Town Of Orangetown Cooperating With HNA Palisades Center To Sell Property

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Town Has Invited Prospective Developers To Site Visit On Monday

By Tina Traster

The Town of Orangetown is working in cooperation with HNA Palisades Center to seek a developer to re-envision the 106-acre site on Route 9W in Palisades, according to outside counsel the town has hired to steer the destiny of the parcel.

“We’ve been in close coordination with HNA,” said Michael Zarin, of Zarin & Steinmetz in White Plains. “HNA has deferred to Orangetown to take the lead on a public-private partnership.”

The Town of Orangetown has issued an official invitation to the development community to reimagine the HNA Palisades Premier Conference Center in Palisades. On Monday, interested developers will join town officials in a site visit.

Responses are due March 1st, and town expects to select a developer by April 12th.

Taking a proactive approach to shaping development on a significant parcel is not entirely unusual, and if successful it could be used as a template for parcels in need of redevelopment in Rockland County.

Zarin says projects like this can be quite advantageous for developers because they are working hand-in-glove with a town.

“It counts for a lot when you have the town’s help baked into the process,” said Zarin. “That’s a big plus.”

On Oct. 1, the Town of Orangetown board hired engineering/planning firm AKRF and attorneys Zarin & Steinmetz to assist with the marketing and sale of the parcel located at 334 Route 9W.

HNA is free to market its parcel independently, and retains control over whether it accepts an offer, given that the parcel is privately owned. But the town, which appears set on taking control of the parcel, says it does have one tool in its kit: eminent domain.

The threat of utilizing eminent domain amounts to a rather bold claim considering Orangetown would need to appraise the property and likely have to pony up roughly $40 million to purchase the center at a fair market price.  The threat of the Town utilizing its condemnation authority to acquire the property could effectively dampen the market for private buyers and devalue the property.

But Zarin says HNA is welcoming the town’s partnership.

“The hotel has been vacant,” said Zarin. “They don’t have any immediately plans to operate it. There is a mutual alignment of objectives. We hope to select a developer and help to broker a sale. If unsuccessful, the town could use eminent domain. But that would be a last resort.”

The Request for an Expression of Interest (RFEI) calls for a “preferred developer or preferred development team” to facilitate the town’s redevelopment goals, which include rezoning the site to enhance rateables.

Orangetown, which is hoping to play an influential role in the future fate of the privately-owned HNA Palisades, envisions both development and environmental conservation. Specifically, the lush, 106-acre site could be developed for a bevy uses including residential, commercial, recreational, movie studio, senior assisted living. But the list also includes what the site is or has recently been used for: hotel, conference center, or a corporate headquarters.

Developers pitching the project will need to prove to Orangetown that the plan includes a provision for indoor/outdoor community uses, improvements the visual character of the site and offers a fiscal benefit to Orangetown taxpayers.

Many residents have said they do not want to see an office park or research and development laboratories (which the site is currently zoned for) or multifamily housing (which it is not zoned for) on the parcel.

Zarin says the town is not predisposed to any particular kind of development but there is near certainty that a new vision for the site will require zoning amendments to the site, which now allows hotel, office, schools, and laboratory use.

“The town is open to good design, in harmony with the area, a development that maximizes rateables and adds public amenities.”

Ashley Lee of AKRF says the town will “evaluate proposals, look at the economic value, determine tax revenue and environmental impacts. The town will have a numerical basis to weigh the options.”

Meanwhile, town officials are unofficially gathering feedback from Orangetown residents but it will take public hearings on potential zoning changes to formally hear public sentiment on whatever plans are floated to gauge what residents want.

The HNA Palisades Center pays $1.2 million in school taxes and approximately $600,000 in town taxes annually.