New lobbying, grass-roots push aims to slow development at Montrose VA site

Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi, meanwhile, organized an effort to send 300 letters from residents and veterans in opposition to the VA's plan to build private housing at the site and transfer medical and support services from Montrose to other VA sites. Puglisi is also calling for a one-year moratorium on the development process under the new leadership of the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Gen. Eric Shinseki.

The VA opened up the land to real estate development last year under a long-term lease agreement that would shrink the veterans service facility to 12 acres on the sprawling riverside campus.

William Nazario, a Vietnam veteran from Cortlandt, went from office to office in Washington this month, spelling out veterans' concerns for the Montrose site and building political momentum to modify development plans there.

"It's a vital facility," Nazario said he told congressional lawmakers and staffers. Plans to downsize the veterans' operation had not taken into account the large number of wounded servicemen and women coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, Nazario said. "We need a place for these guys, and with today's economy, it's not the right time for development. The beauty of it, too, is that it can create jobs - it would be a benefit to the region," said Nazario, who volunteers at the Montrose campus.

Puglisi, the town supervisor, is requesting a one-year moratorium on any new development schemes. The VA solicited concept plans from large-scale builders earlier in the winter and is now considering the bids. Puglisi wants the new secretary to call a timeout.

"There's a brand-new secretary in Washington. We'd like him to delay the decision on the lease, take a step back, listen to our position," Puglisi said. While the town has no legal capacity to enact a moratorium on development, the supervisor said, she hoped "the power of persuasion and our being on the right side of the issue" would be a factor.

A VA spokeswoman, Laurie Tranter, had no immediate comment this week. In the past, VA representatives have emphasized that residential development at Montrose would offer benefits for veterans, that revenue from the site would contribute to veteran programs, and that services would be maintained at other locations.

The town administration is also seeking to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs abides by environmental regulations and goes through a significant review process before allowing any development at the veterans facility. That legal action is still pending in federal court.

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