PB views “Rosehill” as new—rather than amended— plan, nearly as impactful as Spa

Special meeting of Planning Board at 7:00 p.m. on June 9 will discuss Rosehill scope further
Saturday, June 7, 2014
by Christine Yeres

At the beginning of May developer Steve Oder submitted a revised proposal for the Legionaries property at 773 Armonk Road.  Commercial elements of the last plan—spa, restaurant and hotel—are gone.  Instead, Oder is proposing 60 condos and a new zoning he calls UPP, or “unique property preservation.” The Town Board decided to remain lead agency for the application and conducted a scoping session (a list of what environmental impacts must be studied through the SEQR process) for the environmental review which closed on May 27.  The scoping document was passed to the Planning Board for comment.

Planning Board members made it clear that in their opinion the developer’s latest iteration of the project is “a whole new plan.”  However, since the Town Board passed it to the PB as an “amended” document, that is how the PB must treat it.

The latest application is, according to Chairman Bob Kirkwood, “inconsistent with the current zoning”—which is two-acre residential—saying he “didn’t feel anything persuasive was argued on the part of the applicant to make us ignore what we do in the two-acre zoning.”

At the start of the document, PB member Richard Brownell felt, the developer “should tell us why we should even consider changing the zoning.”  In addition, he pointed out, “we have an overlay to protect the fragility of the area.”

“Further,” said Brownell, “we have a Town Development Plan [TDP] that has a lot of good things in it—and one of those things it says is that the east end of town is rural.  This scoping document shows me nothing of substance as to why this should be changed.”

Chairman Bob Kirkwood agreed, noting that the applicant should justify, in the beginning of the document, “why there’s a need [to change the zoning] and why we’re leaping-frogging over our zoning.”

Since the Town Board is lead agency, the Planning Board’s job is to comment on the scoping document. “The purpose of the scoping,” the PB’s counsel, Jennifer Gray, reminded PB members, “is to identify the issues that need to be further studied.  It’s not necessary to say whether the project as it is proposed now is good or bad.”

“Defining in this document what we care about and what we expect to see,” said Curley, “if we don’t get a hold of it now, we’ll be in trouble downstream.”

PB member Sheila Crespi asked whether the “unique property preservation” zoning Oder was proposing that the town create existed in any other municipality.

Town Planner Sabrina Charney suggested that perhaps large historic homes in the Berkshires might have such a special zoning category.

PB members decided that they needed more time in which to review the application.  “We have considerable experience in this area,” said Kirkwood. “We know what these environmental impact statements are about.  This is what we do.  It takes time.  The message needs to be made clear to the Town Board that we need more time.”

“This is a huge change to the uses going on on this property,” noted Brownell.”

Developer pitched condo proposal as less impactful

“The Town Board was advised that the change in the scope was less impactful than what was previously proposed,” said Charney.  “The Town Board was led to believe that this was a less intense use [than the spa-hotel proposal].”

Yet, in terms of the density of coverage, noted Crespi, the spa had 246,000 square feet of space, and the current condo proposal was 228,905 square feet of space. “It’s a different configuration, but a comparably sized proposal.”

“No offense to the Town Board,” said Brownell, “but that [difference in square footage] doesn’t constitute a substantive change.”

“The use of residential rather than spa-restaurant has been pared down,” observed Charney.

“The numbers are easy to figure out,” said PB member Tom Curley, “but there are many quality of life and community character issues that go along with these.  We need to be sure those are addressed in the environmental impact statement.  It seems to me there needs to be a much stronger look at the use proposed.”

Public comment

A resident of Tripp Street took issue with the statement in Charney’s summary of the project to the Planning Board that “neighbors were on board with this.”

“We are not on board with this,” she said.

Another resident of Tripp Street, Sharon Greene, asked for an explanation of the relationship between the Planning Board and the Town Board on the Rosehill application.

The Town Board has made itself lead agency “and will decide what to do,” said counsel Jennifer Gray.  “The Planning Board is an ‘involved agency’ and they have approval over the ultimate site plan, but they’re not the ones to determine whether to adopt the rezoning legislation.  The Planning Board has the opportunity to provide comments for the Town Board’s consideration during the environmental review.”

“As an ‘involved agency’,” Curley explained, “we make comments to the Town Board and they either adopt them or do whatever they want to do.  But when the project comes back to us as a site plan application, we then have not just the authority but the responsibility to then do our own ‘Findings’ and we could have a negative Finding which would essentially stop the project. We could decide that there is significant impact that has not been mitigated by the proposals.”

Gray confirmed that “the two Findings statements would need to be reconciled in some way.”

“The Town Board members have little experience [in these matters],” said Greene, “and one wonders why this is not sitting in your [Planning Board] lap and not theirs.”

“It was the Town Board’s determination,” said Charney.

Related: Keeping lead agency status, TB sets May 27 scoping session for Rosehill condo proposal, NCNOW.org 5/15/14

Rosehill discussion by Planning Board:

From: 1-hour, 55-minute mark
To: 2-hour, 32-minute mark

Town of New Castle Planning Board Meeting 6/3/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.


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