By Tom Auchterlonie
A proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the Legionaries of Christ site has residents concerned about its environmental impacts and procedural items tied to it.
The proposal submitted to the town is called The Spa at New Castle and is from developer Soder Real Estate Equities, LLC. It calls for redeveloping the site with 50 condos, 34 hotel rooms, a spa and a restaurant. The condos would be situated in east and west wings while 30 of the hotel rooms would be in a new south wing, the proposal’s petition states, with the other four rooms being located in the site’s estate house. Amenities for the proposal include a juice bar, basketball and tennis courts, a 75-seat theater and a gym. The restaurant and spa would be open to the public, the petition states.
The site is currently under the town’s R-2A zone, which allows for single-family homes on at least 2-acre parcels. However, the proposal would involve the creation of a new zone called the Active Lifestyle Floating District (AL District). The floating zone, if created, would not just apply to the current proposal’s location. It could be used at any site in New Castle that is at least 75 acres and has at least 300 feet of frontage along a county or state road, according to a draft version of the zone’s language.
It is the location for the proposal, which is located at 773 Armonk Road (Route 128) and is about 96 acres, that has neighbors concerned. Multiple residents who were interviewed for this story cited traffic, the location’s septic system and lighting as factors. They are also concerned that the proposal entails putting something that is commercial in a residential area.
Among the neighbors is Jeff Goldstein, a resident of nearby Tripp Street. He is concerned about the impact of the site’s septic on surrounding well water, along with traffic, noise and lighting. Goldstein is among those concerned about a commercial proposal for a residential area and whether it could set a precedent for elsewhere. He also feels that the planning board should have the role of lead agency, which is for oversight of the project’s environmental review and is a role that the town board currently has.
Armonk Road resident Jeff Kay is concerned about what the project could do to traffic on his street and feels that the master plan would not allow for it. He also does not want the master plan, which is in the process of being updated, to get developers’ influence.
Sharon Greene, a Tripp Street resident, has environmental concerns that include sustainability of the septic system given the number of people on the site, along with traffic, lighting and noise. She also brought up how the project goes against existing zoning and the town’s master plan. Greene also takes issue with the floating zone. As an example, she raised the possibility of a future developer being able to acquire multiple parcels that add up to enough acreage. Additionally, Greene is not pleased with the proposal being considered without first updating the master plan. She also feels that the town board is not doing due diligence because environmental impact information from an earlier proposal for the site has not been examined. That information is derived from an expansion plan that was proposed by the Legionaries of Christ.
The planning board’s feedback is about caution, based on a Feb. 21 advisory memo that is for the project’s draft scoping document.
The memo states, “The Town Board should consider whether adoption of “floating zones” may have unintended ramifications in other parts of town.”
The planning board’s memo continues, “At a minimum, comprehensive amendments to the Town Development Plan would need to be considered by the Town Board for this project to address the desirability of zoning changes and the creation of “floating zones” for this project as well as for other similarly large parcels in town, especially where commercial development is proposed to be introduced into residential areas.”
Reached for comment, Supervisor Rob Greenstein explained that there will need to be study about whether the floating zone can be applied. Additionally, he explained that, so far, the town’s counsel does not think that any other parcel would meet the floating zone’s criteria. Regarding the process for the proposal, Greenstein also talked about letting it go forward so the developer has an opportunity to make a case. He was noncommittal about the project itself.
Greenstein also feels that the information gathered for the project’s environmental review will help with the master plan update process because more will be known about the parcel. He is also favorable to both the environmental review of the proposal and the master plan update happening concurrently.
David Steinmetz, who is the developer’s attorney, defended the use of a floating zone. He noted that the town board would decide in each instance which property should receive it. An alternative would have been to create a zoning text change to allow for getting a special permit. However, Steinmetz explained that it would apply to any property that meets the criteria and would apply automatically. Additionally, the town board would not have discretion under a special permit approach.
Discussing the project’s relation to the master plan, he said that amending does not need to be proposed now although it could be done in the future. Discussing the impacts of the project, Steinmetz explained that issues will have to be studied. An updated scope for the proposal is expected to be presented later this month, he explained.
According to state environmental law, following the scope will be a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). It will be reviewed and eventually subject to public review. The DEIS will then be followed by a final environmental impact statement (FEIS). This will followed by the last environmental document, which is called a findings statement.