Third Ward Councilman Don Franchino Says Clarkstown Doesn’t Need Another Property To Maintain
By Tina Traster
In November 2019, the Town of Clarkstown’s council authorized the town to purchase the Grace Baptist Church in Nanuet for $4.5 million for “general municipal purposes” after a protracted fight with a Jewish Academy that wanted to buy the property. The transaction closed in early 2020.
Now, while litigation continues between the two parties — the federal lawsuit filed by Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy in U.S. District Court in White Plains against the Town of Clarkstown was amended Monday to include additional allegations and documents supporting the yeshiva’s claims the town violated state and federal law — discussions have begun between community members and Clarkstown over what to do with the church and the 2.32-acre property situated along Demarest Avenue.
This week, Supervisor George Hoehmann and Councilman Don Franchino met with a couple dozen residents and community leaders from CUPON and the Nanuet Chamber of Commerce at Grace Baptist Church to strategize over the best use for the property going forward.
Grace Baptist Church, located in Franchino’s Third Ward, has for decades been used for religious and educational purposes but it is rundown and dilapidated. The councilman says the town should consider razing the buildings and selling the lot to developers for residential housing, though Hoehmann pointed out the cost to the town to tear down the structures could cost north of $500,000.
“I think we should tear it down and jumpstart interest with builders,” said Franchino. “It’s time to make a decision. This town has to start making money. We can’t sit on this indefinitely. We don’t need more buildings to maintain.”
The Grace Baptist Church encompasses an original church building, two school additions and a newer church from the 1960s. The property also includes a parsonage and a detached garage on the northern lot. The southern lots have been used for parking.
The church parcel is currently zoned R-10, or single-family residential, which means a minimum of 10,000-square-feet of land (approximately a quarter acre) per single family home. R-10 also allows two-family residences, places of worship, parks, schools, farming and cemeteries. Multifamily housing, senior citizen housing, community centers, however, would require a special permit from the Planning Board.
But there may be a workaround – adjoining the Grace Baptist Church parcel to the TOD.
Last June, Clarkstown rezoned the heart of Nanuet’s business district from a pastiche of industry and fallow land into a newly zoned cluster of dense residential housing and light commercial designed for walkability and train use. The zoning plan, known as the Transit Oriented Development (TOD), is designed to include a mix of rentals and/or condos to attract millennials and empty nesters but the newly zoned area.
Town officials believe the zone is an opportunity for developers, architects, and real estate professionals but it is unclear what impact COVID-19 will have on the demand for housing.
To date, developers have shown an interest in the property but an insider says the steep selling prices the Cohen family, which owns a significant portion of the district, have thwarted any forward motion.
The 37-acre TOD originally called for 750 housing units but was downsized to a cap of 500 to satisfy New York State Department of Transportation’s traffic concerns on state roads. The Town Board may, by resolution passed by a super-majority vote after a public hearing, increase the total number of residential units. No such increase can take place until at least one year after the final Planning Board approval of the initial 500 units.
However, additional units would be subject to another environmental review and more traffic studies.
“This will have to be studied,” said Town Planner Joe Simoes. “We have to see what makes sense in the downtown area. This is something we will consider as part of an updated comprehensive plan.”