The Examiner

Proposed New Castle Hotel, Condos Trigger Environmental Concerns

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Stephen Oder, of Soder Real Estate Equities makes a presentation about The Spa at New Castle.
Stephen Oder, of Soder Real Estate Equities makes a presentation about The Spa at New Castle.

Residents neighboring a 98-acre parcel in New Castle where a mixed use development has been proposed warned town officials last week of numerous environmental and quality-of-life issues that could arise if the project is approved.

The Jan. 28 scoping session at town hall for The Spa at New Castle, the first formal public forum in the extensive environmental review, featured discussion for more than an hour and a half, including comments from at least 15 residents and a presentation by applicant Soder Real Estate Equities of Montclair, N.J.

The developer is proposing 50 two-bedroom condominium units measuring about 2,500 square feet each, 34 hotel suites and a 150-seat restaurant on a portion of the property currently owned by the Legionaries of Christ at 773 Armonk Rd. (Route 128). Soder Real Estate, the contract vendee that would purchase the land if approvals are obtained, would need a zoning change from two-acre residential to a special floating zone granted by the town board for the project to be accommodated.

Current plans call for the existing main structure to be used but new east and west wings would be built to house the condominium units, said Stephen Oder, head of Soder Real Estate Equities. Four of the hotel suites would be located in the property’s mansion.

Other features include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts and walking trails for the public.

“We want this to be open to the community,” said Stephen Oder, head of Soder Real Estate Equities. “We’re not really closing this. It’s not going to be a closed facility. The spa will be open to the public, the restaurant will be open to the public, the hotel obviously will be open to the public and we invite the community in. We think this will be great for the community itself.”

However, residents of Tripp Street and Route 128 raised concerns over how such a large operation, much of it commercial, could be considered for an area that is clearly rural with environmental obstacles and extensive wildlife.

“The area is a treasure,” said Tripp Street resident Steve Krongard. “It’s a treasure for the residents, it’s a treasure for the Town of New Castle. It’s not a treasure for private investors.”

One of the most pressing environmental concerns is how sewage would be handled and how that could affect neighboring properties. Soder Real Estate is currently proposing a septic field for the site but also plans to study the feasibility of an on-site sewage treatment facility and connections to public sewers in the area, said the applicant’s attorney David Steinmetz.

Oder said preliminary tests done at the site have shown that septic field capacity could accommodate up to 140 bedrooms. The 50 two-bedroom units and the 34 hotel suites would put the project within that range, he said.

Residents countered, however, that there are other matters that could impact water and sewage capacity. Neighbor Randy Faust said a large restaurant and pools and showers should require much more scrutiny than simply counting bedrooms.

“There’s a lot of other issues beside just room count when you’re talking about a commercial venture, ” Faust said. “The property should be looked at not as a residential number of rooms, (but) what do you need to put up a commercial building to get people in and out, and you’re putting up a hotel that has full services.”

Another resident, Judy Fensterman, said stormwater runoff on the property is already an issue without new development, calling the site “unbelievably wet.” With so much water in the area during rainy spells, she said she feared that her and her neighbors’ septics and wells would be threatened.

Fensterman also mentioned that the property is a habitat for a wide range of animals that would likely be displaced.

“I have the joy every day of looking out of nearly every window in the back of my house and seeing families of deer,” she said. “The other day I saw a fox run behind my house. I see wild turkeys coming up on my patio. That is something that is priceless.”

Worries about visual impacts, including light pollution, traffic, deliveries and hours of operation were also raised by the residents. With Route 128 serving as a main connector between Mount Kisco and Armonk, some wondered whether the road would be able to handle the increase in traffic.

Tripp Street resident Jeff Goldstein said he hopes that the town board will study this application as thoroughly as Chappaqua Crossing. Supervisor Robert Greenstein and council members Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky campaigned last fall on bringing more appropriate uses to the former Reader’s Digest property other than large amounts of retail.

“You’re dealing with a large-scale commercial development. It should be scrutinized with the same rigor and zeal as the Chappaqua Crossing (proposal),” Goldstein said.

Brodsky and Councilman Jason Chapin said they will keep an open mind about the proposal during the long review process. Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis said the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is anticipated to take at least a year.

The board adjourned the scoping session until the Feb. 11 meeting.


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