Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran said in a May 24 interview that he expected the subject to appear on the agenda for either the board’s first meeting next month, on June 14, or its second, on June 21. Although none of the board members has yet drafted a resolution, such a measure would presumably authorize the town to offer the building for sale to the public, for no less than its current appraised value of $800,000.
Neal Smoller Jr., the owner of Woodstock Apothecary, at 79 Tinker Street, prompted the board to consider selling Town Hall when he expressed interest in buying the building, for approximately $800,000, in a May 11 e-mail to council members. Smoller’s inquiry arrived as the town was slowly but steadily pursuing a plan to renovate the structure, which houses the municipal police and emergency dispatch departments and justice court.
The Town Board’s fiduciary responsibility to the public would require that any sale be open to all prospective buyers; that is, the board would be obliged to negotiate terms that were most advantageous to taxpayers, and thus could not simply accept the first offer — Smoller’s — to purchase the building. The anticipated Town Board resolution would reflect those conditions.
If approved by a majority of the board, a resolution to sell Town Hall would be subject to a permissive referendum, in which opponents would have 30 days in which to collect a sufficient number of signatures — equal to 20 percent of qualified voters who cast ballots in the last general election — and thereby force a townwide vote on the question.
If the public rejected the sale option, the town would presumably proceed with the renovation, which voters approved in a 2007 referendum. The plan stalled, however, when contractors’ bids significantly exceeded the construction cost — $1.6 million, including $1.45 million in bonding — authorized in the referendum. The town is currently awaiting architectural and engineering specifications for a scaled-down, less expensive renovation.
Alternatively, if a proposal to sell Town Hall survived the referendum process, the town’s leading option would be to apply the sale proceeds to the construction of a new building that would house the three municipal departments. Moran’s preferred site for such a structure is the town-owned Mountain View Avenue parking lot.
Town Hall contains approximately 11,000 square feet: 9,000 on the ground floor, which houses the three town departments and a main room that is used by community groups including Performing Arts of Woodstock (PAW), and 2,000 upstairs, which is currently vacant. The ground-floor space includes four empty garage bays, which date to the building’s former identity as the headquarters of Fire Company No. 1.
If he bought the building, said Smoller in a May 24 interview, he would situate an expanded version of his pharmacy largely in the garage bays. The relocation would enable him not only to offer expanded product lines, but also to build a conference room. The conference room, with a projected capacity of 50, would be the site for lectures on topics related to public health, for vaccinations, and for so-called medication therapy management, a service in which pharmacists systematically review their customers’ use of medications.
A variety of businesses could occupy the rest of the available space, said Smoller, who reported that prospective tenants have already contacted him. Among those who have expressed interest in renting space are health care providers, such as acupuncturists and reflexologists. A purveyor of organic body care products might appeal to tourists as well as residents, he noted, adding that an art studio might also be feasible.
Smoller emphasized that his outlook was flexible. “I would be open to anything that had a plausible business plan and would increase traffic to this end of town.” Woodstock Apothecary, which will observe its first anniversary on June 1, would anchor the prospective commercial complex. Approximately 75 percent of his customers, he said, have informally expressed support for the planned move and expansion, with the “sentimental value” of Town Hall and PAW’s uncertain future in the event of a sale the only drawbacks cited.
If Town Hall were sold to another party, Smoller would be interested in renting space from that owner, he said, although he does not plan to submit another offer to the town if he remains the sole bidder. Smoller was born and raised in Saugerties. After attending college in Albany, he opened his first business, Village Apothecary, in his hometown. Alluding to his hope to expand his presence in Woodstock, he said, “I don’t want to take away from the town. I want to add to the town.”
In the recent interview Moran elaborated on a cost-benefit analysis he presented at the Town Board’s May 17 meeting. The analysis considered two scenarios: a renovation of Town Hall in its current condition, at a maximum cost of $1.65 million, and a sale of Town Hall for $800,000, with the proceeds applied to the construction of a new, prefabricated building at the Mountain View site. The analysis assumed an interest rate of 3.5 percent and a repayment term of 25 years for any bonding.
A $1.65 million renovation of Town Hall would entail $1.45 million in bonding and a withdrawal from dedicated town reserves of the remaining $200,000, according to the analysis. The annual cost to the town of the principal and interest would be $87,977, yielding a 3.3 percent increase in the tax rate.
In the second scenario the town would apply the $800,000 sale proceeds to an anticipated cost of $1 million for a new building at the Mountain View location. The remaining $200,000 could be drawn from the town’s capital reserves. The hypothetical building would contain between 5,600 and 5,800 square feet of space.
For its cost estimate Moran’s analysis compares the Mountain View structure with a 6,400-square-foot building recently constructed by the Woodstock Day School, which reportedly cost $750,000. The envisioned Woodstock town building, while smaller than the school’s building, would likely be more expensive because the town, as a public entity, would be required to pay regional prevailing construction wages under the state’s Wicks Law.
According to the analysis, the town, while it proceeded with the Mountain View project, would receive a net annual gain of $4,986 in tax revenue from the new owner of Town Hall. (Moran also estimates that the new owner would pay approximately $11,500 in taxes to the Onteora Central School District and $4,250 to Ulster County. The town’s tax rate would fall by 0.2 percent, compared with the projected 3.3 percent increase — a difference of 3.5 percent — if Town Hall were renovated.
Citizens who have contacted him have cited other prospective benefits to the town, said the supervisor. These include ample, safe parking at the Mountain View site, as contrasted with the cramped conditions at Town Hall; the potential for expanding a new building if necessary; a convenient location, apart from safer and more spacious quarters, for the police and dispatch departments, which would be in somewhat closer proximity to the Village Green and the center of the hamlet; and the possibility that residual funds would be available for the eventual renovation of the Community Center on Rock City Road.++