The Town Board tonight held an unusual public hearing on the “SEQRA process” for the four-story 80-unit Shelbourne Assisted Living Facility it very much wants constructed at the site of the Sprainbrook Nursery at the corner of Underhill and Sprain Roads in Edgemont.
The Town Board appears to have acted in concert with the applicant in order to try to get a “negative declaration” of environmental impact from the Town Board – without having actually conducted any environmental impact analyses — in order to assist Shelbourne in trying to get two variances it needs from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
One variance Shelbourne needs is from the requirement that assisted living facilities in residential neighborhoods not be located more than 200 feet from a state or county right-of-way.
Here, as the Zoning Board found last month in its ruling in favor of the ECC’s interpretation of the Zoning Code, the nearest such right-of-way is Central Avenue, which is nearly a mile away.
The second variance is from the requirement that the site be a minimum of four acres. The site here is only 3.79 acres.
Towns are ordinarily required by state law to conduct environmental impact studies when major land use proposals are being considered. The relevant state law is SEQRA, which stands for State Environmental Quality Review Assessment. SEQRA requires that town governing boards take a “hard look” at environmental impacts of important land use projects, including impacts on traffic, noise, costs, and quality of life, which would include analysis of the need for emergency medical vehicles, how frequently they will be needed, and whether they can get to the location safely, on time, and on a regular basis.
The applicant last year said when it filed its application that no SEQRA analysis was necessary at all, but tonight the Town’s Planning Commission Garrett Duquesne said that the Town had since determined that the project was an “unlisted” project, which means that the Town Board has the discretion whether to require an environmental impact statement.
Mr. Duquesne nevertheless said the purpose of the hearing tonight was not to require an environmental impact statement at all but rather to to give the Town Board the information it needs to grant a “negative declaration” – thereby terminating the SEQRA process entirely – and allowing the Zoning Board to take that “negative declaration” into account when deciding whether to grant a variance from the 200-foot requirement.
Public hearings on SEQRA are not required, but when they are held, it is usually to obtain public input on the scope of a draft environmental impact statement and then to get public input once the draft environmental impact statement is published.
Greenburgh has never before held a public hearing on the “SEQRA process” which is what tonight’s hearing was called.
When the town board opposes a project, like the 272-unit apartment complex known as the The Jefferson, it held several public hearings just to develop a “scoping” document on what should be studied under SEQRA. Here, by contrast, the town board did not elect to hold any scoping sessions at all.
The Town Board imposed the requirement that assisted living facilities in residential zones be no further than 200 feet from state or county rights-of-way because of concern that residents of assisted living facilities would have greater need for quick access to emergency medical services and because of concern about the impacts on noise and traffic were emergency medical vehicles to be running through quiet residential neighborhoods using their sirens to get to such facilities.
ECC president Bob Bernstein said the Town Board should not try to use the SEQRA process to try to influence the Zoning Board to grant the variance, noting that an appellate court last month ruled that an attempt to do so in the Town of Bedford was found to have been unlawful.
Mr. Bernstein said that when the Town adopted its assisted living ordinance in 2013, it did not conduct SEQRA on any residential property located more than 200 feet from a state or county right of way because the Town Board was not authorizing the use of assisted living facilities at such locations. He said that trying to pretend to do a SEQRA study now, on just that one parcel, would make a mockery of the zoning code.
Mr. Duquesne said however that as long as a use was authorized in any zoning district in the Town, it didn’t matter that such use was restricted under the Zoning Code to certain geographical areas within such districts. Hence, he said, there was no need to do have done a SEQRA study for areas where a “variance might be required.”
Mr. Bernstein pointed out that if that’s now the Town’s position, then Edgemont residents should understand that as long as “variances might be required,” the Town could just as easily support the construction of those hundreds of apartments along Central Avenue in Edgemont in so-called “nodes” as the Town’s Comprehensive Plan last year had recommended authorizing the Town to do.
He warned that the Town’s active role in pushing through approval of the Shelbourne project was sending precisely that message to Edgemont residents that not even the Town’s zoning laws would provide Edgemont with the protection it needs to remain economically sustainable. No one on the Town Board said anything in response.
