EnvironmentThe Examiner

New Environmental Concerns Raised Over Proposed North Greeley Building

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Questions were raised last week by opponents of the currently-proposed 50-unit apartment building on Chappaqua’s North Greeley Avenue over rumored contamination at the site and whether the structure will be as environmentally friendly as advertised.

Residents United to Save the Chappaqua Hamlet (RUSCH) submitted a letter to town officials prior to the resumption of the public hearing last week on the special permit legislation that the site has a history of industrial uses dating back to the 19th century that the town has failed to consider.

On Sept. 5, the Town Board was presented with a draft negative declaration for the project by Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull, meaning the project would pose no significant adverse environmental impacts under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

But resident Margaret Ferguson, who has raised a host of other issues criticizing the project, including how the building would be out of character with the hamlet, said she was approached by a couple of residents about the history of the site, which was owned by the operating railway in the late 1800s and has had a variety of industrial uses through the mid-20th century.

Furthermore, 54 Hunts Place, the site of the current Conifer affordable housing building, was a known brownfield site and is just about 100 yards away, and another parcel to its north, 136 N. Greeley Ave., was also a former industrial site, Ferguson said. With runoff and other factors, contaminants have been known to travel several miles to impact other sites, Ferguson said.

“Two residents brought up the long-rumored contamination in that area and asked me what the town was doing about it,” Ferguson said. “That’s how it was brought to my attention, two longtime residents.”

But Hull and planning consultant Nanette Bourne cited a review of the history of the site dating back to 1870, and there has been no evidence of contamination uncovered.

“In our review, we have examined all of the state records regarding the history of contaminated sites, very much like the brownfield site at 54 Hunts Place, and that was listed all over the place,” Hull said. “We have looked at all the records the applicant has provided and confirmed there is no contamination at this site or suspected contamination on this site.”

Bourne said should the project be approved and contaminated soils are discovered once the site is disturbed during construction, the applicant will be required to clean up the site at their expense.

Ferguson said that residents collaborated to hire their own hydrogeologist to study the risks to groundwater and public health.

Later in the hearing, another project critic, Chuck Napoli, doubted whether the four-story building that would also contain more than 6,400 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, could ever achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The volume of materials for the building and development of the site would make the project far less sustainable than proposed.

“This is four stories, and the amount of concrete that’s going into this thing is colossal,” Napoli said.

“(There’s) embodied carbon in this building just in the foundation and the slab alone that no way can a stupid little wood building on top of it come anywhere near a (net) zero, environmentally-friendly building,” he added. “That’s what it was sold as, and it’s not anymore.”

Hull said the legislation proposed for the building will require heightened environmental standards.

“With all due respect, this building is being held to a higher green building standard and energy efficiency standard than anything that is being constructed today – and that is what’s in the legislation,” she said.

Sustainability Advisory Board Chair Kent Thomas said while the building goes in the right direction “there’s room to improve.” The legislation falls short of being groundbreaking unless the town requires that renewable energy is used for the building including through solar and green roofs, he said.

Other issues raised by RUSCH in its letter were concerns that the town is relying on the traffic analysis from the developer’s traffic consultant, who used flawed and inaccurate data to reach conclusions about the minimal impact on the downtown and that there would be no guarantee that the building would look like the renderings that have been offered.

Ferguson said additional reports on behalf of RUSCH are expected to be submitted to the town.

The board was split on whether to close the hearing and for how long to keep open public comments. By a 3-2 vote, the board did close the hearing but agreed to leave open the written public comment period until noon on Monday, Oct. 2. Given the questions that were raised and more reports due in the upcoming week from RUSCH consultants, councilmembers Victoria Tipp and Ally Chemtob opposed closing the hearing last week.

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