Story by Lourice Angie
The Warwick Town Board held a public hearing on Thurs., Feb. 13 to consider the purchase of SBL#63-2-8, an 85-acre lot at the former Kutz Camp property, located at 45 Bowen Rd. in Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton explained that the purpose of the hearing was not to discuss ideas for the property, but to engage with the community by listening to their opinions on the matter and providing public information.
Several months ago, the Town Board was notified that URJ, the company that owns and operated the Kutz Camp for more than four decades, was planning to sell the property due to changes no longer requiring the camp’s services and students meeting at their regional locations instead of in Warwick. The company was asked by Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, to keep the town informed of any decisions or actions moving forward.
In December, Supervisor Sweeton again reached out to URJ when he did not hear back from them, and was told that the company had put together a package to list the property and had already obtained several informal offers. Supervisor Sweeton returned to the Board with this information and in an executive session, the Board discussed several different possibilities for the property.
The Board concluded that it would be in the best interest of the community to try and secure the property. The Town began negotiations with URJ and reached an agreement to proceed with the acquisition of the land. The Board is also in the process of obtaining documentation pertaining to annual utility and maintenance costs from URJ in order to get a better understanding of the costs associated with operating the property.
At the public hearing there was a map displayed that showed the exact location of the land. It is located on the top of Warwick Turnpike surrounding both sides of Bowen Rd. The property is approximately 85 acres and is situated between the Town’s Weiss Farm, under preservation, and bordered by property owned by the Orange County Land Trust. There are two single family homes located on the property in addition to Rollen Lake, that feed down the mountain to Wawayanda Creek. The land currently lies in a mountain zone and can be utilized for commercial, residential and recreational purposes.
There are 37 buildings on the land that occupy approximately 72,000 sq. ft.; half of the structures are used seasonally and the remainder of the buildings are fully functional year round and include water, heating, a central septic system, two swimming pools, a tennis and basketball court, hiking trails, an infirmary building, a full kitchen and a dining hall.
Supervisor Sweeton explained that the property is listed in the Town’s community preservation plan, a document that was created by a group of citizens back in 2005 that preceded the vote for the land preservation transfer tax, and so, making the land eligible for purchase through that dedicated fund.
“The funding to purchase this property would come directly from that fund so there would be no general taxation dollars spent on the acquisition of the property. Another positive benefit of the acquisition is it is currently tax exempt, so it is not on the tax roll so the assessment of the Town does not change by the virtue of the Town taking the property, so you’re not taking taxable property off the roll,” said Supervisor Sweeton.
Residents Voice Concerns at Public Hearing
The Town Hall was filled with residents who were eager to learn more about the plans and specifics of the Town acquiring the property, as well as the benefits and or the potential impact it could have on the Warwick community.
Many people were in favor of the Town proactively addressing the preservation of the open space, but there were concerns associated with costs of operating the property. Some residents even offered to volunteer their time and ideas to maintain and keep the property and its services available to Warwick residents. Ultimately, there was an agreement in bringing changes to the community, but residents would like to see that done in a controlled and intelligent manner.
“Are we as taxpayers going to be expected to pay to use the facilities, not in regards to special events like a bar mitzvah etc, but if we wanted to make a day of other amenities, will we have to pay like we do at the Town beach? Or I would hope not to the same degree that you would charge people from out of town?” said a Warwick resident who lives on Cascade Rd.
Supervisor Sweeton responded, “The Greenwood Lake beach was purchased through the Community Preservation Fund, so the purpose of it was not taxable, but there is a tax cost to run it approximately and the tax budgets around $30,000. That particular beach was decided to be open to all residents and there was additional funding from the County. With this property on Bowen Road, we want to make sure that Town residents get good use of the property so anything else that is done will be done to mitigate operating costs because there will be costs, no question.”
The Town plans to minimize costs, if any, to the taxpayer in order to operate the land, while still providing the community access to fully enjoy the property.
Some residents feel that the Town owns enough space and would rather see the land go to another religious group or persons to continue accommodating children, instead of opening the property to the general public. A Warwick resident who is an advocate for autistic children in Orange County and children with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) said that one of the things he would like to see done with the property is that the pre-existing structures be preserved and utilized by children with autism and learning disabilities.
Warwick resident Kristina Hoti, a committee member of a newly formed organization, called ‘Hugs for Courage,’ spoke to the Board as a voice for veterans of the community.
“I thank you so much for taking on the role of maintaining the property for the use of Warwick and its residents. I would hope that we could consider the needs of our local veterans to provide important services that are much-needed, such as PTSD treatment and therapies, and in the same vein as offering the property to children with special needs, the space may also be used for veterans that have a need for outdoor rehabilitation, or readjustment back to civilian life,” said Hoti.
Supervisor Sweeton says the Board expects to assemble another meeting and invite residents back to discuss ideas and uses for the property. Sweeton said that if they are going to move forward with the purchase, it would need to be cost-free to both the Town and its residents in order to operate. The Board plans to continue looking into options so that residents can enjoy the property, but not be burdened by costs.
“We’re not making any decisions tonight, but we will schedule an evening session where we can discuss several ideas in about a week or so. We will post that date on the Town website at www.townofwarwick.org. In the meantime, we will continue to do our due diligence on the property and the costs that we’ve learned of. URJ is willing to work with us, and they are very pleased that we are interested in this property because they have a long history and investment in this property and would like to see that its future is a bright one,” concluded Supervisor Sweeton.