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Traffic Concerns Dominate Discussion at North 60 Public Hearing

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An artist’s rendering of the North 60 bioscience, research and development project in Valhalla.

Traffic and congestion in the vicinity of the proposed $1.2 billion North 60 bio-science, research and development center in Valhalla were the overwhelming concerns heard from Mount Pleasant residents last week.

The town’s Planning Board conducted a virtual public hearing on Feb. 3, two months after it accepted as complete the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

Fareri Associates is proposing three million square feet of new construction divided into three phases on 60 open acres on the Grasslands campus near Westchester Medical Center. The first phase would see construction of 220,000 square feet of biotech research space, a 100,000-square-foot hotel, 100,000 square feet of medical offices and 80,000 square feet of retail.

Kevin Molnar, director of design for Fareri Associates, said off-site improvements such as construction of a connector road to Route 9A, traffic signal timing improvement near the site, regular monitoring for potential additional signalization, turn lanes and a possible roundabout would mitigate the extra volume to the area.

“This is a great tool for the Town of Mount Pleasant to make sure everything we have presented is flowing as we all hope it will and is expected to,” Molnar said.

Bradhurst Avenue resident Glenn Accocella said his street and other roads in the area are already overloaded, and with the amount of traffic North 60 is likely to generate, it is unlikely the roads are going to be able to handle that additional volume.

He suggested that the Planning Board require the applicant to receive permission from the state Department of Transportation to build an access road between the site and the Sprain Parkway.

“This area is a challenging area with the roadways,” Accocella said. “It’s a large project, the biggest the county has ever seen, and with all the other projects going on in Mount Pleasant, the roads have to be looked at.”

Hawthorne resident Daniel Blaize said he’s heard a lot of talk about the anticipated benefits of the project but little about how the traffic is going to be handled, which will depend mainly on the existing road network. When fully built out, North 60 will feature more than 2.1 million square feet of biotech space, 400,000 square feet of medical offices and a 142,000-square-foot living science center and museum, in addition to the retail and hotel.

Molnar said there will be 2,000 parking spaces built in the first phase, and if approved, the entire complex would eventually have more than 5,000 parking spaces.

“You’re adding more people but there’s not more roads, there’s not more anything,” Blaize said. “It’s the same existing roads you’re using already.”

Another Hawthorne resident who focused on the potential congestion and travel headaches, Domenick Vita of Pythian Avenue, said he doesn’t understand how traffic mitigation can be achieved. Furthermore, Vita wondered whether the traffic monitoring will translate into improvements if congestion worsens.
“While it’s great that they’re going to do that, I want to make sure that is looked at obviously by the people there for the town’s interest, not just Fareri’s interest,” he said.

Another nearby resident, Sean Quigley, said if the connector road to Route 9A fails to materialize the town and the applicant have a serious obstacle. He pointed to a larger issue of what he characterized as out-of-control commercial development in Mount Pleasant that has changed the character of the town. Within a few miles of the site, the 153,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse and distribution center under construction on Route 9A and the Brightview assisted living project on Grasslands Road threaten to snarl traffic throughout the town.

“You know what the board should be doing? Less commercial development and let’s get back to the semirural feel of this town,” Quigley said. “Every time I turn around, there’s another commercial development going through.”

In addition to traffic, there were several other points raised about the project. Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council Chair Steven Kavee said the applicant should do more to make North 60 more sustainable. It is proposed that the buildings only be constructed to a LEED Silver threshold, when developers should be striving to achieve the gold or platinum level.

Furthermore, there should be solar panels installed on the roofs of the project’s 24 buildings or in some of the parking areas, Kavee said.

Planning Board Chairman Michael McLaughlin added that page 16 of the FEIS states there will be no impact on wildlife.

“There’s definitely going to be an impact on wildlife and I think that comment should be stricken and comments like that should be stricken,” he said.

Vita also brought up concerns that the proposed three- to five-story height of the buildings could have negative impacts not only on neighbors but throughout the area.

Meanwhile, Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, encouraged the town to do what it can to move the project forward. The development would augment the important research and medical work being performed by nearby Regeneron, New York Medical College and the medical center.

“This project is the single most important economic development opportunity for Westchester, the region and (is) certainly very, very significant for New York State,” Gordon said.

The Planning Board closed the oral portion of the hearing after just one session and is permitting written comments through March 5. It will then consider adoption of a findings statement before moving on to site plan review for the first phase of the project.

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