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County Advisory Board Recommends Exploring Pocantico Lake Purchase

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A photo taken last summer of the Pocantico Lake shoreline where a 31-lot cluster subdivision would be built.

A resolution recommending Westchester County consider buying a 36.8-acre parcel in an environmentally sensitive area of Mount Pleasant was unanimously approved by a county advisory board last month creating a possibility that the land could be preserved from development.

The Parks, Recreation and Conservation Board passed the resolution on Mar. 17 for county officials to explore the potential acquisition of 715 Sleepy Hollow Rd. The property is on the shoreline of the 27-acre Pocantico Lake, a freshwater body.

Nearby Pocantico Lake residents have been urging the county to get involved since last summer, shortly after ZappiCo Real Estate Development of Hawthorne submitted a plan for a 31-lot cluster subdivision at the site.

During the scoping session held by the Mount Pleasant Planning Board last October, residents and environmental advocates stressed how the possibility of massive deforestation, potential runoff into the lake, which flows into the Hudson River, noise and traffic would spoil one of the county’s most scenic locations.

It is next to about 164 acres that Westchester obtained in 1992, which is called Pocantico Lake Park. Most of that acreage is in Mount Pleasant and some in the Village of Briarcliff Manor.

“I agree that if it’s possible I think any property that we can acquire due to the fact, especially that it’s right next to a park that we already own, I certainly think it has merit,” county Parks Commissioner Kathleen O’Connor said at the Mar. 17 Parks, Recreation and Conservation Board meeting.

The town Planning Board, which had made a positive declaration under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process that there would be the potential for significant environmental impact, closed the scoping session nearly six months ago. Typically, it takes close to a year before the applicant returns with the responses to the public’s comments and questions.

County Executive George Latimer said last week his office will have a conversation with the Board of Legislators to explore the possibility of an acquisition of the land. However, he cautioned that there are a series of variables outside of the county’s control that could determine whether a sale is feasible.

Whether or not the developer is open to selling and for what price are the two most obvious questions, he said.

“Certainly, people that live in the area would like to see the whole parcel obtained or attached to parkland,” Latimer said. “Whether there’s a willing seller to do that or whether the price is right, whether we can justify whatever the price is, all that would be determined. But we’d certainly be willing to dialogue, which is the logical first step.”

The possibility of the partial preservation of the 36 acres has also been raised recently.

On Apr. 2 during a forum with residents at Town Hall, Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said he spoke with ZappiCo Real Estate founder and CEO Jim Zappi, who was willing to donate a portion of the land that is closest to the lake to preserve as open space.

Last week, Fulgenzi said he’s optimistic that Zappi will be amenable to preserving some portion of the land while moving forward with review of the project. At the Apr. 2 forum it was thought that it could be a donation of at least half of the acreage, but that has not been determined, he said.

“I had made the request a while back to them, and I thought it would be a good idea if they had reached out to Westchester Land Trust to see if they could work that out to preserve that land for the future,” Fulgenzi said. “They are not against it and now more recently we had said that it looks like it’s going in that direction.”

An e-mail sent last week to ZappiCo’s consulting vice president, Brandon Zappi, was not returned. The company’s voicemail system was not accepting messages.

Whether a partial preservation would satisfy most of the neighbors is unknown. Several residents reached last week said they were not fully aware of the possibilities and declined comment.

However, County Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant), whose district includes the property, said she’s hopeful that a compromise can be reached. She said she was pleasantly surprised to learn from Fulgenzi that the developer was willing to consider donating the land he wouldn’t use.

“I have communicated that information to the commissioner of planning, to the commissioner of parks, to the county executive’s office, so they are now aware of that,” Cunzio said.

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