As part of its continuing campaign to pave the way for construction of Shelbourne’s 80-unit, 94 bed assisted living facility in a residential neighborhood in Edgemont at the corner of Underhill and Sprain Roads – and specifically to goad the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals into granting two zoning variances that the project needs to go forward — the Town Board last night planned to issue a “negative declaration” declaring that the project will have “no significant environmental impacts.”
But whether it was the barrage of complaints from ECC president Bob Bernstein, or the potential embarrassment of approving without anyone on the board having apparently read or discussed the 12-page single spaced “negative declaration” document – apparently riddled with errors and omissions — that had only been posted publicly four hours before the start of last meeting explaining why the Town Board believed no assessments of the financial and quality of life impacts on Edgemont residents warranted any consideration at all, approval of the “negative declaration” was held over at the last minute to a Town Board meeting on June 8.
Mr. Bernstein said that rather then rush to grant a “negative declaration” now, when there is no law requiring it to do so, the Town Board should instead at least wait until the Zoning Board completes its work on the two zoning variance requests where impacts of the project will actually be considered.
The Town Board made clear though that it had no intention of putting the brakes on any of its efforts to promote through extra-legal means any land use proposal it favors – even if it means prematurely adopting a “negative declaration” to try to prevent any review down the road of adverse impacts – or to prejudge such a review if it takes place anyway.
The “negative declaration” specifically concluded that it was not necessary to consider the noise impact among homeowners who live along Underhill Road of the many emergency medical vehicles that will be traveling at high rates of speed, with sirens and lights flashing, in order to reach the Shelbourne facility, or the effect that the sudden increase in demand for emergency medical services at the site will have on first responders, including the Greenville Fire District which generally responds with firetrucks to all medical emergencies in Edgemont, or the risks emergency fire and medical responders will face having to negotiate the dangerous hilly hairpin curves on narrow two-lane Underhill Road approaching the Shelbourne site, or the risks these responders may face when, as has happened in the past few years, access to Underhill Road itself was blocked for several hours by falling trees, or the overall cost to Edgemont taxpayers as a result of the expected substantial increase in demand for services by its fire district personnel.
None of these issues were even mentioned in the “negative declaration.”
Even though the fire district had written to the Town Board twice in recent days asking for further studies of these impacts, the Town Board’s draft omitted any mention of the fire district’s requests or concerns.
With respect to noise along Underhill and surrounding streets, the Town Board wrote, “[t]he projected vehicular emergency trip generations are not anticipated to have any impact to local noise quality. The Greenburgh Police Department and the Greenville Fire District have indicated that the immediate vehicular approaches to the site are roads that do not experience backups/congestion and that the need for sirens is greatly diminished.”
In fact, written communications from the Greenville Fire District said no such thing.
State law requires that emergency vehicles must use lights and sirens when responding to an emergency. In a letter to the Town dated May 23, 2016, the Fire District specifically rejected the suggestion that “the need for sirens is greatly diminished,” stating, “We do respond with lights and sirens to calls to us.”
Before that, on May 15, 2016, the Fire District wrote to the Town Board, requesting “that the issue of demand on emergency services including cost and manpower should be studied carefully during the appropriate comprehensive review process.”
Town Supervisor Paul Feiner responded that same day, saying he agreed that such a study was needed, but last night, only ten days later, voted not to have any such study at all.
The Town Board responded in its “negative declaration” by dismissing any concern about increased demand for emergency medical services generally. First, the board concluded that the Greenburgh police department – not the fire district – “constitutes the applicable responders.”
In fact, the fire district responds (with the police) to all medical emergency calls in Edgemont – a practice that saves lives in Edgemont because EMT-trained fire department personnel are close by, Greenburgh police must serve all 19-square miles of unincorporated Greenburgh and may or may not have personnel in the immediate vicinity who can respond as quickly as the police, and the Town’s advanced medical life support team – the Town’s ambulance service – serves the entire Town, including the six villages.
The town board said, without identifying any supporting data, that “an assisted living facility comparable to that which is proposed is expected to generate approximately 100-110 calls annually to the Greenburgh Police Department for Police/EMS Services.”
Residents pointed out last night that FOIL requests to the Town to identify the number of calls annually to other assisting living facilities in full operation in the area, including the Atria in Ardsley, the Hebrew Home for the Aged on Knollwood Road, and the Meadows on Grasslands Road, have thus far been unanswered – and no one on the Town Board responded last night to repeated questions asking what such data actually showed — presumably because they never bothered to ask for such data themselves, much less study it.
Nevertheless, in minimizing the critical role played in Edgemont by the Fire District when it comes to emergency medical services, the Town Board said, “[t]he Fire District also has the ability to aid with secondary EMT assistance, therefore, it is expected that the Fire District would also respond to some percentage of the estimated 100-110 trips note above in the Police/EMS projections.”
Under New York state law, town boards are required to take a “good hard look” at the environmental impacts of proposed changes in land use.
Mr. Feiner was eager for the Town Board to adopt the “negative declaration” in order to aid Shelbourne in its application for two zoning variances.
Under state law, a town’s Zoning Board is supposed to be independent from the Town Board. Nevetheless, among other things, the Town Board’s “negative declaration” also included specific findings the Town Board wanted the Zoning Board to make in favor of granting the variances requested.
One of the variances needed is from the requirement that sites for assisted living facilities be located within 200 feet of a state or county right-of-way and here, the nearest such right of way is Central Avenue which is more than 6,000 feet away – a difference of 3,000%.
The Town Board first called this an “area variance.” By law, area variances are requests made of zoning boards for deviations from dimensional requirements in a zoning code governing the manner in which building may be constructed on a lot.
Here, however, the dimensional requirement at issue governs not the matter in which a building may be constructed, but whether the facility itself may be located there at all. Thus, the requirement is that an assisted living facility “site” not be located more than 200 feet from a state or county right of way.
Such variances are called “use” variances and are difficult to get because the applicant must normally show that as a matter of dollars and cents, no other use otherwise permitted at the site can be built there.
Here, of course, the site is zoned for single family homes for which there would almost certainly be a market in Edgemont.
The Town Board then said that the reason for enacting the 200-feet requirement in the first place was to make it easier for emergency medical vehicles to get to the site and to prevent noise from sirens from such vehicles traveling at high rates of speed in normally quiet residential neighborhoods.
The Town Board had no problem with either restriction here. Having concluded that Underhill Road was not heavily trafficked, that the police, not the fire district, were the “applicable responders,” and that even if the fire district did respond, they wouldn’t be using their sirens or flashes, even though state law requires it, the Town Board concluded that the zoning board should grant the variance.
The Town Board had actually voted last night to adopt the “negative declaration,” on Mr. Feiner’s motion, but after all board members voted unanimously in favor, except for town councilwoman Diana Juettner, who abstained without explanation, town councilman Ken Jones suddenly raised an objection, saying he had “questions” and asked that the vote be held over. He did not say what questions he had.
Mr. Feiner then announced that he would invite the Greenville Fire District to a meeting of the town board’s work session on June 7, in order to “find out what their concerns are.”