By Karen Wells
The Examiner’s recent investigation into the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center (“Big Dollars, High Stakes Embroil Cortlandt Rehab Proposal,” Sept. 7-13, Northern Westchester Examiner) covers a wide breadth of community concerns, from traffic to the environment to the developer’s background. These are critical issues which the town must consider, but we must also consider whether this facility will truly serve our community.
When I and fellow Cortlandt residents raise red flag after red flag about the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center, it is because our community and our neighbors deserve community-focused addiction treatment and support. Many of us concerned about this proposal have firsthand experience with addiction and the ways of the rampant cash-centric treatment industry. These experiences have made us dedicated advocates for high-quality community-based care that provides effective, long-term treatment and is available to all – not just the 1 percent.
Our concerns about Hudson Ridge Wellness are based on this fundamental desire for dignified and accessible care for our community, and we believe the Town of Cortlandt should NOT bend its established rules for a facility that will not deliver that dignified, effective and accessible care for our community members.
At its proposed location, the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center cannot be built as-of-right. In fact, it would require the town to blatantly disregard local zoning law altogether. The developer has applied for a special permit that would allow a community hospital in a residential area, and the law requires the facility to be on a state road so emergency vehicles can have immediate, easy access. As planned, this facility will not be a community hospital and Quaker Ridge Road is certainly not a state road; it’s a small, winding residential street.
In short, the developer is asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to waive well-established rules to allow a for-profit project. All of this despite the project’s focus on serving wealthy non-residents, extensive impacts on a residential area and an unrealistic project plan that cannot deliver the type of dignified environment those brave enough to seek treatment deserve.
If a reliable owner-operator wants to build an appropriately sized facility that will truly serve the local community and provide the proper living environment while minimizing community impacts on essentials like water and access to emergency services, then and only then is it appropriate to discuss allowing the community hospital exemption to be used.
If the developer does not want to take this approach but would rather build a large for-profit business meant to serve wealthy out-of-towners, other options exist. For example, there is a 31-acre parcel only six minutes away from the proposed site that qualifies as-of-right. In other words, this developer would not have to ask the town to bend the rules.
Unlike the proposed Hudson Ridge Wellness location, this alternative site has municipal water and sewer connections, reliable access for emergency vehicles and connections to public transportation. I am not suggesting this is where the project should be built, but I am highlighting it so everyone can understand there are as-of-right alternatives that the developer has actively decided not to pursue.
Since the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center was first proposed six years ago, neighbors have had a singular goal: basic transparency so that if a facility is built, we can be assured it will be done in a manner that minimizes impacts and provides accessible and effective care for community members in a dignified living environment. Yet, we have been stonewalled every step of the way and falsely attacked by the developer’s attorney as being against addiction treatment.
Thanks to The Examiner’s reporting, we now have more information and we hope to make progress in resolving this matter.
The town has a simple choice: bend local zoning laws that have been in place for years to take a gamble on a for-profit enterprise and let this non-community-focused facility be built in a residential neighborhood or follow the laws on the books and deny their application unless it is modified to deliver what the laws require. The correct decision is obvious.
Karen Wells is a Croton-on-Hudson resident and an opponent of the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center proposal.