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As the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County’s Gary Corwin environmental law intern, working in the intersection between land use, development and climate change, the negative impacts that the proposed Meadows at Briarcliff development will have on Pocantico Lake and a county park is significant. The development would impose substantial risks to the vitality of the lake, the diversity of wildlife, the carbon sequestration benefits of a forested area and a critical habitat corridor that extends from New Castle through the New York State Rockefeller Preserve to Tarrytown. However, this information is not new to the Mount Pleasant Planning Board, who protected this area from development over 35 years ago.
While I did attend the Feb. 2 hearing, my comments were repeatedly shut down by the Planning Board, preventing me from sharing this board’s past behavior regarding development in and around Pocantico Lake. In 1987, the Mount Pleasant Planning Board rejected a petition to rezone Pocantico Lake and its surrounding area, finding that the objectives of the town’s Master Plan would be furthered by preserving the natural resources of the area. Over 35 years ago, the Mount Pleasant Planning Board concluded that if it amended the zoning, the increased density and proposed construction would make it more difficult to preserve the landscape and keep the lake free from contamination.
A few months later, the Mount Pleasant Planning Board again acted to protect the area, after recognizing that Pocantico Lake “is an environmentally sensitive area that remains a potentially invaluable source of potable water that development around the site and on its watershed would inevitably produce contamination.” This board continued to defend the lake even when four consolidated Article 78 proceedings were levied against them.
My intended comments at the hearing were meant to bring awareness about how the Mount Pleasant Planning Board historically applied SEQR on applications for development adjacent to Pocantico Lake. This board’s historical determination to safeguard the critical environmental area of Pocantico Lake is even more important in 2023. Now, there is universal acknowledgement of climate change, including concerns about lack of drinking water, flooding, drought and habitat disruption. Preserving natural resources and public parks, such as the county-owned Pocantico Lake Park, will allow for greater opportunity to mitigate the harshest effects of climate change. Specifically, Pocantico Lake may even serve as an alternative potable water resource, but only if it remains free from contamination.
The Mount Pleasant Planning Board must stand by its past precedent to preserve Pocantico Lake and the surrounding area. The proposed design of 31 homes on 11 acres surrounded by an environmentally sensitive area adjacent to Pocantico Lake would result in the exact situation that this board wished to avoid over 35 years ago.
Gary Corwin Environmental Law Intern
Federated Conservationists of Westchester County
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