Planning Board weighs in on impacts of proposed spa-hotel-condo project
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
by Christine Yeres
In its Tuesday, February 4 meeting, the Planning Board combed through the draft scoping document in the application for a zoning change that would permit a spa, hotel, restaurant and condos at the Legionaries property on Armonk Road. The Town Board, lead agency in the environmental review for the project, “The Spa at New Castle,” is required by state law to refer the scoping document to the Planning Board for its comments. The scoping document is a list of potential environmental impacts composed by the developer with input from the town’s planning staff.
Once the Town Board declares the scoping list complete, the developer will take the list and do the homework to answer all questions posed in the scoping document. It’s up to the Town Board to decide on which matters the town needs to hire its own experts to supply information. The town is later reimbursed by the applicant for such expenses.
As the Town Board has already gleaned from neighbors’ informal testimony, the treatment of waste water from the proposed development, “The Spa at New Castle,” is a critical issue in a two-acre residential area fed by well water. Septic issues were front and center for the Planning Board as well.
“Are there any cases of so many kinds of uses being on same sewage treatment?” asked Planning Board member Sheila Crespi. “Are there any successful examples of septic on this scale—to know that this is not something that in theory could work? Show us where this has worked.”
“It’s not just sanitary sewage—it’s also commercial wastes,” noted Planning Board member Dick Brownell, “because there’s a restaurant involved. Household waste is different. Restaurant wastes need special care and consideration; given the fats oils and grease; if they’re dumped into the sanitary sewage system, and then into the ground, that’s a problem.”
“The spa itself will introduce more than just the restaurant,” observed Kirkwood ”—and a pool draining chlorinated water, how do we deal with that?” asked Planning Board Chairman Bob Kirkwood.
“It’s leached out to the infiltrators, and it has to be separated and checked that it has,” said Brownell.
Crespi suggested that, since “something like this has never been conceived of before,” the Town Board “might have to go back to the Master Plan update process first.”
The applicant intends to hook up to New Castle’s municipal water supply. “The water balance is very important to this site,” said Brownell. “The big issue, is once the public water is brought to the site it will be put into the septic field, and septic does not perform the same in an above-ground treatment system as far as removing pollutants and waste.”
“It’s one thing to have a small septic system in your yard and a well the requisite distance away,” Brownell explained further, “but here we’re having a very large area that has to work very well to make sure septic discharge is clean enough to mingle with other water that percolates deeper and could be the source of water for homeowners.”
“We’ve asked for examples where it has worked successfully for several decades,” said Brownell, “because it doesn’t just have to work well for a couple of years—but for decades. And small wastewater treatment plants also have their problems. They have to be upgraded later. Technology changes, but so do standards.”
Brownell suggested that the scope include testing of existing wells surrounding the property, “also the ridge and valley on both sides.”
“And as Sheila suggested [below] with traffic,” said Kirkwood, “should we look at the incremental size of these buildings [in the context of septic capacity]?”
Lighting, traffic and parking
“We saw renderings with floor-to-ceiling windows which offer a very different kind of visibility from the surrounding properties,” said Sheila Crespi. “Will we see full architectural drawings?”
“You won’t see full details,” Town Planner Sabrina Charney responded, “unless you ask for them at this level.”
Crespi suggested that the scoping document should require studies that “Break out the population by use. Residents, overnight hotel guests, day spa and restaurant guests, special events guests. Then aggregate them.” Do likewise for the condominium units, she suggested, including weekday and Sunday traffic counts.
And parking. “Look at condos plus the average number using the spa, average number using the restaurant,” Crespi continued.
“Just like we do with a shopping center,” said Brownell.
For parking requirements, applicant must break out each use; determine later which are competing uses and which complementary.
And traffic. “The spa-restaurant might have its own set of peak traffic flows,” said Crespi. “Take into consideration the uses on site. Look at what uses on the site generate what kind of traffic, the aggregate later.”
“And make sure,” added Brownell, “we have the base data to which you later apply the peaks. Rather than [hearing from the applicant] ‘I used something from a shopping center.’”
Noise impacts. “Back up power supply generators make noise,” said Crespi.
“Plus rooftop units, scrubbers, all HVAC equipment, in aggregate, and day and night,” added Brownell.
Lighting impacts. “How to quantify lighting impacts, both day and night, and how to mitigate it?” asked Crespi.
“It could be quite pronounced,” said Kirkwood, “given the location of these buildings on the top of a hill. The lines of condos in the field [from the previous plan] are gone—but we don’t know what the lighting will be from these condos and the large structure, tiering down the side of the hill, starting with the existing old house, then the outdoor pool and spa.”
