The New Castle Zoning Board of Appeals approved a special use permit Wednesday night for the Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehabilitation Center expansion project but opponents vowed to continue litigating despite sustaining a setback in court.
At a brief special meeting at Town Hall, the board voted 3-0 to grant the permit and issue a negative declaration of environmental significance allowing the applicant to bypass additional environmental scrutiny under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Board Chairman Kenneth Cooper and member Michael Nolan were absent.
“What this means is the project is going to move ahead and the children are going to have a place to live,” said Mark Weingarten, the attorney representing Sunshine Children’s Home, after the vote. “We’re thrilled for that.”
Sunshine, which cares for medically fragile children, plans to expand its current 19,000-square-foot facility at 15 Spring Valley Rd. in the west end of New Castle to more than 143,000 square feet. That will enable the facility to increase from 54 to 122 beds.
Originally the permit and variances were granted in September 2016 but had to be re-approved after the applicant made revisions to the project.
During the past three years Sunshine has faced an onslaught of community opposition from neighbors in the west end and in Ossining who have argued that the expansion would be excessive and would be situated in an inappropriately rural area where access is difficult and water, roads and fire protection are inadequate to accommodate a significantly larger facility.
A group of about eight residents filed an Article 78 in late 2016 arguing that there are potential significant environmental impacts. Glendale Road residents Cynthia and Jeffrey Manocherian also filed an Article 78, although the two pieces of litigation were later combined.
Earlier on Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Paul Marx ruled in favor of Sunshine Children’s Home in the combined Article 78, saying that the zoning board acted appropriately in granting the permit as well as variances.
Weingarten said having the judge rule in their favor on the Article 78 is the most significant decision because it determined that the town and ZBA acted properly in the environmental review process.
Adam Stolorow, the attorney for the petitioners in the litigation, said the neighbors will continue to contest the decisions from the ZBA and also the Planning Board. Not only will they appeal Wednesday’s ruling but they plan to file a third Article 78 based on the ZBA’s latest vote, Stolorow said. They have 30 days to file notice for both.
“Clearly, we’re extremely disappointed in the decision and we’re weighing our options for appeal but we’re by no means done fighting this,” Stolorow said.
He said when the ZBA was considering the revised permit it mistakenly considered a very narrow scope, failing to weigh other factors such as their arguments of radium found in well water and unauthorized construction activity performed by Sunshine last fall relating to one of three wells at the site.
“For a project of this size, it’s unheard of that it was allowed to go through with a negative declaration and not have a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS),” Stolorow said.
A couple of the neighbors said they were suspicious of the timing of the decision, which came just hours before the scheduled vote, as well as the ZBA’s refusal to consider an EIS. Spring Valley Road resident Dr. Scott Forman said for the town not to call for an EIS when it forces some of the most rigorous reviews for relatively minor projects is puzzling.
“Something doesn’t smell right,” Forman said. “It’s a complete steamroller and these guys (on the ZBA) are sitting here and it’s all going over their heads. It’s because they don’t even know what’s going on and they have no understanding at all of the greater Teatown area.”
Cynthia Manocherian said it appears that the town permitted Sunshine, a for-profit outfit, to put money over the safety of the children.
“They recover from Medicare $400,000-plus per bed per year. So there are 54 beds. They want to go to 122 beds,” she said. “The math is obvious and the kids don’t seem to be the priority.”
Sunshine will soon move forward with satisfying the series of conditions outlined in the approval, Weingarten said. After complying with the conditions, it is estimated there will be a 18- to 24-month construction period.
“We’re going to address them (the conditions) one step at a time as we have throughout this process,” Weingarten said.
A public meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at Town Hall involving Sunshine, the public and New Castle town staff and its consultants regarding the well monitoring program that Sunshine has proposed for the facility. It is scheduled for 7 p.m.