January 31, 2014
by Christine Yeres
In a public scoping session for a proposed high-end spa, hotel and restaurant along with 50 condos on a portion of the Legionaries property at 773 Armond Road, about 15 neighbors of the property acquitted themselves with great SEQR-decorum. As the State Environmental Quality Review Act asks, they methodically listed matters they believed had been either missed entirely or inadequately described in the draft “scoping” document produced by the developer and subsequently examined by town staff.
Only occasionally did words such as “inappropriate,” “monstrous,” or “shocking” escape them. Sharon Greene, one of many Tripp Street residents who attended the hearing, prefaced her meticulous page-by-page review of the scoping document with the statement, “This proposal is completely inappropriate for residential zoning.”
Water in, waste water out
In an rural area where people depend on well water, still the most critical environmental issue for neighbors is septic treatment. Some residents recalled that previous plans for the property had been nixed by the County Department of Health due to septic issues, and urged Town staff and developer to consult the record on these. One resident noted that the scope should also take into consideration “the amount of fertilizers used in commercial ventures.” Greene questioned the “assumptions tied to site population,” to which “water and septic are closely tied.”
Greene suggested that rather than identify the average site population, the scope should specify the daily average and daily peak populations, broken down by category: condo, hotel, restaurant, gym, resident staff, other staff – “Break all these out to analyze water usage,” she said.
To Greene’s question of whether the applicant intends to hook up to town water, the applicant’s attorney, David Steinmetz, replied, “‘Yes’ is the answer.”
Intensity of use
Residents described issues of neighborhood character – views, lighting, noise, traffic, trash disposal, hours of operation – that would accompany the intensity of use proposed in the two-acre residential zone, and questioned whether the proposed change in zoning is consistent with surrounding land uses.
Greene noted that although the applicant had “examined comparable spas” to arrive at his traffic count and patterns,” he might be wise to “conduct a driveway count of condo developments” and add that to the comparable-spa count “to come to a reasonable approximation.”
As to “alternative uses,” which the scope requires be posited, “’institutional club use’ is not a use allowed without a special use permit,” said Greene. “Look at the town code, which talks about intensity of use,” where there are formulae for allowable density. “The property would support between 12 and 18 private homes,” said Greene, “—a much lower usage.”
“And it’s critical,” said Greene, “that balloon studies be done. They need to be carried out when there are no leaves, showing maximum height, including roof mechanicals – with a balloon every 50 feet.”
Another resident who borders the property couldn’t decide, she said, which was worse: the possible loss of her open view to a meadow teeming with wildlife, or her view of the screening that might be placed there instead.
The Legionaries property’s rural character was “a treasure,” Steinmetz acknowledged.
“It’s a treasure for residents, for the town of New Castle,” quipped a resident in response, “— not a treasure to be minded by a developer.”
Town Board members will visit the property
“I really would like to see the properties,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz.
“And sooner rather than later,” said Town Board member Adam Brodsky, “while the leaves are off the trees.”
Town Board member Jason Chapin said that with other Board members he had last visited in October of 2012.
“There were townhouses proposed very close to Tripp Street,” recalled Town Board member Elise Mottel, “and we asked the applicant to change the plan.”
Tax revenue from the project
Sharon Green suggested that the SEQR scoping document should not include an estimate of the tax benefits of any proposed development unless it were also to include a estimate of tax revenues lost though the devaluation—as a result of the proposed development—of surrounding properties.
Applicant’s attorney asks that pubic hearing be closed
“We are prepared to respond to everything we heard tonight,” said David Steinmetz, attorney for the applicant. “The public raised valid, legitimate concerns. These are issues identified in the scope, now amplified by some of the residents.” He suggested the Town Board close the public hearing, and leave ten days more for written comment before adopting the scope.
Town Board holds open the scoping hearing till at least February 11; Planning Board will review the application February 4
“To err on the side of caution,” said Greenstein, “we’ll continue the scoping hearing until our February 11 meeting,” noting that this schedule offered the additional benefit of learning what the Planning Board has to say about the Spa application, which is on their agenda as a “referral from the Town Board” to be discussed this Tuesday, February 4, at 7:00 p.m.
Greenstein estimated that at the conclusion of the next regular Town Board meeting and continuation of the scoping-hearing, on Tuesday, February 11, the Board might close the public hearing, leave ten days open for written comment, and then perhaps “adopt” the scope in the Town Board meeting of February 25.
Will the Spa proposal be put through the Master Plan review?
Tripp Street resident Chris Roberta asked whether the Spa at New Castle proposal would be included in the town’s Master Plan review process, along with the more familiar Chappaqua Crossing and Conifer projects and properties. Roberta was concerned, he said, that the Town Board’s review of the Spa application “would set one ball rolling ahead of the other [Master Plan] ball.”
Greenstein responded that the Master Plan “isn’t limited to Chappaqua Crossing and Conifer.” Since the two projects had been expressly excluded from the Master Plan process by the previous Town Board, he explained, he has made a point of noting that they are included now. But so will the Spa proposal be considered through the Master Plan lens, he assured Roberta. “It’s been delayed,” said Greenstein, “because we were looking into hiring a professional consultant. To have studies that have validity we wanted to have some professional help.”
Counsel for the Town Board, Nick Ward-Willis, explained the series of next steps in the SEQR process of review.
Once the scope, or list, is completed, the applicant takes that list and conducts studies in all the areas identified. These will eventually form an “Environmental Impact Statement” or “EIS.” At the time of its first draft, town staff and the Town Planner will review it and make sure the applicant “did his homework.” This draft describing the environmental impacts of the project might pass back and forth between Town and applicant a few times.
To NCNOW’s question to the Town’s attorney asking what discretion the Town has in engaging its own expert on, say, septic issues rather than depend exclusively on the applicant’s expert, Nick Ward-Willis responded that the Town Board has the authority to conduct its own studies, and that the bill is passed subsequently to the applicant.
Once the Town Board, as lead agency for the application, officially deems the draft EIS complete, there will be a public hearing on the draft EIS. Comments made during the hearing will be collected by the applicant and must be answered by him subsequently, to the Town Board’s satisfaction—then the chance for more comments from the public.
Once the public hearing closes, after a certain interval the Town Board will issue its conclusions about the environmental impacts, weighing these against the mitigation measures that have been proposed, to determine whether to approve the project— or some version of it—or not.
For background, photos and details of the Spa proposal, see TB gives green light for next step in environmental review of “The Spa at New Castle,” NCNOW.org, 1/26/14.
At the 22-minute mark the hearing begins with brief overview of the SEQR process; at the 2-hour, 20-minute mark the hearing ends.
Copyright 2019 NewCastleNOW.org