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A public hearing before the Cortlandt Zoning Board of Appeals on Hudson Wellness Center, a proposed luxury drug and alcohol rehabilitation specialty hospital that has been closely scrutinized for the last seven years was kept open last month.
The ZBA also decided on June 27 to schedule a site visit to the 48-acre site on Quaker Ridge Road and the surrounding area for Sunday, July 17 at 9 a.m. after being encouraged by residents to see how the Hudson Wellness Center project could adversely affect the residential neighborhood.
“It’s community character. That is the primary concern,” stressed Brad Schwartz, an attorney representing a group called Citizens for Responsible Hudson Institute Site Development (CHRISD). “Does this use belong in a location on a town road?”
The ZBA must grant a variance since the Town Code requires hospitals in residential zones to be on state roads. Without the variance, the controversial project can’t move forward. A special permit is also required to build a specialty hospital in a two-acre residential zone.
In April, the Cortlandt Planning Board voted 6-1 to issue a negative declaration under SEQRA, stating that the project should not have significant adverse environmental impacts. The decision allowed Hudson Wellness Center to avoid preparing a lengthy and costly Environmental Impact Statement.
Robert Davis, an attorney for Hudson Wellness, contended the negative declaration by the Planning Board, which is the lead agency on the application, weighed heavily on the ZBA’s review of the area variance.
“While the Negative Declaration does not preclude your board from reviewing the application under the Zoning Code, the board must necessarily take into consideration and abide by the Planning Board’s SEQRA determination, and your board’s ultimate determination, which is subject to CPLR Article 78 review, will be upheld only if it is rational and supported by the substantial evidence,” Davis stated in a June 14 letter to the ZBA.
Schwartz and Town Attorney Thomas Wood disagreed with the assertion of Davis, who requested the public hearing be closed and a decision be rendered at the ZBA’s July 25 meeting.
“We’re not here as a pro forma rubber stamp,” Schwartz remarked.
Hudson Ridge Wellness Center is looking to utilize the former Hudson Institute site on Quaker Ridge Road that encompasses 20 acres in Cortlandt and 28 acres in New Castle.
First presenting the project to Cortlandt officials in 2015, the backers of Hudson Ridge Wellness Center have spent nearly $3 million to buy three parcels of land, paid attorneys and consultants hundreds of thousands, carried property taxes totaling nearly $400,000 (although sometimes paying late) and renovated the existing buildings on the site to the tune of $1.5 million.
“This area of New Castle and Cortlandt is a very, very special place,” said David Valdez, a member of the Millwood-West End Advisory Board. “It’s laughable this this would be put in this neighborhood. It would be like putting a carnival in the middle of Central Park.”
The property is near Teatown, a 1,000-acre nonprofit nature preserve and environmental education center with 15 miles of hiking trails and a two-acre island refuge. It has caught the attention of officials and residents in Ossining and New Castle. New Castle officials are concerned about increased water and sewer use in the area and Glendale Road being used by vehicles traveling to the site.
The maximum number of patients that the hospital would serve has been reduced in its first year of operation to 49. Thereafter, there could be up to 58 patients. When plans were first unveiled, 92 beds were sought.
If the ZBA issues a variance, the Planning Board will get another chance to review the project as it will have to decide whether to approve the site plan.
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/