On The Street

Mt. Pleasant Natural Resources Inventory to Improve Land Use Decision-Making

Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

We are part of The Trust Project

By Michael Gold

As Westchester County’s population increases, the county may realize gains in economic growth, but also the possible loss of remaining open space, and impacts on the county’s air and water, stormwater flooding, increased traffic and residents’ quality of life.

Westchester County’s population grew to 997,895 in 2021, from 950,760 in 2010, a 5 percent increase, according to USA Facts, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that analyzes government data.

Westchester gained 15,000 residents from New York City in 2020 alone (after deducting 10,000 people who left Westchester for the city), reports Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a nonprofit research group. Dutchess County gained almost 5,000 residents, and Putnam got about 1,000 residents during the same period, Pattern for Progress found.

Mount Pleasant’s Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) is undertaking a Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) to investigate what open space the municipality contains, including forests, wetlands, bodies of water, flood plains, wildlife habitats and rare plant and animal species living in the area, as well as scenic roads, historic sites and recreation areas. The purpose of the study is to help Mount Pleasant’s planning and town boards make more informed land use decisions.

The town’s CAC was awarded $17,500 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to conduct the research.

The DEC’s NRI grant funds are available to every municipality in the Hudson River estuary watershed. The program works throughout the 10 counties bordering the tidal Hudson River, from upper New York Harbor to the federal dam in Troy.

“This project received funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund through a grant to the town from the Hudson River Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC),” the DEC stated in an e-mail.

“By visualizing an area’s resources – where they occur and how they relate to each other, their surroundings, and existing development – an NRI provides a strong foundation for informed land-use planning and decision-making,” the DEC’s website states.

“The NRI is a really valuable tool,” said Ingrid Haeckel, a conservation and land use specialist with the DEC. “The NRI can lay out what the resources are, their importance to the community and threats to those resources.”

The NRI is “creating an online map system available to everyone,” explained Steven Kavee, chairman of the Mount Pleasant CAC. “It’s a tool to see areas of concern. Natural resource protection is very important. The NRI will describe large parcels with natural resources, how they’re valuable and what measures should be considered to protect them.”

All the parks in town will be listed, as well as large areas of woodlands. Also, the NRI will be able to identify where there are wetlands and how they can be protected by the town’s land use codes.

“It gives us a greater sense of where the impacts are of development,” Kavee explained. “The more information people have about our environmental resources from natural areas, the better we’re going to be able to cope with challenges, among them climate change, the increased intensity and frequency of storms and heat.”

Woodlands, for example, provide shade to help cool the air in summer. Wetlands help manage stormwater during heavy rains.

“Forested areas are cooler than a parking lot,” Kavee said. “Forests help moderate temperature.”

Also, the NRI will help identify climate threats to animals in their habitats, including everything from small mammals and reptiles to beneficial insects, such as bees.

The map the NRI has generated identifies a number of unprotected open space properties in Mount Pleasant, including a 400-acre Girl Scout site in Briarcliff Manor; Fox Hill Farms, a horse-riding facility next to Rockefeller State Park; the controversial Meadows at Briarcliff, which a developer wants to use to build 29 houses on a 36.8-acre site on Pocantico Lake; the 30-acre Taconic Tract; and the 265-acre Legion of Christ property in Thornwood, which luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers is in contract to purchase.

As part of the NRI, Mount Pleasant sent out a survey by e-mail and social media last year, asking residents to offer their opinions on protecting the environment in the boundaries of the town, with 339 responses. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of natural resources in providing clean water and flood protection, removing pollutants and carbon dioxide from the air, using or expanding green space to moderate temperature and offering recreational opportunities, preserving habitat and clean water for wildlife and pollinating plants and crops and protecting property values.

In the survey, 96 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that protecting woodlands is beneficial to the town. A nearly identical percentage – 94 percent – agreed or strongly agreed that protecting wetlands and watercourses is beneficial.

The full survey results are posted on the CAC’s section of the Mount Pleasant town website.

Thirty-seven communities have completed NRIs in the Hudson River estuary watershed, including Mount Kisco, New Castle and Pound Ridge.

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.