MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Controversy continues to plague plans to create a small park and municipal parking lot at the intersection of routes 6 and 6N, next to the Tompkins Mahopac National Bank, but both town and bank officials shrugged off the embroilment, saying everything is moving forward as planned with the state’s blessing.
In the latest imbroglio, The Journal News reported last week that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will investigate town plans to use road millings as fill to help level the parking lot. The millings—asphalt scrapings from a road about to be repaved—come from last summer’s resurfacing of Route 6 in the hamlet of Carmel.
However, representatives from the DEC came to the Swan Cove site on Monday, Feb. 11, to investigate the town’s use of the millings and, according to Supervisor Ken Schmitt, found that the town was in compliance.
Schmitt said reps from the DEC’S Division of Water and the Division of Solid Waste (which handles materials) told him the milllings were stored at Swan Cove in accordance with state regulations.
“Based on their investigation, it was determined the millings can be used as materials for grading adjustments and leveling of the property,” he said. “The use of the millings is a permissive use in New York State and no violations were found by either division.”
The Journal News article also contended that the town put itself at a disadvantage in its negotiations with Tompkins Mahopac Bank to buy the land that now serves as the bank’s parking lot. Town officials first bought the lakeside property known as Swan Cove, where the park will be built, for $1 million. Then, already committed to Swan Cove’s development, the town began negotiations with the bank. As a result, the article asserts, bank officials are able to extract concessions and squeeze more money out of the town.
Bob Buckley, the former chair of the town’s Recreation Advisory Committee, was angry that the Town Board did not consult the rec panel before purchasing the Swan Cove land last year. Now an outspoken critic of the project, Buckley maintains that town officials moved too quickly, buying the Swan Cove land without due diligence, and that the bank now has the advantage in the negotiations. However, Buckley said he supports the idea of a park with public access to Lake Mahopac.
At a Feb. 7 meeting of the Recreation Advisory Committee, Buckley urged the committee to make sure that when a deal with the bank is complete, there are no deed restrictions that would prevent the town from doing what it wants to do with the park and/or the parking lot.
Buckley told Mahopac News he has no animosity toward the bank. It should be able to negotiate any way it sees fit, he said, because it must do what’s in the best interest of its stockholders. But he also contends it is indeed asking for deed restrictions as part of its negotiating tactics.
“Hopefully, they will do the right thing for the town,” he said. “I won’t say anything bad about the bank, but the town should have purchased [the Swan Cove land] contingent upon the purchase of the bank property. The way they did it, it gives the bank more leverage.”
Buckley said he hasn’t been involved in the bank negotiations personally but said his information about the discussions was provided to him via reliable town officials who are privy to the negotiations.
“It’s a known fact. Things slip out. No one denies it,” he said of what is taking place with the negotiations.
Buckley said that whatever comes of the negotiations, the most important thing is that the public—Carmel town residents—have unfettered access to the lake and will be able to launch nonmotorized boats such as canoes, kayaks and paddle boards there.
“If taxpayers are going to spend a million bucks, they have to have access to the lake,” he said. “We got this thrown at us and we need to make the best of it. We overpaid for it, so we need to have some recreation ability.”
Councilman Mike Barile—a previous owner of the Swan Cove property before selling it to developer Frank Cotaj, who in turn sold it to the town—called Buckley’s assertions politically motivated and not completely accurate.
“[Buckley] is a political pawn with his own agenda,” Barile said. “He wants to discredit me and [Supervisor] Ken [Schmitt]. It’s a political war game and I won’t fall into that swamp.”
As for the town’s negotiation with the bank, all parties involved in the talks told Mahopac News that they’ve gone smoothly thus far and that the bank has made no requests for deed restrictions regarding an easement or what size and types of structures can be built at the park.
“The bank has been very forthcoming and amenable to our needs,” Schmitt said. “They’ve been friendly and very open-minded and expressed a willingness to work with the town. They are negotiating in good faith.”
Barile labeled as “nonsense” the assertions the bank has demanded deed restrictions.
“They have bent over backwards for us,” he said. “Their only concern is the operation of the bank during and after construction. They have been real gentlemen.”
Tompkins Mahopac Bank’s president and chief executive officer, Jerry Klein, told Mahopac News that his bank has not asked for deed restrictions during negotiations. The bank wants to do what is in the best interest of the town, he said, as long as it doesn’t disturb the operation of the bank branch.
“The fact is the town approached us last fall and asked if we would be interested in talking about the concept for parking in the downtown business district and Swan Cove,” he said. “We said we were open to talking about it as long as we could have ample parking [for the bank]. If it was for the betterment of the community, we were in favor. Any implication that we would hold the town hostage is not true. We are negotiating in good faith. And the easement is a moot point because the town will purchase [the bank] property and it won’t be an issue.
“In the beginning, the town gave us their vision of what they wanted and that hasn’t changed,” Klein added. “We want to make sure that vision is achieved. The bank is playing the role of the good neighbor.”
Both Klein and Schmitt said a deal for the bank land is imminent.
“I am optimistic,” Klein said. “We are down to the final details and working together regularly toward that end.”
Schmitt agreed. “We are close to an agreement,” he said. “There are one or two items we need clarification on, and we should get an answer on that in the coming weeks.”
Schmitt said he understands that some are skeptical of the project but said he appreciates the feedback and believes that they’ll be satisfied when it all finally comes to fruition.
“When it’s complete, [the critics] will be happy with the final result,” Schmitt said. “They will get a lot of use out of it.”
Schmitt said the park will indeed have a dock and a launch area for nonmotorized boats. Anyone who wants to put a boat in the lake will have to register and get a permit from the town.
Meanwhile the Recreation Advisory Committee continues to work out details on the park at Swan Cove, developing a preliminary map of what it and the adjacent parking lot might look. Mahopac News will have a detailed story about those plans in next week’s issue.