In 2015, attorney Mark Weingarten began appearing before the New Castle Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board advocating for the Sunshine Children’s Home and its owner Ari Friedman.
For three years, he steadfastly steered clear of offending neighbors around the home amid mounting criticism and opposition to the expansion of the Spring Valley Road facility that cares for medically fragile children. The expansion will allow the home to more than double the number of beds from 54 to 122 while increasing square footage from about 19,000 to 143,000 square feet.
Following the ZBA’s approval of a special permit last May, Sunshine began site work this winter even as three lawsuits remain in various stages of litigation. But last week Weingarten strenuously defended accusations leveled against his client ranging from motivations of profit to his law firm holding influence over state Supreme Court justices.
“He’s an incredible person. He has great faith in God, he believes in the children and he believes in his cause,” Weingarten said of Friedman who bought the facility about a decade ago and has two of his children as residents. “I know that he is terribly disappointed as to how this has transpired.”
What has transpired has been a level of distrust that has metastasized and is unusual even for a large and controversial development project. Whether it’s impact on wells, questions over the anticipated blasting this spring and the potential effect on nearby silver mines, Weingarten maintained that Sunshine has been subjected to more stringent review than what is required by law.
He said the calls that there should have been a positive declaration from the ZBA are off base.
“The bottom line is every study that could have possibly been conducted in an Environmental Impact Study has already been completed and submitted,” Weingarten said. “That is why the courts have ruled it’s been an appropriate procedure. It is silly for them to suggest, having been represented by very able counsel and (for Sunshine) to have spent millions of dollars on consultants, that there are things here that weren’t studied.”
Water is perhaps the biggest issue. Weingarten said that regardless of what the neighbors have argued, Sunshine is limited to 15,000 gallons of water use a day, the current limit. It is also required to build a filtration plant to ensure the water is clean should they have to deepen their wells.
Despite doubling the number of beds in the facility, Weingarten said Sunshine will install a system that would use rainwater rather than well water for irrigation. That would free up as much as 10,000 gallons a day. At 99 gallons of water use per bed per day, that leaves the facility with leeway.
Weingarten said discussions a few years ago to bring municipal water from Ossining broke down after opponents pressured officials. A municipal water supply would have ended all debate about impacts on wells.
“To me, that’s what exposes them,” he said. “They’re trying to raise issues to stop the expansion. They really don’t care about the water.”
However, Adam Stolorow, the attorney for Glendale Road resident Cynthia Manocherian, who is one of the litigants against Sunshine, flatly denied that claim. He said it sparked further development fears even though New Castle officials were exploring it to bring more water into the west end of town for fire protection.
But an intermunicipal agreement and creation of a water district that would involve Sunshine required it being included in the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process, Stolorow argued.
“Buying municipal water would be a big project and it’s for Sunshine’s expansion, so if you’re going to do it, you have to look at the impacts along with the impacts of the project,” Stolorow said. “And then it died.”