Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hope for preservation of 600+ acres in Somers

Subject: Hope for preservation of 600+ acres in Somers
Date: 1/20/2005 2:49:11 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
From: MarianR451
BCC: Reysmont

Deal called nearly done

(Original publication: January 20, 2005)

SOMERS — Terms of a historic agreement are nearly complete between Queens investors who have been trying to develop 628 acres with 108 mansions and local government officials who have been trying to preserve the largest remaining tract of land left in Westchester County.

"I would say we are very close," Westchester County Planning Commissioner Gerard Mulligan said yesterday. He would not say how much the deal was worth or how much money the county was prepared to contribute, except that it would represent the largest payment the county has ever made to preserve open space.

Similarly for another partner in the coalition of buyers — the New York City Department of Environmental Protection — the purchase of the so-called Eagle River property would represent its largest acquisition of open space east of the Hudson River.

The stakes are perhaps highest in the small northern Westchester town itself, still considered semi-rural, where residents feel besieged by development.

"I have been following this the way I think most people have in Somers," Somers resident Lydia Howie said of the town's unlikely effort to buy the land out of the developer's hands. "It is a wonderful example of how town and county and state government can get together for the betterment of a community. I think this will be very well received in town."

Under the deal, Somers, Westchester County, the DEP and New York state would each pay a share towards the purchase of the property, which would be managed as a park by Somers, Mulligan said.

The rugged, forested land runs from the southern bend of the Amawalk Reservoir as far east as Route 100. Its environmental resume includes the Angle Fly Brook — the only trout-spawning stream in Westchester County — and a watershed that feeds New York City's Muscoot Reservoir.

From a developer's standpoint, the land has great potential, having once been approved in 1975 for 1,200 units.

The deal could leave Somers the option to build a community center near the small portion of the property where several model homes were built from a project that was abandoned decades ago. But for the most part, the 628 acres would be preserved through a conservation easement, a legal agreement that prohibits development regardless of ownership changes.

"We actually insisted on that because we thought that if the property is going to be sold for conservation, it should be conserved," said Mount Kisco lawyer Henry Hocherman, who has represented the investors both as their attorney during the subdivision application and the acquisition negotiations.

"Both sides worked very hard," Hocherman said. "If the deal is signed as it is proposed, it is a fair deal for both sides."

Hocherman also declined to discuss a purchase price. Last January, when Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy first announced that the town would build a coalition and attempt to buy Eagle River, a town politician put the value at $27 million.

Since then, independent appraisers hired by the developer and by the Westchester Land Trust have given private estimates to the negotiators.

The purchase price will become public once it reaches the Westchester County Board of Legislators for approval, which is not expected to happen until the beginning of February.

The board would have to approve both the language in a new agreement between the county and Somers, and the money that would have to be bonded to pay the county's share.

The most the county has paid to preserve open space is $3.6 million in 2003 to protect the former Unification Church property and an adjoining estate in Tarrytown.

"This kind of a deal is not unprecedented, but it is impressive because of its size and the financial ramifications," said Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, the chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. "I can't wait until this hits our agenda."

Reach Rob Ryser at or 914-666-6489.Reach Rob Ryser at or 914-666-6489.

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