By Michael Gold
Downtown Pleasantville may change dramatically with three new apartment buildings: 39 Washington Ave., which is complete and has renters, 70 Memorial Plaza, currently under construction, and 52 Depew St., still in the pre-construction stage.
The village will enjoy increased tax revenues from the three buildings, as well as the likely potential to improve business for the local restaurants and stores, from the new residents who will live in, or close to, the center of town. Downtown Pleasantville promises to become a more vibrant place, with more pedestrians, shoppers and diners.
Along with these benefits, however, will come some costs, which can’t currently be measured.
Pleasantville will have 173 new apartments, with 365 new parking spaces downtown – 23 apartments at the Washington Avenue site, 71 apartments at Depew Street and 79 apartments at Memorial Plaza.
Air pollution will likely increase, as a result of possibly having 173 more cars in town, and so will carbon dioxide emissions.
A search through the environmental assessments of the impact of the three projects reveals no mention of either the potential increase in air pollution or carbon emissions from the new automobiles in town.
The village and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) do not require developers to disclose possible carbon emissions from new vehicles at local residential developments.
“We don’t have the means to determine carbon emissions,” Mayor Pete Scherer said in an interview. But he added, “There is an ecological benefit for downtown living. Many downtown residents are less car-dependent.”
All three developments will be within walking distance to mass transit.
“It’s reasonable to assume that many of the new residents will be train commuters to White Plains or New York City,” the mayor said.
Scherer also points out that “Many of the cars that will be parked in these locations are already here.”
For instance, employees of the businesses near 39 Washington Ave. will now be able to park at that location instead of a municipal lot or elsewhere on local streets.
An added benefit of the 52 Depew St. development is the clean-up of the contaminated soil at the site.
Also, there is the possibility that some of the new residents’ cars will be electric.
There will be four electric vehicle charging stations at 39 Washington Ave. while 70 Memorial Plaza will have six charging stations, with capacity to expand to 38 stations in all. The 52 Depew St. project may have some charging stations, but it is unclear how many. The developer, Lighthouse Living, did not return repeated phone calls.
With all these unknowns, there may well be more air pollution and carbon emissions coming from the new vehicles in town.
Pleasantville also has an indeterminate number of cars and trucks idling around town. On any given day, there may be up to a half-dozen people sitting in their cars with the engines on as they wait for take-out food from the local restaurants or a friend to arrive, or they’re just running the motor to keep the air conditioning on to stay cool on a hot afternoon, or for some other reasons.
Tailpipe emissions include nitrous oxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene and particulate matter. They can cause heart and lung damage and breathing difficulties. Benzene is a known carcinogen.
The American Lung Association has given Westchester County an “F” for its high level of ozone.
According to the EPA, “Breathing ozone can trigger…chest pain, coughing and throat irritation. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.” It can hurt the functioning of your lungs.
If you consider a worst-case scenario of 173 additional internal combustion vehicles in town, that would generate about 782 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental preservation nonprofit organization. The same number of electric vehicles would generate about 191 tons of carbon dioxide per year, the NRDC stated.
This calculation assumes that Pleasantville’s grid feeding electricity to power the electric cars contains a mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy. If an electric vehicle owner used wind or solar energy in their home and used that energy to charge their car, then of course, the vehicle would generate no carbon emissions.
This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t build. A municipality needs to build its tax base and enhance its livability. But we should try to understand how these developments will affect local air quality and the carbon impact of our actions.
If we knew how much air pollution and carbon emissions new developments would incur, municipalities could effectively plan to attempt to prevent or mitigate the impacts.
One straightforward strategy to mitigate carbon impact is to plant more trees. My Tree Planet, a tree-planting nonprofit operating in the U.S., Canada and Africa, claims that six trees would need to be planted to offset the carbon emissions for every internal combustion vehicle. every year. That would mean planting 1,056 trees every year in Pleasantville to offset the possible 173 new internal combustion vehicles from the three new developments.
That’s clearly unrealistic. But more trees could and should be planted in order to create more shade in this warming world, help store carbon, absorb pollution and further beautify the village. More trees might also improve property values.
Trees absorb tailpipe emissions, including nitrous oxide, ozone and sulfur dioxide. They also help pull dangerous particulates from the air.
It would take 100 trees to remove 52 pounds of carbon dioxide and 430 pounds of other air pollutants every year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Also, the town could purchase carbon offsets through a certified provider, such as Green Mountain Energy, which invests in clean energy projects and environmental preservation activities around the world in order to reduce carbon emissions.
Why not start with buying carbon offsets and planting more trees?
Michael Gold has published articles in The Washington Post, The Albany Times-Union and The New York Daily News. Miriam Gold provided research assistance for this article.