Contrary to Planning Board advice,Town Board undertakes Rosehill environmental review

Friday, July 11, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Ignoring its Planning Board’s advice that “the much awaited Master Plan Update should be completed prior to any further consideration to rezoning the subject property,” last Tuesday the Town Board gave the go-ahead for the environmental review of the Rosehill proposal for 60 condos, clubhouse, tennis courts and pool at the 773 Armonk Road Legionaries property.  Lisa Katz pointed out that since the Rosehill environmental review may take up to 18 months, the Board is, in fact, “planning before developing,” because the Master Plan review is already underway.

See Planning Bd to Town Bd: Master Plan update should come before rezoning for Rosehill, NCNOW.org, 7/1/14.

Town Board members were pressed by neighbors surrounding the property to express their reasons for permitting the review.  “Three of you ran for office on a platform of “planning before development,” said Jeff Goldstein of Tripp Street. “You’re not in office seven months and you’re doing the opposite.  Your own Planning Board is saying, ‘Complete the Master Plan update before reviewing the rezoning of this property,’ and you’re still moving forward to accommodate a developer.”  Goldstein called the proposal “a crystal-clear example of spot zoning” with “no discernable benefit to the town.”

“When I make a decision, especially with a land use issue,” said Town Board member Jason Chapin, “it’s based on public comment and on recommendations we get from interested or involved [such as the Planning Board] parties.  I’m saying this process has many steps, I’m OK with the process going forward but that doesn’t mean I’m for or against it.”

Goldstein turned to Town Board member Lisa Katz.  “Put yourself in our position,” he said.  “The Planning Board tells the Town Board ‘Do not move forward.’”

“I would say that any decision that I make is not a political decision,” said Katz.  “I’m going to make every single decision with integrity, considering what makes the most sense for the town as a whole.  That being said, we are nowhere near a stage where we’re approving or denying this project.  And I stand by what I said, I do believe in planning and our voting tonight on the scoping document does not necessarily fly in the face of what the Planning Board has said because the Master Plan is still ongoing and the vote on this application won’t be for 18 months. [This is the time frame the Town Board’s counsel outlined for TB members in a work session the week before.]  So we will have time to do planning before making any decision.”

Katz explained that according to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, once the Town Board has declared itself lead agency and has permitted the SEQR process to begin with a draft scoping—a list of potential impacts—from the developer, the Town Board has only 60 days in which to make its own alterations to the draft. If the Town Board misses that deadline, it is the developer’s own draft version that goes forward as the “study guide” of issues to be researched.

“I will tell you that once that analysis is done,” said Katz, “if it doesn’t make sense, I wouldn’t vote for it. I’ve stood on that side of the dais and I can assure you I’ll listen residents.  There will be many, many more times when we’ll receive public comment.”

Sharon Greene, another resident of Tripp Street, asked the Town Board’s counsel, Nick Ward-Willis, “to please make it clear to the Town Board that the Town Board can completely deny to entertain a zoning change?” 

“Yes, the board can do that,” said Ward-Willis.

Greene said, “So when you say they’re obliged within 60 days [to approve a draft scoping document], they can stand up today—if you continue the SEQR process—we are not going to entertain a zoning change, as recommended by our Planning Board, our advisory board whom we rely upon, we are not going to recommend a zoning change at this time, I guarantee you that Mr. Oder will go back to the drawing board and perhaps come up with some plan within the zoning, that protects the uniqueness of this property.  You’re not at the mercy of the SEQR process.  It’s in your hands.”

“I didn’t say we’re at the mercy of the SEQR process,” said Katz, “but it will revert to the developer’s version of the scoping.  And in the scoping we’ve asked the developer to show us a plan that would stay within the current zoning.  We’ve asked them to give us drawings to show us what that would look like.”

Greene pointed out that the “alternatives” the SEQR process requires the developer to show is not the focus of a developer’s application.

The Planning Board’s advice, said Greene, “couldn’t be clearer.  What do you people think a Planning Board is for?  Ms. Mottel, at the work session you said you would pay attention to what the Planning Board said.”  Greene read from the Planning Board’s letter to the Town Board, “The most appropriate avenue to answer these questions is not within a Planning Board/Town Board response to a developer’s initiative, but rather through a thoughtful master plan update process, or strongly encouraging the developer to propose a project that adheres to existing zoning.”

Greene objected to the amount of time the scoping document had been available to the public to review.  Board members received it the Thursday before, but it was not posted to the town’s website until July 8, the day the Board was due to vote to approve it.

Another resident told Town Board members that she had attended “meeting after meeting where Planning Board members spent hours meticulously going over this 45-page scoping document.” Residents had not had time enough to go over it thoroughly, she said.

“There is no legal requirement,” said Ward-Willis, “to hear from the public with respect to the scoping document.”

“I don’t understand why we’re all rushing to do this,” said the resident.  “And I don’t understand what is so valuable about this project when you would go against your own Planning Board?”

“I’m not disregarding anything the Planning Board has recommended to us,” said Chapin. “This is an ongoing process.  It doesn’t end now.  There are other opportunities, much like for Chappaqua Crossing, when the Town Board approved the final environmental impact statement, which meant that everything is in order to this point and now the preliminary development concept plan goes to the Planning Board to do its part.  We have a relationship with the Planning Board, but they are not us and we are not them.  The Town Planner acts as an intermediary to make sure we’re informed about what each is doing.”

“I think we’re equally frustrated,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein to the resident.  “What I’ve been hearing from you is that every step in the process you’re interpreting as an approval of the project.  Just because we close a public hearing or vote to approve a scoping document doesn’t mean this project is approved.  Some people want to put the brakes on it for two years, but just because we’re going through the process doesn’t mean we’re approving the project.  The developer is on notice that we’re updating our master plan and that’s the risk the developer is taking.”

“I’d like to hear the particular issues neighbors have,” said Town Board member Adam Brodsky.  “This developer is asking us to consider a very dramatic project in your neighborhood. I heard ‘sewers,’ ‘sight lines’—I’d like to see it from your perspective.  “

“I feel we’ve been telling you,” said the resident.  “I can’t flush my toilet and take a shower at the same time.  There are water issues.  When it rains my car goes into a ditch.  All these environmental issues could ruin our homes and our property values.  I can’t begin to imagine the lights, the noise, the tennis courts and theatre.  They’re incongruous to a residential neighborhood.”

“The SEQR process we’re going through now,” said Brodsky, ” those hundred or thousand issues—those will be addressed and we’ll take into account whether those have been addressed or not.  Mr. Oder [the developer] will have his day to make his case and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Another resident came to the microphone to say, “I find it alarming that you said that you’re concerned about our concerns because for months residents have been expressing very clearly their concerns.”

“Just because we’re not doing exactly what you want us to do doesn’t mean we’re not listening to you,” said Greenstein.  “It just means we have a lot of interests to balance.  The developer has shown a willingness to listen to resident.  For some of us it’s refreshing compared to some of the other projects we’ve dealt with over the years.”

The Board voted unanimously to approve the scoping document.

The discussion on the Rosehill scoping document runs from the 52-minute mark until the 1-hour and 46-minute mark

Town of New Castle Board Meeting 7/8/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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