Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 07 January 2011 00:00
As 2010 came to a close, the ultimate fate of St. Paul’s Boys School in Garden City still remained a hot topic of discussion for the Garden City Village Board of Trustees and residents. After the board entertained a period of public hearings and commentary on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement this fall, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on demolition is anticipated to be ready by the next board of trustees meeting in January, according to Village Counsel Gerard Fishberg.
Trustee Laurence Quinn raised the issue of ongoing costs for preparation of the FEIS during the last board meeting of the year. Prior to approving a bill in the amount of $11,206 from Sive, Paget & Riesel, an environmental firm hired to prepare the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the FEIS, Quinn asked when the board anticipated that billings would finally end.
Fishberg responded that the preparation of the FEIS was well under way and the task of completing it was a fairly large job, which he said involves putting together all the public comments that have been made over the entire process, as well as providing responses to those comments. “It’s expected that’s going to be available within the next couple of weeks, probably by the next board meeting,” Fishberg said.
Upon receipt of the FEIS, Fishberg explained that the next step is the preparation of findings, which is basically the final decision of the board based on all the information in the FEIS. Fishberg further stated that he anticipated that work from Sive, Paget & Riesel would draw to a close, although he said some additional work could be needed in the future.
Trustee Andrew Cavanagh informed the board that there has been some recent activity regarding St. Paul’s that has not been captured in the billings. Cavanagh stated that there is further consideration of the Committee to Save St. Paul’s (CSSP) proposal for the limited use of the building. He also said that Mr. David Yudelson, an attorney for Sive, Paget & Riesel, met with architect Bernard Marson for his client, Eskar International, who has come forward with a proposed development scheme to turn St. Paul’s into luxury apartments.
This past summer, the CSSP proposal called to establish a conservancy and would require an $8 million preservation and renovation of the building’s exterior and rehabilitation of major rooms on the first floor and chapel, which they say would cost the same or even less than the demolition.
As part of the FEIS, the village is required to include analysis of viable proposals. Cavanagh said Yudelson was working to ensure that Marson’s engineering construction proposals were sufficient to support the scope of their proposal. “We do want to make sure we have a comprehensive, complete and thorough analysis of all the proposals that are out there so the FEIS will be as perfect as it can be,” Cavanagh said.
Mayor Robert J. Rothschild chimed in about incurring costs of legal fees for the FEIS with regards to additional proposals. “I have also asked that Mr. Yudelsen will not be used unless at least myself knows about it and we can say it’s an appropriate use of his time which we would be paying for,” he said, adding, “Mr. Marson has allegedly made a proposal but I’m not sure why or how we would be looking at the Marson proposal when it’s for residential, which we already said we don’t want. So there are a lot of combined issues and I think we’re going about it the right way looking and making sure we’re listening to and looking at anything that’s on the table,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Donald Brudie explained that he and Trustee Cavanagh were present for Marson’s proposal. Brudie raised questions as to why the CSSP was required by the village to use three independent contractors to verify the costs in their plan, while Marson, who used the very same contractor as CSSP, was not asked to provide three sets of numbers. “Mr. Marson used the same company HRH Construction that submitted the numbers on his first proposal. Now why wasn’t he requested to get independent contractors to verify the numbers of HRH?” Brudie said.
Trustee Cavanagh said Brudie’s point was a fair one and said that if it is the sense of the board, they will also ask Marson to provide additional numbers from three independent contractors for verification.
Trustee Dennis Donnelly explained that the board is paying Sive, Paget & Riesel and Mr. Yudelson to be the ultimate issuer of the FEIS. “It’s inherent upon him in developing the FEIS to address those proposals so he has to have some way to judge whether they’re viable or not so that’s where the third party came in. I think it’s reasonable for him to be working on what he eventually has to hand us as a final document, which we have to vote on. I think his involvement is only along the exact lines of what we asked him to do, which is to prepare the FEIS and then the findings,” Donnelly stated.
Garden City resident Mort Yuter, who is a frequent attendee at the village board meetings, told the mayor that he wanted to see St. Paul’s saved and asked for the board to keep an open mind to consider other proposals when the FEIS is presented. Yuter, who voted in favor of the AvalonBay proposal in 2008, said that making it a residential community should be considered now that time has passed.
The mayor said that the residents didn’t want AvalonBay and the entity has not brought anything new to the table on the project. “My personal feeling is I would love to see AvalonBay come back, but I’m not making that decision. We’re going down a path this board has agreed to, whether it’s unanimous or not, we’re going down this path. If the white knight ever shows up, that’s something we’ll have to consider. But we can’t have people throwing things on the table and expect us to stop the presses because they think they now have the answers when they haven’t added anything to the equation over the past four or five years that they originally submitted to the Mayor’s Committee to Save St. Paul’s,” the mayor said.
The mayor maintained that he’s always had an open mind on the matter, but said he is also realistic. “The decision was made, it went before the residents; we’ve gone down another path,” he said.
He went on to say that it all goes back to his original premise. “Eighteen years we’ve been looking at this and not one nickel has been donated to that. I’ve got a stack of letters from people who have given money to fix the memorial across the street. Not one nickel has ever been sent to the village to save St. Paul’s except for litigation. That they raised a lot of money for,” he added.
Trustee John Watras added that he personally has made donations to save St. Paul’s from demolition. “A lot of nickels have been spent by the Committee to Save St. Paul’s and people even on this board have put money up to try and save St. Paul’s…maybe it hasn’t been given directly to the village but there’s some entity, a 501(c)3 organization that people have donated to,” he said.
To view the DEIS and other village documents regarding St. Paul’s, visit the village website at www.gardencityny. net/gcvillage.htm.