More than two dozen speakers repeatedly highlighted significant shortcomings in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) presented to the Mount Pleasant Planning Board last week for a proposed controversial cluster subdivision in an environmentally sensitive area.
Speakers continually raised potentially alarming concerns about the Meadows at Briarcliff during a two-and-a-half-hour public hearing on Feb. 2 regarding the DEIS. Developer Jim Zappi, the principal of ZappiCo Real Estate Development of Hawthorne, has proposed a 31-lot subdivision on 36.8 acres near the shores of Lake Pocantico at 715 Sleepy Hollow Rd. The proposed clustering would conserve about 20 acres as greenspace, Zappi said.
Nearby residents and environmental advocates criticized the applicant’s responses to a late 2021 scoping session on a wide range of issues, including protection of the lake, loss of habitat caused by the proposed clearing of up to six acres of forest, traffic and density. Several of those who commented said the applicant offered no alternative showing less than 31 residences, the number that was offered in the conventional subdivision plan. Briarcliff Manor resident David Mallett called the 31-house plan “irresponsible.”
“The applicant doesn’t have a right to build 31 houses,” Mallett said. “It’s up to this board to determine that. The community and this board must reject the applicant’s scurrilous notion that they’re allowed to build 31 homes, and that the only matter worthy of the board’s attention is how to do so.”
Several speakers called for the Planning Board to require Zappi to prepare and submit a supplemental DEIS, one that shows a realistic alternative plan. Attorney Adam Stolorow, representing a group called Save Pocantico Lake, said the conventional subdivision plan shows that the east side of the project is built nearly entirely on steep slopes, which is not a serious proposal, therefore requiring the supplemental document.
“If I showed up as the applicant’s attorney and asked you to subdivide two lots and I said one of them is going to be nice and flat, the other one is going to be 100 percent steep slopes, you would not approve that subdivision,” Stolorow said. “That is something the board would do in the board’s judgment because it would guarantee that steep slopes are going to be disturbed on that lot and that is something that the town code and the steep slopes protection law seeks to prevent.”
Opponents of the project have pointed not only to the beauty of the area, which is next to a county park, but territory that New York State determined was a Critical Environmental Area more than 30 years ago. Pocantico Lake has at times in the past been used as a backup drinking water source for communities around the county.
Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) Chair Steven Kavee said multiple items contained in the DEIS are inaccurate and in need of revision. For instance, the CAC disputes the description that the wetlands have no habitat value and that the forest has no invasive plants, he said, and if the forest had no invasives in it, that would make it unique and worthy of conservation, according to Kavee.
“The fact that there could possibly be no invasive plants in a multiacre forest is surely inaccurate, and goes to the question of thoroughness of the DEIS and some of the accuracy,” Kavee said.
He said steep slope disturbance for the project would trigger 17,000 cubic yards of fill to be taken out of the site, an enormous amount of material requiring roughly 750 truck trips. Therefore, there would be concern that stormwater could infiltrate the fill and run off into the lake, possibly contaminating the water body, Kavee added.
The town should hire its own consultant and subtract steeps slopes and wetlands from the buildable lot count.
“To deduct the steep slopes and wetlands from the lot count is good planning, it allows growth, development, but conserves our limited and diminishing natural resources that provides clean air, clean water, protection habitat and biodiversity and mitigates the impacts of climate change and is consistent and guided by the Comprehensive Plan,” Kavee said.
Others also said that the plan would be inconsistent with the recently updated Comprehensive Plan. Sleepy Hollow Road resident Nancy Rogers Golodetz said the Comprehensive Plan envisioned cluster housing in the hamlets, not in residential neighborhoods, particularly an area as sensitive as this area.
Golodetz also said that steep slopes and wetlands must be deducted in any calculation.
“Again, 31 houses into less than 10 buildable acres in a one-acre zoned neighborhood definitely does not align with that goal,” she said.
Some residents criticized the traffic study. Resident Lawrence Friedman called it “fatally flawed” because it assumes that Metro-North commuters who live in the development would go to the Pleasantville or Scarborough stations. He and others in the neighborhood who commute drive to Tarrytown.
“Because of the traffic study and the impact on the traffic on Sleepy Hollow Road and Sleepy Hollow Road Extension, is based on the false premise that residents of this development will use the Scarborough station and the Pleasantville station,” Friedman said. “It needs to be done in the supplemental DEIS.”
It had been more than a year since comments were delivered in a public session on the Meadows at Briarcliff plan since the closure of the scoping session. In 2021, the Planning Board gave the proposal a positive declaration, which means the potential for significant adverse environmental impact, triggering more robust review under state law.
Nearly a year ago, a county advisory board recommended Westchester purchase the land. However, one of the attorneys for the applicant, Kory Salomone, said the county has not made any overtures to Zappi in that time.
The public hearing was adjourned until Mar. 30.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/