EnvironmentGovernmentThe Examiner

Pocantico Lake Residents Gear Up for Development Fight

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The shoreline of Lake Pocantico in Mount Pleasant
The shoreline of Lake Pocantico where a 31-home subdivision has been proposed.

Residents near a secluded portion of Mount Pleasant are gathering support to fight a proposed 31-home subdivision in an environmentally-sensitive area on the shores of Pocantico Lake.

Developers Brandon and Brian Zappi, of Zappico Development Group, have proposed a cluster subdivision on 36.8 acres at 715 Sleepy Hollow Rd. that would preserve about 60 percent of the site, with each house sitting on about a half-acre of land. They also have prepared a conventional layout in the one-acre residential zone but prefer the cluster proposal because it preserves open space.

The developers outlined their plan at a June Mount Pleasant Planning Board meeting. Brian Zappi called the parcel, which they acquired last year for more than $2.3 million, “a very unique piece of property.”

“One of the biggest key elements in designing this project is making sure that we stay away from the lake, preserve and protect everything that’s between there, between the lake and the project,” he said during a June 3 presentation.

But since then, local opposition has been swelling as neighboring residents have panned the proposal as threatening the bucolic and environmentally delicate terrain that has been designated a Critical Environmental Area (CEA).

A CEA is defined by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a feature that is a benefit or threat to human health; contains exceptional or unique natural settings or has social, historic, archaeological, recreational or educational value; or contains an inherent ecological, geological or hydrological sensitivity that could be adversely affected by any physical disturbance.

A petition drive was initiated this summer by residents, urging the Mount Pleasant Planning Board, which is expected to become lead agency for the review, to issue a positive declaration. That would signal the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts and force the developers to undertake a robust review under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). A separate online petition also was launched in June.

Resident Charles Sanders said he and many of his neighbors are prepared to fight the proposal that is near 164 acres of land purchased by Westchester County in 1992 to serve as parkland and preserve the area’s natural qualities.

“We are committed to following through on this and do whatever it takes on this to enforce the rights of the public,” Sanders said.

Another resident, Todd Shapera, said nature lovers from throughout the metropolitan area come to the county-owned acreage to walk the trails and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. He said it is a popular destination for local residents to walk their dogs or go on a peaceful walk.

If the development is built, hundreds of trees would be cleared, not only destroying the view from around Pocantico Lake but habitats as well, he said. It could also jeopardize the quality of the water in the lake, which is a tributary to the Hudson River and is a backup drinking water source after having served as New Rochelle’s main source of drinking water until the late 1970s.

“The parcel that you’re talking about is the crown jewel of our county,” Shapera said. “It has all the qualities of Vermont and the Adirondacks, in an oasis here.”

In June, when the Zappi brothers presented their plan, they pledged to preserve the existing character of the community. They presented a forestation and protection plan, a traffic study and a bird study.

Following the presentation to the Planning Board, the town’s Conservation Advisory Council Chairman Steven Kavee said while the applicant offered a good preliminary description of the site, a key issue that will need to be addressed is the Critical Environmental Area.

While the developers provided some separation between the houses and the lake, there is still the chance of fertilizers and chemicals washing off the lawns, he said, Therefore, the project merits a positive declaration.

“It does go to the possibility of significant adverse conditions, which would call for a deeper SEQRA Environmental Impact Statement,” Kavee said.

Messages left for the Zappis regarding their proposal during the past week were not returned.

Sanders said he is not anti-development, but the proposal is inappropriate for the site. Several decades ago, another development in the same general area was defeated before the county bought its land for $3.7 million.

“There’s no reason why this property in the sensitive area that it is…needs to be the subject of development,” he said. “It’s insane. It’s lemming-like. We don’t need to do this.”

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