive around like Fled Flintstone with their feet hanging through the floor boards.”

The $4.8 million price tag town officials projected in paperwork for several state grants has spearheaded a petition being circulated by members of the United Taxpayers of Yorktown and Councilman Vishnu Patel to have a permissive referendum. To date, approximately 3,000 signatures have been collected.

“Why not put this on the ballot and let people decide?” said Patel, who is running against Grace in the November 3 election. “People are paying taxes and they want benefits now. How are you going to justify this?”

Grace insisted the project may still not cost the town anything once the property is sold ($1.5 million) and put back on the tax rolls (about $90,000 annually). He also revealed for the first time that a developer, later learned to be the principal of Crompond Terraces, may be interested in building Depot Square as part of approval for that development, planned in the vicinity of Best Plumbing off Route 202.

“What I don’t appreciate is the ‘just say no’ campaign,” Grace remarked.

Councilmen Tom Diana and Greg Bernard agreed with Grace, saying it was premature to criticize the proposal.

“This $4.8 million is a starting point. It can be brought up, it can be brought down,” Diana said. “It can be smaller, it can be bigger.”

“This shouldn’t even be a contentious issue. This is all good stuff,” Bernard said. “Why are we saying no to it? Don’t be misled by the petition or the councilmen who doesn’t like the math of this. Nobody on this board has allocated any money to this. If we don’t get grants and it costs too much, I won’t vote for it.”

Councilwoman Susan Siegel said a special meeting should be held on the plans to allow residents ample opportunity to ask questions.

“I’ve made it clear from the very beginning that I’m not opposed to the relocation of the highway garage. I’m concerned about the costs and priority of it,” she said. “This project is being sold for the revitalization of the downtown, not because we need a new highway garage.”

Siegel stressed even if the town received the entire $2.7 million it had applied for from the state, $1.2 million would still be needed to fund the project if the town’s projections proved to be accurate.

Former Councilman Tony Grasso, a 52-year resident and official with the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce, expressed his support of Depot Square.

“This would revitalize that part of town. To me, this would not cost anything, maybe a few dollars,” he said. “Take your head out of the sand.”