The Greenville Fire District, which provides fire and emergency medical services to the Edgemont community, voted unanimously Wednesday night to request that the Town of Greenburgh’s zoning board of appeals conduct a full blown independent environmental impact analysis of the 94-bed assisted living facility proposed for the site of the Sprainbrook Nursery at the corner of Underhill and Sprain Roads in Edgemont before the ZBA votes on whether to grant variances to allow the facility to be built.

The proposed facility, the first of its kind in Edgemont, offers no on-site emergency medical personnel of its own and thus depends almost exclusively on taxpayer-funded medical emergency services to render aid to its elderly residents.  Nursing homes, by contrast, offer on-site medical personnel.

Formation-Shelbourne, a Philadelphia and Atlanta-based private equity fund, needs the ZBA to grant variances to allow the site to be built because the Sprainbrook Nursery is located in a residential neighborhood more than a mile from where such facilities may be built under the Town’s zoning code and because the site itself does not meet the zoning code’s minimum four-acre requirement for such facilities.

The zoning code requires that assisted living facilities be located no more than 200 feet from a state or county right-of-way, and that such access not be through a circuitous route. The 200-foot perimeter was established to protect residential neighborhoods from the disturbance repeated emergency medical calls might generate and to ensure the residents of such facilities, where the average age is 85, can get immediate access to emergency medical services when needed.

Several fire district members said at Wednesday night’s meeting they had reservations about the project because of its proposed location off Underhill Road which, with its narrow winding hairpin turns, may increase health and safety risks to fire personnel responding to medical emergencies, as well as to members of the driving public who may be on the road when fire apparatus are being dispatched to the site.

At the fire district meeting Wednesday night, Edgemont resident Jeff Sherwin, who owns property along the Underhill corridor, said that fire district data he collected shows that in the past year, the fire district made a total of only 7 trips along that portion of Underhill Road; by contrast, he said, the proposed assisted facility would probably generate at least 130 such trips per year, and no one has yet studied what the health, safety and financial impact of those additional trips might be on Edgemont taxpayers.

The fire district commissioners agreed. Among those voting to send the letter to the ZBA insisting on a full blown environmental impact analysis was Fire District Chair Helene Orce who, in her capacity as a private citizen, had been a vocal supporter of the Shelbourne project.

Mrs. Orce narrowly won re-election Tuesday to a new five-year term as fire district commissioner, after residents opposed to the Shelbourne application, mounted a last minute write-in campaign on behalf of resident Warren Hershkowitz. Mrs. Orce said she defeated Mr. Hershkowitz 116 to 103, with five votes not counted because the voters’ names weren’t found on the voter registration list.

Voter turnout for the fire district election was unusually high. Last year, when fire trustee Walter Groden ran for re-election, only 96 voters turned out. Here, Mr. Hershkowitz appeared to have launched his write-in campaign only two days before Tuesday’s election, and then spread the word through emails and social media, prompting Mrs. Orce to respond in kind.

The fire district’s 5-0 vote came on a motion by fire trustee Jon Faust, which was seconded by Mr. Groden. Mr. Groden, who has years of experience as a volunteer firefighter and has personally driven fire trucks along the narrow Underhill Road corridor, had raised a series of questions about the project first with the Town Board, and then with the ZBA but, because the fire district had not taken a formal position on the matter, did so only in his capacity as a private citizen.

In his testimony before the ZBA in November, Mr. Groden highlighted the concern for public safety and the safety of fire personnel by showing a dramatic picture of an SUV that overturned this summer on the narrow hairpin turn that fire trucks will have to navigate in an emergency on their way to the proposed site.

Before the vote was taken, fire trustee Mike Rappe, a former official with the New York City Fire Department, said he too had reservations about the wisdom of the project, saying more study needed to be done because so much as still unknown as to the impact an unusual project of this magnitude might have on the fire district and public safety.

Mrs. Orce and trustee Bob Bruckenthal, agreed to make support for the motion unanimous when trustees explained that a vote in favor of an independent study was not a vote for or against the project, but rather a vote to gather more information so that when the vote is taken, the public and decision-makers have all the facts before them.

At its own meeting Thursday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) passed a resolution of its own declaring itself “lead agency” in connection with the Shelbourne application in accordance with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act known as SEQRA.

At its meeting in November, members of the ZBA took a straw vote in favor of directing town staff to prepare for them a “conditional negative declaration” under SEQRA in which the ZBA would conclude the project posed no significant environmental impacts provided certain conditions were met.

The plan was for the ZBA to release to the public a draft of its SEQRA findings and proposed conditions in time for the ZBA’s next public hearing on the Shelbourne application, which is scheduled for January 25, 2017.

The fire district’s letter will tell the ZBA that any plan to proceed right now with a “conditional negative declaration” is premature and effectively does a disservice to the Edgemont community, and that the ZBA should do what the Town normally does when faced with any major change in land use, which is to engage an independent consultant to conduct a scoping session to determine what needs to be studied, and then to work with the applicant to identify the impacts, and address what, if anything, could be done to mitigate them. The public – and the fire district – can then weigh in on whether those mitigations are adequate, and the ZBA can then make a more fully informed decision on whether or not to grant the variances being requested.

It is not known what reaction, if any, the ZBA will have to the fire district’s letter.

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