Orange County Takes Back Camp LaGuardia Property
John Jordan | April 2016
CHESTER—Orange County’s attempt to bring new development to the former New York City homeless center grounds at Camp LaGuardia has taken a radical turn.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus revealed in his State of the County Address a few weeks ago that he was looking to take control once again of the approximately 260-acre camp and reposition it for commercial development by working to transform the property into multi-developable shovel-ready parcels.
Neuhaus told Real Estate In-Depth during a recent exclusive tour of the property that the county is finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding to buy out a development contract with Mountco Construction and Development Corp. of Scarsdale for approximately $1.3 million in Orange County Industrial Development Agency funds.
Mountco had proposed a large residential project and some commercial construction on the property, but could not secure approvals from the affected municipalities of Chester and Blooming Grove. The property encompasses land in the Town and Village of Chester and the Town of Blooming Grove.
Neuhaus said that the county is looking for commercial uses on the property and noted that local residents and government agencies bristled at residential development at the property. He said that portions of the property could perhaps be utilized for healthcare purposes for local firms such as Crystal Run Healthcare or Horizon Family Medical, while other sections, including run down but still intact brick buildings, could serve as a college campus or branch for an area university.
“We are going to an RFP, but what we are going to do first is clean up the site… to make it presentable,” Neuhaus said. He added that Orange County would meet with chief officials of the Town of Blooming Grove and the Town of Chester regarding the property’s zoning. He said that a portion of the site located in the Town of Blooming Grove is currently zoned for residential use, while the remaining 85% of the property in Chester is zoned commercial, industrial or farming. He said that approximately 150 acres is mostly wetland but could be converted to black dirt farming.
Neuhaus said that he sees the property being prime for commercial development, not residential. He believes that the Town of Blooming Grove will eventually change the zoning of the property at Camp LaGuardia to commercial use. In fact, earlier this month the Blooming Grove Town Board began considering such a zone change for the property.
The County Executive while walking alongside some of the multi-story brick buildings said that although the property has been neglected since 2009, some of the buildings are not in too bad a shape.
Once the property is cleaned up, he has asked the Orange County Partnership to perhaps organize a tour for commercial brokers in the region of the property.
The potential for commercial development could involve millions of square feet, the County Executive said. When asked if the preferred commercial use would be more industrial in nature, he countered, “What we would like to do is flexible development.” He said the county has earmarked approximately 13 lots, three in Blooming Grove and 10 in Chester, for development.
He said that in the Chester component for example the county would request to build buildings of 250,000 square feet on each pad. The county would then seek to strike an agreement with Chester and Orange County Sewer District No. 1 to provide water and sewer services for the project. He noted that in the past water and sewer were provided for more than 1,000 New York City homeless men and 350 city employees.
“If you add that water and sewer alone, that is a great start for a commercial project,” Neuhaus said. “This is so much more marketable than any industrial spot that we have in the county right now if it was operational and available. You don’t have to drive 10 to 20 minutes off an exit to get there.”
He noted that commercial locations in Newburgh, Chester, Wallkill and Woodbury have some limited space available. He said the Camp LaGuardia property could be the next major commercial/industrial park in Orange County.
Mountco had been in the environmental approval process for some time in both Chester and Blooming Grove for the project but suspended work on municipal approvals when both municipalities balked at signing a “developer’s agreement” aimed at giving the firm a clear direction as to permitted uses and scale of the project that has been valued at more than $300 million.
During the approval process Mountco revised its original plan from approximately 807 housing units to approximately 630 units of housing and approximately 160,000 square feet of commercial space spread out equally over property in both Chester and Blooming Grove.
In terms of a project time line, Neuahus said he is hopeful the property can be cleaned up by May 1. He later told Real Estate In-Depth that the county might eventually issue an RFP, but prior to that he would want to have the zoning issues resolved and perhaps negotiate and approve a “sketch plan” with both Blooming Grove and Chester for a commercial park “so at least we have a joint vision on how we see this developing together,” he said.
He added that the property needs to be cleaned up so that it can be shown to engineers and Realtors to generate possible development concepts.
The county then must consider whether to partner with the Orange County IDA to build a road into the property and market the shovel ready sites or have a major development firm build out and sell the parcels.
Neuhaus said that after years of inactivity, he believes there will be progress in redeveloping the storied Camp LaGuardia property. “Do I think that this whole park will be developed in a year, no, but conceptually I see that in the next five years some major companies coming in here,” he predicted.
Orange County acquired the property from the City of New York for approximately $8.5 million in 2007. Mountco bested several other bidders for the right to redevelop Camp LaGuardia.
The property was established as a shelter for New York City’s homeless in 1934, the facility was built in 1918 and served as a correctional facility for women until 1934 when it was transferred to the city’s Welfare Department and named “Camp Greycourt.” The camp was renamed Camp LaGuardia in 1935. The purpose of the camp was to provide temporary relief for the unemployed. Prior to World War II and through the late 1950s, the camp included a 191-acre farm, which provided food for the residents and to which up to 150 residents were assigned to work. In its heyday, the camp housed more than 1,000 homeless men from New York City.
The closure of Camp LaGuardia was announced in November 2006 by New York City officials as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s five-year plan to reduce homelessness in New York City.
Photo Caption: One of the abandoned buildings in disrepair at the Camp LaGuardia property in Orange County