An ambitious development that includes condominiums, a hotel and spa is being proposed for the Legionaries of Christ site in eastern New Castle.
The conceptual vision for the 97-acre site, located at 773 Armonk Road (Route 128), was unveiled Tuesday night at a joint meeting of the Town Board and Planning Board by developer Stephen Oder, of New Jersey-based Soder Real Estate Equities, and his attorney, David Steinmetz.
The proposal involves 66 condos, 30 hotel rooms and a 20,000-square-foot spa. Construction would mean repurposing the existing major building on the site, an old mansion, and demolishing its newer, circa 1954 wings. Four side buildings would then be constructed to include 60 of the condos, with six being added to the main building. The condos will mostly be a mix of two and three bedrooms, with a few 1-bedroom offerings. Forty of those will be called duplex units, while 20 will be called penthouse units, and be situated in the upper floors of the buildings.
The hotel wing would be built on the main building's west side, while the spa would be under a terraced area to the north of the main building, with a pool on an upper elevation.
The project also envisions a serieis of amenities, including sculpture gardens, a theater space and a gym that would be constructed in an existing chapel. The main building will include a library.
“[The plan would] really make it a lifestyle that people want to enjoy," Oder said. "They come here and they don’t want to leave.”
The project will not be age restricted, although the intent is to cater to empty nesters.
Oder's firm has an option to buy the property from the Legionaries of Christ, provided that his plan gets approval from the town. He also plans to get a residential development partner involved.
The Roman Catholic order, which has been trying to sell it since last year, and had been reeling from a sex abuse scandal involving its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. It is also trying to sell off a large property that it owns in Thornwood, according to media reports. Previous owners, it was explained Tuesday, included Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and Broadway producer Billy Rose. Over the years, the order has tried to overhaul the property, with one major (unsuccessful) proposal including a large seminary. At the meeting Steinmetz suggested that the seminarians would have been in the 400-person range, but Lester Steinman, the town's landuse attorney, responded by saying it was about 200.
Steinmetz touted the proposal, arguing that its site impact will not be widespread. The plan calls for developing on the northern part of the site, leaving the southern portion undisturbed.
“It would be a wonderful utilization of the property,” he said, adding that it will preserve “a tremendous amount of the property in its undisturbed state.”
Oder would like for his development to take advantage of the sweeping views on the property, which appears to include a ridgeline. While building designs have not been hashed out yet, the idea being considered is to include large glass windows for viewing.
“So it would be very dramatic walking into the unit and being able to see forever," he said.
The property is in the Bedford Central School District. While there are no firm tax revenue projection figures, Steinmetz told the board that the town and school district could possibly see around $1 million as a result. The property, does not pay out taxes currently, according to Supervisor Susan Carpenter; religious use parcels are often exempt.
Town and Planning Board members were quick to chime in with their initial concerns.
Carpenter felt that the bedroom count - it is estimated at roughy 140 - is high given the site's reliance of a septic system. Oder said that "an exhaustive study" on septic has been done. Steinmetz said that they would be able to handle it.
“We’ve got well in excess of the required capacity and demand that we would need," he said. Steinmetz told the board that there would be capability for up to 48,000 gallons per day of waste. 24,000 GPD would happen with the development's scale, plus 100-percent overflow, Steinmetz said.
Planning Board member Tom Curley worried about building on a ridgeline and any sort of aesthetic impact that could have on the surrounding area.
He said that, “I can understand the section working for your tenants but I’m not sure that it’s going to work so well for the town.”
“It’s definitely a concern," said Planning Board Chair Richard Brownell, who suggested avoiding a scenario where a building can be seen from both sides of the ridge.
"Understood. We will look at that," Steinmetz replied. He noted that a visual impact analysis has not been done yet.
Curley also worried about the scale of the side buildings, which would have three residential stories and one below-grade parking level. He suggested having smaller buildings, which would be more numerous, something that Oder did not rule out.
Tree screening, particularly for neighboring Tripp Street, and lighting a night, were also matters of concern brought to Oder's attention.
Sharon Greene, a Tripp Street resident, noted site issues brought up in the past for the Legionaries of Christ when it wanted to develop, including tree removal impact for nearby Roseholm Place residents and septic usage for a large number of people.
“There’s just a host of issues," she said, adding that she wanted to know when the public will be able to give its input.
Oder also stated, repeatedly to the board, that the number of units for the site is necessary in order to make the project economical, particular in securing the financing for it. He also feels that other potential issues, such as traffic and impact on school enrollment, won't be problems.
The property is zoned for 2-acre, single-family residential usage, although Steinmetz believes that the code may allow for the multifamily condo units. He does believe, however, that accomodating the hotel space could require a zoning change.
Touching on the issue, Carpenter noted that looking into a change for the hotel should not just be considered for one property.
“And we’re not going to do spot zoning change just for this parcel," she said. "You know, there are other big parcels in town and I think we’d have to sit back and look at that and say ‘Well, what kind of changes do we want to make that could be applied on large parcels?’”
The next step is to have Town Board and Planning Board members to visit the site in order to become more familiar with the situation. No date has been set.