Feds take final bids to develop VA parcel

"We will have something to say in three or four months," Terry Jemison said.

The Journal News has filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request for information on the bidders.

Meanwhile, a West Point-based development group, the Montrose Elders, confirmed that it had met the deadline with its proposal for a "veterans village" on the Hudson River property.

That proposal has Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano at odds over the property's future use.

Puglisi opposes private development of the VA hospital property not designated for veterans' care. Spano supports the "veterans village" concept, which is designed to bring housing, shops, more medical services and recreation to the campus.

But it is unclear whether the plan for a 75-year lease to a private developer would be pursued under the Obama administration. Many veterans and elected officials have opposed the idea that would leave only 12 acres at Montrose for veterans' services, saying the property is needed to house and treat aging veterans and those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, has asked the newly appointed Veterans Affairs secretary, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, to look into the long-term lease plan developed under the Bush administration.

"I expressed my concerns over the future of Montrose Hospital," Hall said. "I stressed the needs of the area's veterans and that the highest and best use of the campus is for veterans' care. The veterans of the Lower Hudson Valley deserve the best medical care this nation has to offer and at a convenient location."

After a review process that lasted several years, VA officials decided on a reorganization plan that would transfer 105 nursing-home beds and 70 psychiatric beds from Montrose to the VA facility at Castle Point in Dutchess County. Twenty-one of the 24 beds for treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder would remain at Montrose, along with all 42 beds for substance-abuse treatment and 53 of the 60 beds for homeless veterans struggling with psychological and social impairments.

At a meeting in mid-October, VA officials told developers that they wanted to complete a lease for 108 acres at the Montrose campus by the middle of this year. Proposals were to include an affordable-housing component for veterans, along with amenities for veterans and the community.

John Dodson, a West Point graduate who served three tours in Vietnam and serves as executive director of the Montrose Elders, said last week that his board, made up of 21 veterans, wanted to build affordable senior housing, assisted living, medical facilities and a continuing-care retirement community at Montrose.

The group hopes to operate as a nonprofit if it can finance the project with Federal Housing Authority or other government bonds, he said.

Accompanying the development proposal was a letter reminding the VA of the memorandum of understanding it signed in 2002 with the Montrose Elders and urging the VA to honor that commitment.

Spano sent a letter of his own last week to the VA secretary, Shinseki, in support of the Elders project in which he pointed out that the property was originally Westchester County parkland. Spano also challenged the methods used in the VA review, which found that Montrose medical facilities were underutilized, arguing that it had neglected to count new veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and that it claimed demand for services had shrunk for programs that already had been moved from Montrose.

In her pleas to "save the VA," Puglisi also has invoked the large numbers of veterans expected to need medical and psychological treatment after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Our veterans need care, not condos," she said.

But Puglisi also has made it clear that the construction of a large number of homes on the campus would strain the town's schools and municipal services and add congestion to its roads.

As many as 400 housing units could be built on the federally owned land, despite a 4-acre zoning law enacted to try to limit development there, Puglisi said.

Albert Singerman of Peekskill, former president of Westchester County Chapter 49 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said he didn't think there was much chance of stopping the momentum that has built up within the VA bureaucracy to develop the Montrose campus.

"There are so many vested interests," said Singerman, a certified public accountant. "There are the lobbyists who go to Congress on behalf of the real estate community and all the big accounting firms that have huge contracts with the VA. All of them have such a big piece of it."

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