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Bennett College update

MILLBROOK — The Village Board continues to handle business involving the former Bennett College site, which has long caused consternation to the village of Millbrook. A large dormer collapsed at Halcyon Hall during the summer. The collapse caused the building to be deemed unsafe under village code, and the Village Board had to take the necessary steps to ensure the building wouldn’t cause any harm to anyone. After the property owners neglected to secure the building according to the village’s standards, the Village Board took them to court; as a result a fence was built around the property. Although the village stepped in to build the fence, the municipality is not responsible for the cost of the fence because it is private property, and the village is now shifting the cost back to the property owners. Hurley said there are two parties involved in the ownership of the former Bennett College site.Bennett Acquisitions, LLC, owns the property, while Brickman Associates owns the contract development rights to the property. When the village files any correspondence, such as court papers, it has been dealing with both entities. Brickman Associates has made applications in front of the village Planning Board and defended the unsafe building citation. Brickman had offered to work on the safety of the building but then disappeared, according to Hurley.Since the last court filing Brickman Associates has responded to village queries regarding Bennett’s safety, stating they are not the property owners and therefore are not responsible for the safety of the building. “Even though they were accepting responsibility all along, suddenly now they felt they should not be named in these actions, as far as the fence injunction and the other safety issues related to the collapse,” said Hurley. “The court disagreed with Brickman and said that they were indeed responsible for that portion. However, moving forward into the future, Judge Wood has declared they are not responsible and all of those actions should be filed strictly and only against the Blumenthal Bennett Acquisitions, LLC.”The Village Board is going to continue to make submissions to the Bennett Acquisitions, LLC. The mayor said that since the property owner of the site is an entity it makes it difficult to know who to put the blame on.The village had to spend $15,000 to get the fence up that surrounds the property, the cost will all be recovered, said Hurley. Although there is a fence up people are breaking through or going over the fence, despite the fact that it is posted that trespassers will be apprehended and face high penalties in court.“At this point we have done, I believe, everything we could in trying to make the site safe without expending too many taxpayers’ dollars,” said Hurley. “I feel very strongly the responsibility rests on their shoulders. If Brickman Associates cuts and runs, which is probable, then we have to focus on Bennett Acquisitions and as much of that property needs to have repairs made and demolition done as possible; it also needs a plan for the future.”Bennett Acquisitions will be prohibited from coming to the Planning Board for future applications until it can abide by the unsafe building citation. Village Attorney Rebecca Valk made sure all parties recognized that both entities have ignored the court orders and have not filed any permits. Judge Wood is ordering that permits now be filed by Bennett Acquisitions, LCC and not the developer. The village was assured that although the property owners are not complying with court orders, they will recover the money that was spent because the property owners refused to take action. Hurley said that a few years ago the village code was redone for unsafe buildings. The village now has the right to take steps it believes are necessary to secure the safety of the building. The village can relevy the cost onto the property owners’ tax bill. The taxes have been going unpaid by the property owner for the past three years and if they continue to go unpaid, then the unpaid taxes, along with the rest of the village’s unpaid taxes, will be held off until Nov. 1 and then sent to the county. However, the fence won’t be relevied until next year’s taxes; eventually (and ideally) the village will be paid the $18,000 that’s owed by the property owner.“It pains us all to think that we would have to take on any extra burden to make this private property safe,” said Hurley. “That’s one of the hardest things because in the village people don’t remember that this is private property. Here we walk that line with private property owners on what we can and cannot do.”

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