The Town Board did not make the Zoning Board’s decision a part of the record; nor did the Town Board include the applicant’s original Environmental Assessment Form as part of the record. Shelbourne’s original EAF said no SEQRA was required at all.
Several residents who were friends of the Krautter family which owns the Sprainbrook site spoke in favor of the project, while several others spoke in opposition. Those who spoke in support of the project did not seem to be aware of the legal issues or the ZBA ruling.
Because of the Town Board’s active support for the project, the town board closed the hearing in anticipation of giving Shelbourne the “negative declaration” it wanted – without taking the legally required “hard look” at impacts such as the anticipated need for emergency medical services, the ability of emergency medical vehicles to get to the site in a timely manner, the cost of such services, and who will pay for them.
Police Chief Chris McNerney has already warned the Town Board on other occasions that because of the recent proliferation of assisted living facilities in the Town, there is a growing requirement for additional emergency medical services. After last night’s hearing, Chief McNerney reiterated that the growing need for emergency medical services must be examined. The Town Board, however, gave no indication that it intends to do anything of the sort.
The Zoning Board will first hear Shelbourne’s application for variances at its meeting on May 19.
Several residents ridiculed Town Supervisor Paul Feiner’s frequent use of the Town’s email list and website to promote the project.
Resident Ella Preiser pointed out that it was “dishonest” of Mr. Feiner to tell residents in a May 1 email blast and post on the Town’s website that the project would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for the Edgemont School District. She said that payment of property taxes does not add one penny to the school budget, but rather defrays what all other taxpayers must pay.
Mr. Feiner had said Edgemont schools might receive as much as $300,000 per year in school taxes if the Shelbourne project were approved and that over a ten-year period, the Edgemont School District would receive $3 million.
Because the combined tax rate in Edgemont is 3.34% of property value, a $500,000 annual tax payment would mean that the facility would have an appraised value of around $15 million. Of course, because the property is commercial, it will be eligible every few years to file tax certiorari claims.
The Atria assisted living facility in the Village of Ardsley last year settled one of the largest tax cert claims in town history. Specifically, in September 2015, the Town agreed to reduce Atria’s assessment from $43,689,300 to $37,000,000, representing an average 18% write-down in assessed value over a 7-year period from 2009 to 2015; Atria received tax refunds of nearly $800,000 of which $654,189 had to be funded by the Ardsley School District.
The appraised value of all Edgemont properties is approximately $2.7 billion. The incremental increase in the value of Edgemont property by adding a $15 million ratable to a tax base of $2.7 billion is negligible — and the result of future tax cert claims should Shelbourne be built will result in Edgemont taxpayers not only seeing no benefit in their taxes but, as was the case most recently with Atria, having to dig deeper into their pockets to fund future tax refunds.
There is also the risk that in order to encourage Shelbourne to accept Medicaid from its residents (who will otherwise be evicted if they can no longer pay their monthly fees), the State of New York may exempt Shelbourne and other for-profit assisted living facilities from having to pay any property taxes at all.
And there is the risk that Shelbourne’s business model might no longer be able to support assisted living at that site, thus requiring the four-story 80-unit structure to be “re-purposed.” A few months ago, hundreds of elderly residents of an assisted living facility in White Plains, known as the Esplanade, were evicted when its owner decided to re-purpose the building for luxury apartments and a luxury hotel.
Were that to occur with Shelbourne’s facility in Edgemont may end up with either a four-story commercial hotel or multifamily housing complex in an area otherwise zoned exclusively for single family homes. One third of Edgemont’s housing already consists of multifamily apartment structures and adding an additional apartment building, even if unintended, could upset the delicate balance that allows Edgemont to be economically sustainable.
Because the property is zoned R-30, the single family homes at three-quarter acre lots, the site can accommodate at least three or or four luxury homes. Single family homes will substantially more property taxes than the Sprainbrook Nursery can generate and, because single family homes are not entitled to file tax cert claims, no tax refunds will have to be paid.
Mr. Feiner had argued on the Town’s website and on the Town’s email server that building three or four luxury homes would burden the school district because of the need to educate the children who might live in such homes. However, the number of children who might live in those homes are not expected to trigger the construction of additional classrooms and the hiring of additional teachers.