Camp Gabriels plan pulled from APA agenda again

For the second month in a row, a downstate rabbi’s plan to convert Camp Gabriels into a summer camp for downstate Jewish boys has been removed from the state Adirondack Park Agency agenda at the last minute.

“Late yesterday they asked us to take it off,” APA spokesman Keith McKeever said Wednesday morning.

The project, proposed by Let’s Camp LLC and Camp Hamachane, had also been removed from the agenda of the agency’s June meeting. APA staff said at the time that was “primarily” because the new owners had yet to close on the property.

Postponed to this month’s meeting, the project had been scheduled to come before the agency’s Regulatory Programs Committee Thursday morning. A draft permit is still posted on the APA’s website.

Rabbi Eli Hersh of Spring Valley, who’s been leading the project, said in late June that the details of Camp Hamachane hadn’t come together quickly enough to allow the camp to open as planned in early July, saying, “We got stuck in some legal stuff.” Asked Wednesday why it was delayed again, Hersh told the Enterprise via email, “All we did was pushed it off to the (August) hearing, since we are in no rush now that we did not open this summer.” He said the camp, which has taken place in several different locations over the years, didn’t happen this year.

Town of Brighton Supervisor Peter Shrope, in an interview last month, said he was told the deal was being held up because the new owners of the former prison were having difficulty getting title insurance.

State Sen. Betty Little has spoken with Hersh “numerous times” about the project, her spokesman, Dan Mac Entee, told the Enterprise Wednesday. He said his understanding was that title insurance was the big sticking point.

“I know that was an issue last month,” Mac Entee said.

Camp Gabriels was one of three prisons the state closed in 2009 as a way to cut costs due to a declining inmate population after reform of the Rockefeller drug laws, which prescribed longer prison terms for drug offenses. The facility was built in the 1890s as a sanitarium at which the Sisters of Mercy treated tuberculosis patients from the 1890s until the 1950s. Later it was a Paul Smith’s College dormitory before becoming a prison in 1982.

Hersh, with the financial backing of his partner Adam Fine of Rockland County, bid $166,000 for the prison when the state auctioned it off in October. Theirs was the second-highest bid, but the property came to them after the highest bidder was unable to complete the transaction.

Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the state Office of General Services, said in an email that the sale is still on track to close, but she wasn’t immediately able to provide a closing date.

Under the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the establishment of a group camp is a Class B regional project that requires an agency permit. The draft permit prepared by agency staff for Camp Hamachane says it would operate from June to August and host approximately 275 campers, 30 to 35 counselors and family members.

A new or upgraded kitchen would provide food service for the group camp, and the existing water and sewer systems would serve the facilities. The permit says many of the existing buildings on the property would be used like they were for the prison, including the garage, bus shelter and sewage treatment plant. Other buildings would be used as classrooms, a library, activity rooms, office space, storage facilities, housing units, a gym, a medical facility and a dining hall. An area near the former pheasant farm would be cleared to accommodate athletic fields and a swimming pool.

The permit includes a list of conditions. Camp Hamachane would be limited to no more than 63 principal buildings and a maximum of 350 people, and the group camp use couldn’t extent beyond the months of June through August without consulting the agency. Any new or repainted exterior building materials, including roofs, siding and trim, would have to use a color that blends with existing vegetation. The clearing for the athletic field would be limited to 240,000 square feet. Another condition says the camp can’t operate until all the necessary approvals for the wastewater treatment plant have been obtained. The state historic preservation office also has to be consulted before any material changes are made to the structures on the property that made up the former Gabriels sanitarium.

The agency received one comment letter about the project from two people who voiced concerns that the proposed use would not fit with the surroundings and would overshadow the community.

“The individuals also raised concerns that there will be adequate state, county and local oversight of the project and that the property may have a tax exempt status,” the draft permit states.

The permit also includes a section on economic and fiscal issues. Camp Hamachane’s owners expect to employ up to 39 full-time workers and four part-time workers seasonally, plus another 15 full-time workers during a 12-week construction period. An estimated $585,000 in upgrades to the facilities are planned, and local contractors would be employed to perform the repairs “to the extent possible.” Various supplies and materials would also be bought locally when possible.

The property is assessed at $750,000, but the state didn’t pay taxes when it was run by the Department of Correctional Services. Camp Hamachane plans to seek a property tax exemption, “and no new tax revenue to the local taxing jurisdictions is expected,” the permit states.

While the project itself has been pulled from the APA agenda, McKeever said a map amendment that would reclassify the 92-acre former prison property from state administrative to moderate intensity use is still scheduled to come before the agency’s Park Policy and Planning Committee Thursday morning. A draft order on the agency’s website says all of the surrounding private lands are classified as moderate intensity use.