On The Street

Taking a Walk Around Pocantico Lake and Why it Matters

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Water from the Pocantico River flowing over rocks on its way to the Hudson River. It’s near where a controversial 31-lot subdivision is proposed.

By Michael Gold

The proposal to build a 31-lot subdivision in the Pocantico Lake area will entail the clearing of six acres of woodland.

The property on which the Meadows at Briarcliff development would be constructed is close to a state park, a county park and a village park, providing a green home for birds, turtles and other animals.

The Village of Briarcliff Pocantico Park is below the ridge on the northern end of Pocantico Lake. Pocantico Lake County Park is on the eastern side of the lake. Rockefeller State Park is on the southern end of the property.

I recently walked in the public parklands near the property, with John Petry and his son, John Jr., who live across the street from the top slope of the proposed development. Accompanying us was Steve Kavee, chair of the Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council (CAC). Kavee’s request to conduct a second site visit of the property, at a May 4 Planning Board meeting, was denied by the applicant after the hearing.

Petry drove us from his house to the entrance to Pocantico Lake County Park. A turtle, about the size of a small child’s fist, was on the ground near our feet. Rockefeller State Park was on our right, and the Pocantico River was to our left, flowing over rocks on its way to the Hudson. The trees seemed to dip their branches toward the water as if they were trying to get a sip.

We walked along the riverside, climbed a grassy slope and at the top, got a good view of Pocantico Lake, a clear jewel giving us a mirror image of the trees that have grown right to the edge of the water. Then we tramped on a trail curving around the lake.

Pocantico Lake, downslope from the proposed construction site, has been designated a Critical Environmental Area by New York State.

Pocantico Lake and its watershed property are listed, among other state sites, as having an “exceptional or unique character,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website. The DEC explains that “A Critical Environmental Area is a geographic area with exceptional or unique character with respect to one or more of the following: a feature that is a benefit or threat to human health; an exceptional or unique natural setting; an exceptional or unique social, historic, archeological, recreational or educational value; or an inherent ecological, geological or hydrological sensitivity to change that may be adversely affected by any physical disturbance.” (Source: https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6184.html)

“It is a beautiful lake, a treasure,” said John Jr., a frequent visitor to the parks.

“It would be a tragedy for the community if the development were to destroy the beautiful views and natural resource of this area. They would be clear-cutting the forest,” he said.

About six acres of forest would be cleared to build the project, Kavee wrote in an e-mail, citing CAC documents.

“The loss of the woodlands creates fragmentation of the habitat corridor that connects the large parcels surrounding the site,” Kavee wrote.

As we walked, John Sr. pointed out the top of the cliff where the homes would be built, with a little patch of fading westerly sunlight peeking through the tree canopy at the ridgeline.

The developer will bring in roughly 750 truckloads containing more than 16,000 cubic yards of fill, the CAC estimates. The fill would be used to top off the slope above the lake, John Sr. said.

“That amount of fill is its own disturbance,” Kavee explained. “Mount Pleasant should want to make sure the fill is clean.”

“It is the possible contaminants within the fill that could eventually find its way into the lake, along with pesticides and other pollutants from homeowners, including fertilizer,” Kavee wrote in an e-mail.

John Sr. said that the proposed houses would have a direct view into the state park, which could provide the homeowners a spectacular sight. But, from the state park, “you could see a wall of 30 homes,” he said. In other words, the homeowners would enjoy a state-subsidized scene of natural beauty, and state park visitors might well see something quite different.

“The density of the proposed development is completely out of scale to surrounding neighborhoods,” John Sr. said.

“Ultimately,” Kavee wrote in an e-mail, “some development of the site may be approved. The degree to which this will conform to existing codes and the town’s comprehensive plan, both of which recognize the important benefits of natural resource protection, has to be balanced against the interests of the applicant in maximizing the residential lots.”

John Jr. estimated it would take “two to three years” to build all the homes, which would fill the surrounding parks with construction activity noise.

Bordering Briarcliff Park, we saw a sign that said, “Save Pocantico Lake.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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