Friday, December 30, 2005

No Development News From Audit Meeting

At the last Hurley Town Board meeting, the senior partner of the developer's law firm had requested an opinion about how many houses the Town Zoning Code would permit on the Hidden Forest acreage. Town Supervisor Gary Bellows responded that opinions from the Town Attorney, the Code Enforcement Officer and the Town Planner must be reviewed first. He hoped to be able to offer an opinion at the Town Audit meeting on December 29. This would be the last meeting of the Town Board before new members were inaugurated on January 1st. In short, nothing was done at the Audit meeting regarding the development. None of the principals involved were at the meeting, including any representatives of the developer. Mike Shultis, the newly elected Hurley Town Supervisor, and the Town Board will hold an organizational meeting at the Hurley Town Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, January 2.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hurley Town Board Meeting-Dec. 19, 2005

Background: This was the last formal Hurley Town Board meeting of 2005. It was also the last meeting for Town Supervisor Gary Bellows and Town Board members Al Mayone and Phil Meagher, all of whom were not reelected in November. The remaining Board members, whose terms of office were not up for election this year, are John Gill, who with his family is selling the property to the developer and who has recused himself from any votes on it, and Barbara Zell, whose husband is Chair of the Hurley Zoning Board. The following items discussed at the meeting were related to the proposed Hidden Forest 652-house development: Al Mayone read a letter from members of the Planning Board, the lead agency for the development, in which all the members requested that Paul Hakim be reappointed for another seven-year term as Chair of the Planning Board. Mr. Hakim’s current term ends on February 28, 2006. Mr. Mayone then presented a resolution which he had drawn up, resolving that Mr. Hakim be reappointed until February 28, 2013. The resolution carried. Some audience members privately wondered, without questioning Mr. Hakim’s ability, if this was an appropriate action considering that Mr. Hakim’s term still had two months to run and that a new Town Board would be taking office on January 1 and that the Town Board still had not taken action on members of other committees whose terms had run out last September. Various representatives of the Hidden Forest development were present at the meeting. All the speaking was done by Henry R. Hocherman, Senior Partner of the White Plains law firm of Hocherman Tortorella & Wekstein, the lawyers for the development (Geraldine Tortorella, the usual lawyer, was apparently busy with something else). The matter at hand was the PRD (Planned Residential Development) application, or what is the maximum number of dwelling units that Hurley will permit to be built on the 411 acres in question. Mr. Hocherman specifically wanted to know what the Town Code means by “gross acres of residential use”. So far there are four different opinions: the Town Attorney’s, the Town Building Inspector’s, the Town Planner’s, and, of course, the developer's. All differ, some widely. There may soon be more because the Town Zoning Board feels it has the right to an advisory opinion and the Town Attorney agrees with this, but the developer and the Building Inspector do not. Mr. Hocherman wanted to know what is included in gross acreage and what is not. Does it include the recreational building and related areas? Roads? Wetlands, steep slopes and other unbuildable areas? The developer maintains that as of right the entire 411 acres should be included and they could therefore build 822 units if they chose. The area is currently zoned for one acre per dwelling, but if the builders put in central water and/or sewer systems, the zoning may drop to half acre. However, federal and State wetlands and other areas where they can’t build take up at least a third of the 411 acres and roads and recreational areas would take up quite a bit more, all of which added together under a strict interpretation would allow the developer to build no more than 250 houses instead of the currently planned 652, or threatened 822. Supervisor Bellows responded by saying that if he could get all the relevant people together they might be able to offer an opinion at the Town audit meeting. This would be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 29 at the Town Hall, a meeting which is just supposed to, as Supervisor Bellows said, “close down the Town financially” for the year. Bear in mind, though, that a new Town Supervisor and Town Board take office just two days later so how valid any opinion offered on December 29 is debatable.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Public Information Sought on Scoping Issues

The Hurley Planning Board did hold a scoping session November 29 related to the proposed Hidden Forest 652-house development. The purpose of the session was to obtain information on what issues the public considered important enough to be studied by the State-mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Among the issues the Planning Board says will be studied in the Draft EIS are: • Project description, architecture and design • Land use and zoning • Geology, soils, topography and slopes • Wetlands, vegetation and wildlife • Surface water, drainage and stormwater management • Ground water and hydrogeology • Utilities, including water supply and sewage treatment • Traffic and access • Population and fiscal impacts • Community services, including fire, police and ambulance • Historic and archaeologic resources • Visual impacts • Alternatives to the proposed actions At the session, many area residents had excellent and knowledgeable comments about many of the above issues as well as others. The Planning Board considered it important enough to extend the period of public comment until December 31. Therefore, anyone with concerns about issues dealing with Hidden Forest is strongly encouraged to send them in writing to the Hurley Planning Board, Town Hall, 10 Wamsley Place, Hurley 12443 or to by December 31. The part of the development that seems to be attracting the most attention at the moment is something innocuous sounding called a PRD. This is a Planned Residential Development which the Hurley Zoning Book describes as “residential developments which are planned and developed as a unit, which are self-contained, and which occupy sites of sufficient size to provide adequate separation from adjacent uses and properties.” The Zoning Book has a good fifteen pages regulating such developments. In her December 1 Woodstock Times article, Andrea Barrist Stern writes: “The developers have asked the town to approved a planned residential development (PRD) designation for the site to allow them to cluster the dwellings. The town board, which will ultimately approve or disapprove of the designation, has asked the town planning board to act as lead agency during the project’s state-mandated environmental review (SEQRA) and make a recommendation regarding the PRD based on its findings. “If the planning board recommends against approval of a PRD and the town board follows suit, the developer could then build homes on one-acre lots at the site, noted [Paul Hakim, chairman of the planning board]. But it is unclear just how many single homes could be constructed under those circumstances since about one-third of the property is believed to be wetlands and much of the property is sloped. Hakim said the planning board is currently calculating the number of units that would be permitted without a PRD designation.” The 411 acres are currently zoned R-1, meaning that each house must be on a little under an acre. However, if the development provides public water and sewerage each dwelling could be on a little under half an acre. But before the PRD allowing the clustering of the dwellings can be approved, the developers must obtain the necessary permits for their planned public water and sewerage systems. Making it more complicated is that while the Hurley Zoning Book requires that “At least 30% of the gross site area in a PRD shall be set aside as open space and shall remain and be maintained open in perpetuity, ” this does not eliminate, at least to a non-expert in the field, the spaces which they cannot build on in the first place, such as wetlands and steep slopes. Judging from the last maps provided by the developer, they are planning on building on every square inch that they are allowed to, leaving as “open space” only such areas as the State-designated and some federal wetlands. The same holds true for “maximum land use intensities” where “two dwelling units per gross acre [including roads] devoted to residential use” are the most that are allowed. The developers claim a 0.63 dwelling density per acre, or slightly above the allowable limit, but this is for the 411 acre total, including the wetlands and steep slopes where they can’t build anyway. Considering that, with a conservative estimate, the developer could not build on at least a third of the 411 acres, one-acre zoning would allow 274 houses, or less if the recreational center and swimming pools and such are still on the agenda. Even on half an acre zoning this would allow 548 houses, or considerably less than the 652 now proposed in the PRD. As stated previously, designating a PRD is an extremely complicated process. If anything described here needs correction or comments, please do so. It would be most welcomed.