Editor's Note: Tuesday night, the town board authorized Supervisor Michael Grace to sign three agreements with Enbridge totaling $4.6 million, The agreements will settle the lawsuit, Grace said.
YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A federal lawsuit filed last week against the town of Yorktown is not expected to affect plans to build a state-of-the-art sports complex at Granite Knolls Park, said Supervisor Michael Grace.
Enbridge, formerly Spectra Energy, a Houston-based pipeline company, is seeking temporary and permanent easements onto 3.86 acres of town-owned land, which includes designated parkland areas, to complete the expansion of its natural gas pipeline.
Grace, on July 11, told a crowded town hall that the town is expected to receive several million dollars from Enbridge in exchange for use of the land. That money would be used to build a new sports complex at Granite Knolls.
The lawsuit filed on July 13 was not a product of negative negotiations, Grace said. In fact, in the lawsuit, Enbridge describes “good faith” negotiations with Yorktown dating back to 2015. The two sides met as recently as July 11 to discuss the issue. However, because some of the land in question is designated parkland, Yorktown does not have the authority to grant easements to Enbridge. Going through the state legislature to “alienate” the parkland would take more time than Enbridge has to complete the pipeline, which must be up and running by November 2018, according to the lawsuit.
One purpose of the lawsuit is to ask the courts to expedite the process and avoid going through the state legislature. When the dust settles, Grace said, he expects Enbridge will get its land and Yorktown will get its money to build the park.
Just two days before the lawsuit was filed, the Yorktown youth sports community was out in full force at town hall, urging the town board to move forward with a plan to create the sports complex at Granite Knolls, a 15-acre town-owned piece of land.
The facility, which would be accessible from Stoney Street, would contain courts for basketball, pickleball, tennis and handball; two multi-purpose fields for lacrosse, football and soccer; and a 90-foot baseball diamond. The complex would also contain hiking trails, a putting green, a picnic area, a playground, a concession stand and a pavilion.
The first phase of the project, which includes the installation of fields, courts, a gravel parking area, and an access road, would cost $3.8 million. The town hopes to have the fields and courts operational by spring 2018.
Grace said the second phase of the project, which includes the installation of the synthetic turf surfaces and some of the proposed buildings, would cost between $600,000 and $1 million.
Grace, who unveiled a concept plan designed by Joe Riina of Site Design Consultants, said the town has already received a competitive bid from a Yorktown contractor to complete the first phase of the project. That $3.8 million price tag would be covered by an expected compensation agreement with Enbridge, Grace said.
Because approval of the pipeline is with the federal government and not with Yorktown, Grace said, he preferred to “make as much lemonade as we can out of lemons.” In 2015, Grace negotiated a similar deal with Spectra Energy. In exchange for $1.5 million, the pipeline company was given use of 7.5 acres of town-owned property.
Some criticized the deal, but Grace said Spectra would have taken the land through eminent domain proceedings and the town would have been compensated significantly less than the $1.5 million.
While Enbridge is expanding its pipeline, which is expected to begin in November, the town will temporarily close Legacy Field, which has a multi-purpose field and a 60-foot baseball diamond. Grace said he is still in negotiations with Enbridge, but is “fairly confident” the money would fully cover the first phase of construction.
If the project does require town funds to complete, Grace said, it would only be about “10 percent” of the total cost. However, he said, he is still hoping Enbridge’s funds will be enough to cover the entire project.
He suspected, however, that many people would still support the plan even if it costs taxpayer money.
“I think when people look back, when this thing is in place 10, 15, 20 years from now, somebody’s going to say the town board back then did the right thing,” Grace added. “It’s an investment not just in our youth, but it’s investment in every generation who participates in active or passive recreation in this town.”
The July 11 public hearing was about the town’s plans for tree removal, wetlands and stormwater. Bruce Barber, an environmental consultant with Cornerstone Associates, went into detail about the town’s plans.
Barber said the previous owner, Loyola Seminary, operated athletic fields on the property until about 1960. Because of that, he said, the courts would be built on top of existing impervious surfaces where older courts used to be. He added that there are currently no “stormwater structures” on the site, resulting in a lot of runoff and occasional flooding, and that the town’s plan would improve upon the situation.
He said there will be about 4.2 acres of trees removed near where the baseball field would be installed. To make up for the loss of trees, the town has developed a forest management plan that involves replanting trees, pruning existing ones and removing invasive species.
Though the environmental issues were the reason for the hearing, they were rarely touched upon by the public. Instead, more than 100 people from the youth sports community, including uniform-wearing children, spoke about the need for fields in Yorktown.
Joe Bucello, a football coach, said, “I’ve never even seen a facility quite like this. Our youth sports needs this more than anything.”
Jim Pugliese, a baseball coach, said, “We’re embarrassed to be the host [of games] because some of our fields are just so dilapidated…This is something that has to happen.”
David Zaslaw, a baseball coach, stressed the need for a 90-foot baseball diamond: “It’s going to be exactly what we need in the baseball program,” he said.
Several members of the public, however, still had their concerns.
Ilan Gilbert, who said it was a “beautiful project,” wanted the town board to be transparent with the full cost of the project. He said residents may still support the project after knowing the cost, but said they deserve to know.
“If [the town’s responsibility is indeed] 10 percent [of the total cost], it’s a no-brainer,” said Gilbert, a Democratic candidate for town supervisor.
Loretta Schiavone, a Stoney Street resident, was concerned about traffic. She said there are no emergency lanes on Stoney Street and trees often fall on the road during storms.
Former town supervisor Susan Siegel was dubious of the $3.8 million bid, saying it seemed too low. She also said there needs to be a traffic study completed before moving forward.
Grace said the bids for the project ranged from $3.8 million to $9.6 million, but that most were in the $5 million range. He also said he thoroughly vetted the proposal submitted by the low bidder, Montesano Brothers, and was satisfied with the answers.
Pat Cumiskey, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, defended the credibility of Montesano Brothers, saying the company has a “fantastic reputation.”
“His numbers are aggressive. They’re not stupid. They’re not ridiculous,” said Cumiskey, a construction project manager. “This is a sound bid from a contractor that wants to work in his hometown.”
Grace said Legacy Field’s upcoming closure only makes the creation of the Granite Knolls sports complex more urgent.
“We’ve got to get this moving,” he said.
Matt Talbert, co-commissioner of Yorktown Athletic Club football, agreed.
“If we cannot practice at Legacy Field next year, we might as well shut down football and soccer,” Talbert said.
John Campobasso, president of the Yorktown Athletic Club, had a message for people concerned about traffic: “Honestly, get over it.”
He said the Yorktown Athletic Club serves 900 families and 2,500 kids.
“We’re a growing town with a lot of families,” he said.
Rick Romanski, director of the Yorktown Youth Soccer Club, brought about a dozen young athletes up to the stage and asked them if Yorktown’s current field conditions were good.
“Not really,” one of them said. Another said they feel “jealous” when visiting other towns.
“Do you see all the kids up there?” Romanski said. “This is what matters and this is the future.”
Julia Vesei, an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association, praised the town board for including pickleball courts in the plans. Vesei said the courts can be a low-cost revenue generator for the town, which would have the capability to host tournaments.
“I’m so excited about this,” she said. “I love playing pickleball.”
Councilman Vishnu Patel said it was “wonderful” to see town hall filled with so many residents.
“This is a good investment,” he said of the facility.
Councilman Ed Lachterman said, in regard to possibly spending taxpayer money, “I think the public has spoken.”
Grace said draft resolutions approving the stormwater, tree and wetlands plans would be ready for the town board’s review at tonight's meeting.