TUSTEN, NY — The building at 93 Main St. doesn’t look like much. The remains of a teller’s window are the only indications that it used to be a bank; the windows are dark and …
TUSTEN, NY — The building at 93 Main St. doesn’t look like much. The remains of a teller’s window are the only indications that it used to be a bank; the windows are dark and empty.
Depending on the town’s decision, this building could become a new home for Tusten’s municipal services.
The Town of Tusten bought the property early in 2021. Before that, it was Wayne Bank’s Narrowsburg branch; the building came up for sale as the bank sought to close up shop in the hamlet.
The town and the bank had engaged in conversation about the location’s parking lot toward the start of 2020. Prior to that time, the town had a lease with the bank to use the lot as public parking.
Wayne Bank sought a subdivision to split the parking lot from the bank building for that sale. While the necessary variances were approved by the zoning board of appeals, the planning board’s minutes do not record a discussion about the property, and the bank and the parking lot still appear as one property on the tax rolls.
At the town board’s January 2021 meeting, the town agreed to buy the building along with the parking lot. According to supervisor Ben Johnson, the purchase was made for $140,000, with the parking lot being $40,000 of that worth. “We weren’t looking for a building. The board was looking for a parking situation, and as a result of our parking situation, we got a building.”
The parking lot has continued to be public parking, a needed resource for Tusten’s busy downtown. The building attached to it has sat empty, waiting for the town to decide on its use. The town board has approved some work on the building. The pipes burst over the winter when its heating system failed, and the damage from that incident meant it had to be gutted, a gutting that was paid for by insurance. The board installed a heating system worth roughly $23,000 in the building, and hired an architect to draw up preliminary designs for what the building might become. But the question of the building’s ultimate use has remained unresolved.
The board discussed the building at length during its March 1 workshop meeting, and again during its March 8 regular meeting. A number of possibilities were considered—everything from selling the building to tearing it down and using the space for additional parking—but the idea that attracted the most discussion was the notion of moving Tusten’s Town Hall into that building from its current quarters at 201 Bridge St.
Board members mentioned a few reasons why that might be a good idea. As a newer building, it would be easier to heat. It would be more suited to having office space than the town’s current hall, and it would have better space to store records.
The building’s location was mentioned as a positive—the move would give the town a civic presence at the heart of Tusten’s downtown, and as 93 Main St. is located right next to the post office, it could provide a centralized space for municipal business.
Additionally, if the town hall moved, the current town hall, which contains the Tusten Theater, and a large meeting space and kitchen in the basement, could become a full-time cultural center. The Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA) has presented programs at the theater seasonally since 1990 and hosted live music, film and other events in its 150-seat theater. The DVAA, or other such organizations, could continue and expand that work were the town to move out.
All in all, the 93 Main St. building had potential, said Johnson, more potential than the town hall’s current quarters.
While board members discussed the possibilities of a move to Main Street, they acknowledged that there were drawbacks to the idea as well.
Community sentiment as expressed at the March 8 board meeting focused almost entirely on the downsides, and leaned heavily in favor of the town hall remaining where it was.
Some commenters pointed out that the town’s taxpayers had paid for a lot of renovations to the building over the past few years; the town had made the building ADA-compliant, had improved the parking lot and had replaced its lighting with LED equivalents. The money already spent, in addition to the money that the town would need to spend renovating 93 Main St., raised questions about the financial wisdom of the move.
In a letter sent to the board, Brendan and Kathleen Weiden raised questions about the process by which an architect had been chosen for preliminary study of the Main Street building. The letter questioned whether a request for proposals would have been beneficial in the case, for reasons of due diligence and a more inclusive approach to attracting talent. It stated as well that the architect chosen, Charles Woods and his associate Karl Wasner, had worked on plans for Bar Veloce, and that Wasner had an ownership stake in that business. The Weidens are involved in a legal dispute with the town regarding alleged improprieties in the planning and execution of construction for Bar Veloce, a business in partnership with Narrowsburg Motors (itself owned by Kathleen Johnson, wife of supervisor Ben Johnson).
The sheer difference in size between the two buildings came up as another negative. The building on Main Street might have enough space for offices, but the size of the basement in the Bridge Street building made it crucial as a meeting space, as a warming center in emergencies and as a space to hold elections.
Councilperson Jane Luchsinger said she agreed with the comments, and spoke in favor of selling 93 Main St. and using the money to improve the current town hall.
The board as a body did not come to a consensus; it discussed possibilities, but did not make a determination. It agreed to have an appraiser examine both buildings, and agreed that it would be wise to have a public hearing before making a decision.
The one certainty was that a decision would, ultimately, be made. One of the two buildings would be sold, said board members; the town had no desire to keep both. The only question was which one to sell.
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