For more than two years, a group of residents, mainly from New Castle’s west end and neighboring Ossining, have been fighting a large expansion of the Sunshine Children’s Home & Rehabilitation Center.
During the nearly identical time period, residents along Quaker Ridge Road in the extreme southern portion of Cortlandt have been battling the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center’s proposed substance abuse facility that would house as many as 92 patients.
Some of those same Cortlandt residents have also opposed plans by the Danish Home on Quaker Bridge Road East in Croton-on-Hudson that would permit Verizon to clear-cut more than 50 trees to build a cell tower.
Until now, the loosely-knit groups of residents have fought each project individually, sometimes unaware of what was going on just across the town lines where four municipalities – New Castle, Ossining, Cortlandt and Yorktown – converge.
But in early August they joined forces to form The Greater Teatown Defense Alliance (GTDA), hoping that a collective effort will put the brakes on some of the large-scale development they argue is inappropriate for the area and could jeopardize the environmentally sensitive corridor.
“It’s been people coming together sitting in kitchens and living rooms and trying to find a way to raise our voices to preserve the greater Teatown area,” said Karen Wells, an outspoken critic of the proposed Sunshine Home expansion on Spring Valley Road that would add about 128,000 square feet to the current facility and more than double its bed count to 118.
“Part of that is working together for the community, and as part of that process, as we sit in these kitchens and living rooms, we’ve been reaching out to families asking them to chip in to pay for the experts and the attorneys we need to defend ourselves from these companies,” Wells added.
Although opponents have sometimes been characterized as anti-development and NIMBYS, Cortlandt resident Joel Greenstein, part of The Citizens for Responsible Hudson Institute Site Development that is opposing the Hudson Ridge project and is now part of the Alliance, said the most effective argument against that application is the town’s zoning code, which requires that type of facility to be sited on a state road. Quaker Ridge Road is a rural town road, he said.
In fact, his municipality’s town board has come out in favor of Hudson Ridge being moved to a Medical Oriented District (MOD) near the NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital Center, which is at odds with the town zoning board, Greenstein said.
He said inappropriate development in greater Teatown places a strain on natural resources and infrastructure, including water, sewer and roads.
“The roads are very narrow, there are no sidewalks, no shoulders, no lights,” Greenstein said. “So I think the trend is it should be in a more appropriate area as designated by being on a state road or in an MOD in the Town of Cortlandt.”
Wells said moving Hudson Ridge to the MOD would also provide desperately needed tax revenue to the Hendrick Hudson School District, which could be decimated once the scheduled closure of Indian Point occurs in four years.
She dismissed any notion that the group is anti-development. As part of its mission statement, GTDA “welcomes those proposals that enhance our community, strengthen our future, assist those in need of comfort and care, and respects the environment.”
One of the challenges facing the residents is how each town has jurisdiction of what is proposed within its borders. While the immediate neighbors in Ossining were noticed on the Sunshine Home review, according to New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein, many in New Castle had little idea what was going on minutes away on the Cortlandt side of the border.
Wells said that Ossining and Cortlandt have been largely receptive to the residents’ request to consider more appropriate locations for large projects, but there has been pushback in New Castle. The group must still meet with Yorktown officials.
Greenstein, the New Castle supervisor, said the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which oversaw granting of the special permit and two variances for Sunshine Children’s Home, is an independent board.
He said he would like to see his town form a task force to address issues outside its borders that affects New Castle. His idea was initially sparked to tackle the potential privatization of Westchester County Airport and should be broadened to include other projects when they arise.
“If you’re looking at changing the process, it is basically giving outside people the ability to influence what happens here in New Castle,” Greenstein said. “That’s already part of most applications when other municipalities are listed as interested parties.”
But New Castle Councilwoman Hala Makowska said she is supportive of the four municipalities sharing more information through their planning departments when there are significant projects in the area covering roughly 8,000 acres.
Makowska concedes she is in the minority on her board but it’s something that needs to be considered because the large projects can potentially have far greater impacts.
“I think when you have intermunicipal areas with a shared sense of place and boundaries and infrastructure, you can work together to try and support the area,” Makowska said.
Wells said as noble as the efforts of the outfits proposing the projects may seem, they shouldn’t be allowed to run roughshod over local zoning.
“These are projects that are about making money,” Wells said. “Sure, they have great missions, (but) the only way we can do that is to sit down and have a discussion about the right place for where this type of development is.”