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Heated Opposition Returns to Pocantico Lake Subdivision Hearing
By Michael Gold
A lineup of speakers unanimously expressed vehement opposition to the proposed cluster development of 31 homes near Pocantico Lake at a contentious public hearing last Thursday evening, attacking the developer’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
Similar to the first two sessions of the hearing before the Mount Pleasant Planning Board in February and March, participants outlined what they characterized as multiple deficiencies in the document. Shortcomings raised last week included the failure to mitigate possible rock blasting; the lack of percolation testing to complete stormwater runoff plans; the absence of steps to protect drinking water and wildlife habitation; how construction materials could pollute Pocantico Lake; and how the increased truck traffic carrying those materials could impact the area.
Simmering tension was evident when Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) Chair Steven Kavee requested that the CAC be allowed to make a site visit to the 36.8-acore property at 715 Sleepy Hollow Rd. in Briarcliff Manor. Brian Zappi, vice president for applicant ZappiCo Real Estate Development, responded “I’ll give it some thought.”
That drew boos from several in the crowd of about 50 people, prompting Planning Board Chairman James Collins to shout, “This is not a rally!”
Collins then asked Zappi if he could make a decision about whether to permit Kavee to make the site visit within a few days. Shortly after, Zappi said he would arrange a visit.
Among the many opponents was Sleepy Hollow Road resident Maureen Petry, who said the developer continually “sidesteps” the issue of blasting.
“Should the use of fill prove impractical or too environmentally unsound, as has been testified to by many residents and experts, there is nothing in the DEIS that addresses mitigation of the negative impacts of blasting,” Petry said. “Given the terrain of the property and the extremely large nature of the proposed project, it is likely that blasting will have to occur.”
Nancy Rogers Golodetz, another Sleepy Hollow Road resident, said stormwater runoff plans are unreliable without percolation testing, which would evaluate the soil’s capacity to absorb and drain water. She also said that the DEIS hasn’t assessed the downstream impacts of the development on Rockefeller Preserve, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Phillipsburg Manor, Fremont Pond, the estuary that abuts Metro-North property, Kingsland Point Park, and ultimately, the Hudson.
She reiterated previous allegations that portions of the DEIS had been plagiarized, citing Teatown conversation biologist Dr. Amy Karpati’s statement at a previous session that text was copied from the New York Natural Heritage Program, a database on New York State’s biodiversity.
“Given this plagiarism, Dr. Karpati concluded that the applicant’s ‘discussion of the potential impacts to the on-site ecological community is not credible or scientifically sound,’” Golodetz said.
Resident Kiona Sanders said there is potential for pollution impacts from drywall, paint, lumber, tiles and other construction materials if the development proceeds.
She lamented the prospect of “31 homes built with all that toxic stuff in a park so unique. You have the power to keep this park for future generations.”
Another resident, John Petry, said there were flaws in the project’s viewshed analysis and that the project would impact views from multiple areas. He said it was hard to believe the reliability of a balloon test, which concluded there would be no visual impact from 31 4,000-square-foot houses that are clustered on lots that experienced clear-cutting.
“The DEIS submitted by the applicant is deficient in illustrating the dramatic impact the project will have on the viewsheds from the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pocantico Lake Park and neighborhood views from Sleepy Hollow Road,” Petry said.
“Based on the map below, we can clearly see that the development as proposed has direct visual impact on all areas of Rockefeller State Park,” he added. “In all cases, the DEIS does not fully show the visual impact of a cluster of large houses built on fill at the top of a hill.”
Kavee explained that the CAC is requesting another site visit because its previous visit in March 2022 occurred before the DEIS was written. The CAC also has two new members.
“The DEIS and the public hearings provided more detail on the application and the range of environmental issues,” Kavee stated in an e-mail. “A site visit will provide field observations to clarify and put everything we now know into physical context.”
The Planning Board recently made a site visit but the CAC was not permitted to join, he stated.
Adam Stolorow, an attorney representing Save Pocantico Lake, a group of citizens opposing the project, wrote in an e-mail after the meeting that the group has submitted five expert reports demonstrating numerous deficiencies in the DEIS. Among the issues he cited are lack of analysis on habitat corridors given the property’s key location between Rockefeller State Park and Pocantico Lake County Park; failure to discuss the presence of several bird species that have been listed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in “greatest conservation need”; the lack of analysis regarding the effects on Pocantico Lake from the project’s massive change in stormwater handling on the site; and improper reliance on a future Homeowners Association to monitor and enforce any restrictions on pesticides, fertilizers and road salts.
“Mount Pleasant has lost 730 acres of forest since 2021 (10 percent of all its forest land) – the third highest rate in Westchester,” Stolorow responded in an e-mail. “Although the Town’s Comprehensive Plan requires the Town to proactively conserve forests and ‘aggressively protect’ open space, the proposed subdivision would increase the rate of deforestation in the Town and endanger remaining forested habitat on site.”
The Planning Board is waiting for the completion of a written site report by an environmental consultant. Kavee said the consultant’s report should be supplemented by another site visit.
After hearing the speakers, the Planning Board voted unanimously to close the oral portion of the public hearing and allow a written comment period to remain open for 45 days.
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