Board seems united over $6.9M town center plan

By MICHAEL RISINIT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
Original publication: April 17, 2001

Kent - Sometimes, it seems as if the only 5-0 votes on the Kent Town Board are the ones that approve a previous meeting's minutes.

But unlike debates concerning appointments to various citizens' boards or funding for one of the town's fire departments, the entire board and the community seem to be behind plans for Kent's long-awaited $6.9 million town center. The next test of support will come Monday, when the board will vote on whether to go forward with the project.

Last week, the board's four Republicans and one Democrat appeared to support plans presented by state Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, for the new Town Hall, library and police station on 65 acres on Route 52.

"As you can see tonight, there are times we agree," Supervisor Annmarie Baisley told the crowd that gathered on Thursday to hear Leibell, the project's engineer and architect describe the project.

Yesterday, Baisley said the board was in agreement "because it's something that's needed so desperately in town."

Residents, too, could have a direct voice in the project if they decide to hold a referendum concerning the facility's funding, most of which would be borrowed by issuing a 30-year bond. The proposed town center also appears to have the backing of those who usually oppose development.

At Monday's meeting, the board is expected to approve moving ahead with project. If so, that will start the clock ticking for those wishing to petition for a "permissive" referendum, which would require the town to put its decision to a vote by residents.

According to the state Board of Elections, residents would then have 30 days to collect enough signatures on petitions asking for a vote. The number of signatures needed must be 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last general election, so 230 signatures are required. Names must be verified to make sure that each signer is eligible to vote and is a resident of the town.

But, so far, there doesn't seem to be any talk of a referendum. From Lake Carmel to western Kent, residents seem to favor having a town center.

"I didn't hear anything," said Rich Quaglietta, a Democrat who plans to run this year for Town Board and tapes most board meetings for broadcast on a local cable television station. "It's a great project that will benefit the town."

Since 1991, many of the town's offices have been housed in a shopping center on Route 52, where the town pays about $55,000 a year in rent. Built in 1943, the existing Town Hall houses the police station, town justices and the planning department. A ceiling collapse last year forced the police department to work out of trailers in that building's parking lot.

Town office space would jump from about 3,600 square feet to 11,000. The library's space would more than triple, to 10,600 square feet.

"It doesn't make much sense to rent," said Jim Baker, a Kent Planning Board member. "(Leibell's) ready to go to work right away."

Through Leibell, the state Senate will be the lead agency for the project, overseeing its planning and construction.

"If the town desires to go forward, you're going to see building there," Leibell said yesterday.

Town Councilman Dennis Illuminate, who frequently disagrees with Baisley during meetings, said he thought the entire board was behind the project.

"Everybody has to agree on something sooner or later," Illuminate said yesterday. "This is for the people. It's bipartisan."

About $5 million would be borrowed by issuing the bond. The remainder would come from the sale of the existing Town Hall building and the library, some state grants and reserve money set aside by the town. The new facility is expected to cost the average homeowner about $52 a year for the length of the bond.

The Town Board meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall, Route 52.

Jeff Green, a Kent resident who runs a Web site focusing on development in Putnam County, www.planputnam.org, said he has walked the 65-acre parcel where the facility would be located. The town acquired the property, which sits between the police station and the town's recycling center, about 10 years ago.

"There are some wetlands that are going to have to be dealt with," Green said. "But it can be done and it can be done well. Something our town desperately and sorely needs is a place we can call our town (center) because we don't have one."



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