“And if you’re facing the front of the structure,” said Planning Board member Doug Schuerman, “off to the left [north] they’re expanding buildings out to what is the top of a ridge line, after which it drops off steeply. That could have quite a visual effect.”
“And on the west side,” said Brownell, “they were going to go right to the edge there. It was maximum use of that one dimension which gives a large facility [for neighbors] to look at. It might lead someone to say, ‘Well maybe the facility should be smaller.’ And because part of it is on a ridge line—and how much more of it do we want to let on the ridge line? The policy is to keep things off the ridge line.”
Visual impacts. “Photo simulations are the most expressive,” said one Planning Board member. “Let’s ask mainly for photo simulation.”
“We have a contract with a visual consultant,” said Charney, “and through this process you’ll have the opportunity to name the locations.”
Alternatives to the developer’s proposal
When it comes to the requirement that the applicant provide—and analyze the impacts of—a range of less impactful alternatives (including “no-build”), Crespi asked “Can we ask for consideration of a condo development only, or a spa development only? Do we have to make an assumption that a reduction in the project size would make the project infeasible? Or can we ask them to reduce the size of the parts of the project?”
“You can ask to see as many as you want,” said Charney.
“What if they want to remain with this mixed use,” asked Crespi, “and if the impact of this is too great, do we want to offer the alternatives of smaller [components of the project]?”
Les Steinman, counsel to the Planning Board, responded that the scoping document should indeed include such alternatives, since they may be useful in the end, if the Town Board finds the project, as proposed, to be too impactful. A full examination of alternatives would then be ready to refer to for less impactful versions.
“At what point can we get more response than ‘It just doesn’t work for us economically’?,” asked Kirkwood. “At what point can we get real metrics so that we know they’ve done their due diligence?”
“You can require the applicant to show economic analyses budgeting out the project, showing why it’s not economically feasible,” said Planning Board counsel Jennifer Gray, from Keane & Beane.
“Even ask [the applicant],” suggested Schuerman, ” ‘Where’s the break-even point?’ because we don’t know whether they’ve gone way beyond that or way below that.”
“The threshold is the reasonable rate of return they’re expecting for the property,” Gray explained. “Objectively, what is going to be their rate of return on what they’re proposing, and what would the rate of return be based on a smaller alternative?”
“Or, if [they want] the restaurant, hotel, spa and condos,” said Brownell, “I might say ‘Could you reduce the size—not the number—of the condos by 50%?’, somehow reduce the footprint that’s visible in the viewshed by 50%. Or apart from the existing, reduce the additional by 50%. We need some basis by which to assess the breakpoints.”
“This is probably one of the most important points in the process that often gets overlooked,” said Planning Board member Tom Curley. “because most often an applicant comes in and says ‘OK I’m going to give you two alternatives—which is my alternative and a “no build” alternative.’ ”
“And this is the point in time,” continued Curley, “when the lead agency [the Town Board] and the involved agencies [Planning Board, for one] could advise the lead agency and say ‘Well, wait a minute. Maybe there are two or three other things that could happen between “nothing” and “everything”—which might actually be better for the town, fairer to the applicant and have less impact to the community.’
“And so when it comes to identifying the alternatives in the scoping session,” said Curley, “I think it’s appropriate for the Planning Board in its recommendations to the Town Board to suggest that instead of there being X amount of development with a building Y stories tall, that actually there may be an alternative that is X minus some amount of development, or zero plus some amount of development. By which, then, the town could look at the relative impacts of those and come to a determination of what is appropriate for the property. Oftentimes, when it becomes Yes or No, it becomes very difficult for the town to say No. I think it would be good for us to communicate to the Town Board our desire to see not just a Yes or No, but also two or three things in between.
“Between ‘no action’ and the project as proposed, we’ve identified three alternatives so far—and have added a fourth tonight,” said Brownell.
“It’s a moving accordion,” said Kirkwood. “This is the menu being set, and next week when the Town Board takes the public’s comments—and ours—it’s your chance to help design the menu and make these points. The Town Board [lead agency on the Spa application] will determine whether it goes forward or not, and what kind of dimensions it could take.”
A video of the Planning Board’s scoping discussion is below.
Related: Spa applicant asks that hearing close, TB holds it open through PB review February 4, NCNOW.org, 1/31/14
Last week’s Planning Board review of the Spa scoping document begins at 1 hour 08 minute mark and continues till the 2 hour 11 minute mark:
Part 2 of the Spa scoping hearing runs from 0 minutes to 57 minutes: