Attorneys for Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and the county Legislature recently drafted a joint memo advising against selling the Government Center, an option that Neuhaus already rejected and lawmakers may no longer have unless they override his veto at their meeting next Thursday — their last chance to do so.
The county and its consultants are preparing to start a $68 million overhaul and expansion of the 45-year-old complex, which could begin as early as April with the demolition of one of three buildings in the complex and all but the concrete frames of the other two. But Manhattan architect Gene Kaufman has continued to press his proposal to buy the Government Center for use as an arts center and design new county offices nearby instead, an alternative he and preservationists are pushing to keep the landmark structure intact.
Thus far, no lawmakers have proposed overriding Neuhaus’ Jan. 5 veto of a law that would have enabled them to sell the complex, and their last chance to override is their March 5 session. With that date approaching, and with Kaufman and his supporters redoubling their campaign, County Attorney Langdon Chapman and Legislature Attorney Antoinette Reed drew up a list of reasons to rebuff both Kaufman and Pike Development, a company that submitted a rival offer last year to buy the Government Center and finance the construction the county already was planning.
Their Feb. 20 memo, addressed to Neuhaus and Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, reiterates some familiar arguments, including a threat by the state Office of Court Administration to block state aid to the county if it deviates from its current plans, which include restoring use of courtrooms in the closed Government Center. But the attorneys also found a new analogy, certain to inspire dread, by warning that the Kaufman proposal could turn into another Camp La Guardia quagmire, invoking the stalled sale and redevelopment of the 258-acre property the county bought from New York City in 2007.
They argued that Village of Goshen officials, who have opposed Kaufman’s concept, “could tie up the project with a SEQRA review for months, if not years.”
“In essence, we could, depending on the outcome of any Lead Agency dispute, be ceding control of the project to the Village of Goshen, just like Camp La Guardia.”
Goshen Mayor Kyle Roddey offered a written explanation this week for his opposition, responding to a question from the Times Herald-Record about Kaufman’s complaint that village officials refuse to meet with him.
Roddey wrote in his email:
My main objection to the plan is not the plan itself, but the fact that our community needs the most time expedient result. More than anything else the Village of Goshen needs the return of the county facilities. The legislature has already debated, approved, bonded, and discussed at length the rennovations to the existing facility. This work could begin as early as April from my understanding.Any deviation from this plan, regardless of what it might be, will only lead to more delays, debates, and uncertainty. What is more, any entertaining of the sale of the Government Center will only make it more likely that the County will remain on the Matthews St property in perpetuity which would be economically devastating for the community I represent.