Leading into the Wind

River Journal invited former Sleepy Hollow Mayor Philip Zegarelli to discuss other options for the development of the GM site.

Timing is everything and at the risk of "tilting at windmills" as a final epithet, I offer a suggestion concerning the future use of Sleepy Hollow’s GM site.

Over two years ago, as the initial discord between GM and its joint partner, Roseland, started to emerge, I was racked with the question of what were other alternative uses of the site. Set aside countervailing lawsuits and everyone’s pointed assumptions as to fact: it’s not just a "bigger box." What was paramount was an earnest "out of the box" alternative plan.

Face it, we were all wedded in the basic "box" concept of blending housing, retail, office, public uses and as much parkland and people-oriented amenities as the site and the cost of capital could support.

imagesThere were issues of traffic, impacts on schools, whose net tax revenue calculations were correct and that hard-to-define concept of "community." Differences amongst us were more as to how big a "box" the blend or mix was to be because the component parts of the GM site development were the same. It became an exercise in accounting.

If the GM/Roseland partnership went fully "bust," a back-up plan was essential. My thoughts were vastly different: yet maybe more obvious than originally thought. Take the shore line for parkland and add a blend of layered wind turbines and sun-line synchronized solar energy panels to the main parcel. Absolutely crazy… but really? It’s a matter of timing.

A lifetime in Sleepy Hollow witnessed constant winds at GM, only enhanced so since the demolition of the site. The sun literally rises and sets on the site. The site was cleared and the deep riverbed pilings and base structure could undoubtedly hold the weight of the wind turbines since it once supported the weight of a 4-5 story assembly plant and its full infrastructure. Rail access was at hand for construction and delivery of the massive turbines and associated parts. More important than meets the eye is that the Con Ed power grid that drove the GM assembly plant was already on site. A power line that once delivered power could now receive our alternative power and wheel it to consumers.

Personal legwork included visiting with Professors Nick Robinson and Dick Ottinger at Pace Law School to see if this was too far afield. Their thoughts and encouragement led me to contacting various agencies and manufacturers. I shared my thoughts with Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson and I talked with W.C. Executive Andy Spano. Andy noted that the county had a power authority already approved and this fact and the county’s support could be an important factor in the whole plan.

Other items for the equation? Central to all was the magnitude of the site. As big as the parcel was, some vendors thought that the GM site might be just too small. Mitigating factors shot right back. It was about "the benjamins" (money, as kids say): the timing was good since the cost of capital was low and the ability to float tax-exempt bonds, gain various grants, state and federal subsidies was high. Clean, alternative energy in metro-NY still an oxymoron?

This was a time before the latest run-up of energy/fuel costs. As energy costs rose, the economics started to turn for the better as did more interest by vendors overall. Admittedly both GM and Roseland were not amused, especially since I mentioned that GM should "put" the land to the alternative energy project, take back a preferred investment interest, get tax benefits (I guess not big motivation today) and share in the lime-light on the cutting edge.

And what about the Sleepy Hollow community? This turbine/solar project would generate sorely needed revenue for the village and the school district without any new additions to the school system. Services: really no new services that we couldn’t already handle. Traffic would be about what it is now and the draw to the parkland and amenities would bring more people to the site, not just for our unique one-of-a-kind Hudson River view, but to see an alternative use to an old assembly site that flashed into our future. What an educational laboratory that would generate revenues also.

Yes, the infamous SEQRA findings and adopted plan would have to be gutted and redone: that takes time. Given where we were after Roseland’s departure, the stalemate in discussions with GM and finally GM’s corporate implosion and collapse … why not? My original suggestion met with knowing nods, but not much: it was not time. The timing for GM to rise from the dead Lazarus-like is now, and an alternative energy use of the GM site may just be as timely. Besides what is there really to lose?

Yes, many people may object to the interruption of the Hudson River’s scenic sites and to the constant "whoosing" sound of the turbines, but we need to think outside of the box that we may have put ourselves into to begin with. Similar facilities are dotted throughout Europe, as in Spain, and now in parts of America. Now, maybe Sleepy Hollow?

Timing is everything.

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About the Author: Philip Zegarelli