MAHOPAC, N.Y.— A piece of land approximately 13 acres in size along Route 6 and Baldwin Place Road has become the center of a controversy, although that particular parcel and its proposed use is not exactly what has critics concerned.
Carmel developer Paul Camarda has been before the Planning Board on numerous occasions over the past several years attempting to subdivide that 13-acre lot. How the land would be subdivided has toggled back and forth in three different proposals during that time and Camarda has already received approval for some.
Camarda was back before the Planning Board Wednesday night (March 29) for a public hearing on the piece of property for which he is seeking a two-lot subdivision. One lot includes a Putnam County Savings Bank and the other has a 5,000-square foot commercial space for a possible restaurant. The subdivision also features a pond with a fishing dock, and a continuation of the Putnam Trailway bike path that would enter the property as it crosses Route 6, likely via a bridge. There is also a road leading from Route 6 up to the businesses where a light has been approved by the DOT.
A grant of just over $1.9 million has been made available to the county to help develop the bike path and the property’s passive recreation.
Over the course of the project, the land has been subdivided various ways, including one where the bank is on a 10-acre plot and the commercial building on 3 acres. Now, that’s been switched around. The current plan has a bank on the 3-acre lot for myriad reasons, which Camarda spelled out for the board.
However, critics of the project say it is not the 13-acre parcel of land with its bank and commercial building they are worried about; it’s the approximately 260 acres that Camarda owns adjacent to those 13 acres and what he might do with them that has riled them and already sparked one Article 78 lawsuit.
Nine years ago, Camarda had proposed a project for that land called Union Place, a multi-use development which he envisioned as a “gateway” to Putnam County on Route 6 along the Putnam/Westchester border. His website describes it as 300 acres with 575,000 square feet of retail space, 480 units of condo housing, 350,000 square feet of offices and a 90-room hotel.
However, Camarda says Union Place is now off the table due to the economic and real estate climate in Putnam County and he is only concerned about the 13 acres with its bank and commercial building, the latter of which has yet to find the promise of a tenant. The bank—a Putnam County Savings Bank branch—has already been built but not yet occupied.
“I have owned that [back] property since 1995 and, yes, I want to develop it and, yes, I put a plan in front of the town that went through a four-year approval process that was of mixed-used development that included offices, retail and housing,” Camarda said. “We have never asked for a zoning change. We will develop this property with the zoning that is in place.”
Camarda said he is no longer sure what he would build on that property because the real estate landscape has changed since the Union Place project was first conceived.
“There is a reason why we haven’t done anything in five or six years,” he said. “I quite frankly don’t know what we are going to do back there. The market for housing is only now starting to come back. It’s been said millennials will never come here, so we can’t do that. We looked at retail, but that is not very strong right now. We also feel there is no market right now for offices. Maybe in a year or two or three, the market will get clearer.”
Nonetheless, there are some who believe that if the Planning Board approves the two-lot subdivision under any incarnation, it will pave the way for Union Place, or a similar project.
Frank Del Campo, former Carmel town supervisor, told the Planning Board that he believes if Camarda is granted approval for the two-lot subdivision, he will immediately go before the Town Board to petition for a zoning change for the neighboring 260 acres in order to pave the way for the Union Place project or something similar.
“It’s been documented the intentions of Mr. Camarda regarding this property,” Del Campo said. “It’s not just 13 acres. It goes all the way around the back all the way to the Mahopac post office. He has said he plans to go to the Town Board for a zoning change; I’m not making this up. He wants to get a zoning change [from commercial] to residential. He intends to put at least 150 to 200 of what he calls townhouses or ‘millennials’ or non-age restrictive [housing].”
Del Campo said that when he was supervisor in the late ‘90s, the town revised its master plan and purposely designated areas such as Camarda’s Route 6 property as a commercial zone.
“We looked at every undeveloped land and said that because there is no water, no municipal sewer, the traffic [considerations], these corridors will be commercial business. We took a lot of time and brought in a lot of stakeholders,” he said. “The problem is, he is giving you a moving target. He keeps submitting different maps, obtaining approvals and re-approvals. You are witnessing a developer fragmenting and piecemealing his proposal.
“Since he already has the bank built, he wants the board to approve the second lot, which is a horseshoe-shaped lot around the bank,” Del Campo continued. “Just because the [horseshoe-shaped] lot conforms, doesn’t mean he is entitled to the approval. These lots as now submitted don’t present sound planning.”
Mahopac developer Mike Barile, who is running for Town Board in the fall and filed an Article 78 lawsuit against Camarda and the Zoning Board of Appeals for its initial approvals of the project, said he would file another suit if the Planning Board green lights the 2-acre subdivision.
“There is no doubt in my mind that that back property is on the agenda tonight,” he said, “and I believe it [will call for in] excess of 200 [residential] units.”
Barile noted that the recent townwide revaluation project revealed that over the past 20 years there has been only a $67,000 increase in commercial taxes. He called that “beyond disgraceful.” He said the Planning Board wasn’t doing its job and warned that if a zoning change is granted for Camarda’s 260 acres and residential housing goes on that property rather than commercial, it would have a devastating effect on the town.
“If you give this land up [to residential development], you are putting everyone in this town into a worse hole than they are in now,” he said. “This [two-lot] subdivision ignores every sound planning and zoning principal ever written and is clearly part of a larger subdivision of contiguous land that [Camarda] owns.”
Planning Board Chairman Harold Gary took exception to Barile’s remarks.
“The Planning Board does not make ordinances and rules; the Town Board does that,” he said. “We cannot bring commercial property into this town. For someone of Mike’s caliber to stand up and make a statement like that, I feel he’s been disrespectful to the board.”
Camarda continued to dispute Barile’s claim that his two-lot subdivision is a jumping off point for plans to develop the larger parcel behind it.
“Any suggestions that I am hiding something is baloney,” he said. “We will develop the property according to the code and what year we do it, well, that’s a good question.”
Camarda said he hoped to be back before the Planning Board this summer with plans for the occupant of the 5,000-square-foot building.
“We will then have two new commercial buildings in the town of Carmel and we should be applauding that since we are so needy of commercial development,” he said.
Planning Board members said they could only deal with the plans currently before them and should Camarda propose a project for the back 260-acre parcel, it would be considered at that time.
“Whatever happens in the back, that will get vetted,” said board member David Furfaro. “But this little development in the front doesn’t hurt anything; I think it’s a good thing and the bike path is a good asset. I think any recreation is good.”