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Ballot Question Has Town Divided Over Greenlighting Sale To Developer Raja Amar
By Tina Traster
Stony Point voters are split as they head to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to sell Patriot Hills Golf Course and adjoining land on the former Letchworth Village property to a local but first-time developer who envisions a hotel, spa, conference center and updated golf course on the underused site.
The simple yes or no referendum question on Tuesday’s ballot is: Shall the Town Board resolution authorizing the sale of Patriot Hills Golf Course and former Letchworth Village property be approved?
But many believe the question is not that simple.
“Many issues have not been addressed,” said George Potanovic Jr, president of Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment (SPACE). “The town signed a contract with the developers in April but have talked about many prospective amendments to the contract. The terms and conditions have not been nailed down. That’s why we are advocating for a ‘no’ vote.”
In April, the Town of Stony Point signed a contract to sell the former Letchworth Village property and Patriot Hills Golf Course to Raja Amar and his team.
The developer has agreed to pay $6.4 million for the golf course and 26 adjoining acres on the former Letchworth Village property. The agreement calls for the payment at closing as both a cash payment and performance bond for the design and construction of a new Stony Point Community Center. The developer has been negotiating with Stony Point for three years.
Many who oppose the deal worry that Amar may not have the wherewithal to see the project through to completion. They express concern over a new owner buying up the land and putting high density housing there.
“Even if he were to sell the property tomorrow, you can’t build high-density housing there,” said Supervisor Jim Monaghan. “The only way to do so would be to go to the Town’s Zoning Board to change the zoning.”
Monaghan also pointed out that Amar will also need to go before the planning board if he builds a hotel and conference center.
Town officials have said the project will benefit the town because the town loses money annually for the maintenance of the golf course.
But those opposing the contract dispute that the golf course loses money. They say that except for the cost of debt service and depreciation, the golf course turns a profit. Also, they argue the 20-year $25 million bond is nearly paid off, and without the expenses related to the debt, the course could be profitable. However, if the sale does not go through, deferred maintenance of the 80 bunkers, greens, club house and the catering facility would need to be refinanced or bonded as they are nearing the end of their useful life.
Amar, along with two other minority investors, intends to undertake the remediation and redevelopment of the former state institution as well as upgrade the golf course, clubhouse, and catering facilities. The golf course will remain accessible to town residents and their guests, and Stony Point active volunteer fire department and ambulance corps members will play for free.
But voters, and an opposition movement by the advocacy group Stony Point United, have raised concerns over unanswered questions surrounding the contract, particularly what would happen to the property if Amar should purchase it but then back out of developing it.
Opponents also say the contract should contain a “First Right of Refusal” should Amar attempt to flip the property or otherwise fail to development the property as promised. Town officials have indicated a willingness to include some clause that has yet to be negotiated.
If voters reject the sale of the golf course, the town is not legally bound to the contract.
Stony Point Town Supervisor Jim Monaghan says he’s hopeful voters will approve the sale.
In recent weeks, the issue has played out on social media, in town-led forums, and at a presentation on Oct. 22 at the golf course.
Amar has committed to relocate the under-performing senior center to a newly-built 7,500-square-foot facility off the Letchworth property but opponents worry that although this promise is included in the contract, the details are not specific enough.
Opponents have made an issue over Amar’s application to the Rockland County IDA (Industrial Development Agency) for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program, claiming the town will receive no tax revenue for a decade. However, the provision for an application to the IDA was included in the contract, specifying that if Amar does not get IDA approval, he can opt out of the contract.
The sale is aimed at transforming Stony Point, making it a tourist draw and putting the property back on the tax rolls. Throughout the negotiations with the town, the developer has signaled a desire to build a luxury hotel and conference center on the site. The development team has begun to reach out to major brand hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons, which would give Rockland County its first five-star hotel.
“I am putting in my own personal money on this project,” said Amar. “It is time we can prove that we can bring Stony Point back to life.”