Editor’s note: Early in 2014, the state plans to demolish the historic main building of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Activists from Preserve Greystone contend six proposals by potential re-developers of the 137-year-old structure merit further study. Here is the organization’s re-cap of Wednesday’s discussion with state officials.
By Adam McGovern, Preserve Greystone trustee
John Huebner and Adam McGovern of Preserve Greystone had a conference call with Jim Leonard, chief of staff for the Treasury department, and Steve Petrecca and Ray Arcario. Mr. Leonard was the main speaker on the State side.
Mr. Leonard said the purpose of the previous week’s call was to make sure we had the opportunity to review the RFEI documents, to serve as a basis for today’s call.
The major basis of Treasury’s opinion was summarized at the outset: “The proposals are interesting, but none fit the criteria” of the RFEI.
It was emphasized early by Mr. Leonard that three of the five RFEI responses “rely on a nonexistent tax structure” and that “the Governor and Lt. Governor have made public comments about the desirability of open space. “
The comment about “a nonexistent tax structure” was a reference to the fact that NJ does not have a State historic tax credit; several times throughout the conversation PG pointed out that both houses of the NJ legislature have passed such a credit and the current Governor has vetoed it; toward the end Mr. Leonard said that it is the Administration’s position that New Jersey “can’t afford a tax credit at this point.”
The comment about open space seemed to refer to the State’s concern that several RFEI proposals included some extra building beyond the Kirkbride Building, though PG members noted that some of the proposals focus on redevelopment of other buildings that are still standing (like Abel), or new construction where existing buildings already are, and that the proposals thus wouldn’t represent a net loss of open space.
But the theme of open space was returned to by Mr. Leonard several times, suggesting to PG that the conversion of the Kirkbride to open space is also desired; though this was not stated explicitly by any of the government representatives on the call, later Mr. Leonard did say that, while the immense Kirkbride building is a public “asset on the books, we should look at what’s going to come out of this process; green space is an asset, and that goes on the other side of the scale.”
PG asked again why the RFEI respondents have not been contacted by the State to work out any discrepancies the State sees between the proposals being made and the parameters of the RFEI. Mr. Leonard pointed to the online Q & A during the RFEI period, and said that the State “got the same answer” from that process, that the respondents were not coming up with proposals that “fit the State’s criteria.”
PG said that none of these developers is saying the project can’t be done, they all believe it can, and that there should be dialogue between the State and the respondents.
Mr. Leonard said that all the proposals “require legislative change”; this was a reference to the State tax credit and the existing law restricting uses of the Greystone property to recreation/conservation, historical and farmland preservation, and Human Services purposes, though agricultural use of the land in one of the proposals was also cited by Mr. Leonard as going beyond the RFEI’s criteria (a question on this discrepancy was not addressed).
PG noted that, at the State meeting held for Greystone-area officeholders and citizens in 2009, it was stated by a representative of the then-Governor’s office that the law restricting types of use could be changed readily if a new use was found for the property.
Mr. Leonard raised local concerns for overdevelopment, and PG further pointed out that several of the RFEI proposals factor in the need for public dialogue on such issues (and showed a track record for dealing with it positively), while all such projects everywhere require an adjustment of applicable laws, zoning, etc.
Several times PG posed the question of whether the NJ Historic Trust or the State Historic Preservation Office had been consulted on the demolition decision that has been reached; at the end of the conversation Mr. Leonard said he did not know but would find out.
He invited PG to another conversation next week, time and day to be determined. PG emphasized the importance of a wider public discussion with all stakeholders, as well as the developers who have advanced proposals through the RFEI and the State’s own historic specialists, though we will participate in next week’s call.