Millbrook Round Table
November 20, 2008
Answers NeededDear Editor,
The vote is in, and there will be no Positive Declaration from the village planning board on the proposed Bennett Redevelopment project. A recent Millbrook Round Table editorial asserts that the planning board had been given a (nearly) mission impossible. That’s a bit over the top, since SEQRA simply requires of the planning board to consider ANY adverse impacts that MIGHT CONCEIVABLY result from its approval, and if there are any it is to return a positive declaration. A negative declaration would mean that not a single adverse impact was found.
The planning board now owes area residents a full explanation of how it reached a negative declaration vote. The Bennett Redevelopment project will have the most significant impact on Millbrook since the collapse of the Bennett campus some 40 years ago, and we should be allowed a bit of closure on this matter. The Round Table can insure that the decision making process is opened to public scrutiny. You have the resources and authority to make this happen, and I hope you will make this a priority task. Here are a few of the issues I would personally like to learn more about, and I’m certain that others have more of their own.
1. Sewage treatment: Village zoning code mandates that “… development does not unduly tax residents.”, and “Ensure that development takes place in an amount commensurate with availability and present and future capacity of public facilities and services.”
A recent Round Table editorial states an estimated cost to the taxpayers of Millbrook between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000 to correct deficiencies in the sewage system. I think that qualifies as “unduly”. How did the planning board reconcile this mandate?
2. Development water supply: Village zoning code requires development to “safeguard the water table”.
To me, this is a no-brainer, screaming for a positive declaration. The developer estimates they will pump almost 20 gallons per minute (average), or 11,000,000 gallons per year from the aquifer, a staggering amount. More disturbing data; a) village engineer and NYS determined that a maximum daily rate would be closer to 30 gpm, b) developer says they have 90 gpm pump capacity and could even double that, and c) developer can provide 60 gpm of “excess” capacity to the village. This suggests an astronomical 40,000,000 gallon/year could be pumped from the aquifer. I wrote a letter to Chairman Roberts expressing my concerns, exposing the developer’s faulty groundwater recharge chart, questioning the use of “average” yearly data, and demonstrating that in a dry year the development could pull six times more water from the ground as the chart showed would be recharged by rainwater. Was my letter read and considered by the board? Was the developer questioned on this, and what answers were given?
Unfortunately, it will be ten or twenty years before the development is fully populated and the full strain on our water aquifer is known. If the planning board got this wrong it’s our children who will pay for that mistake.
3. Noise: Village zoning code assures development will “protect health, safety, comfort, convenience and the general welfare of the people.”
The developer states that the project will NOT generate noise beyond ambient levels. Ambient noise on Bennett Common Way is currently 40-53 db, and JUST ONE noise producing machine during destruction/construction will generate 85 db. 85db is perceived to be 24 times louder than 40 db, is the level at which hearing loss and damage can begin, and in the workplace would require a hearing conservation program by OSHA. Throw together a rock crusher, bulldozer or two, several jackhammers, dump trucks, backhoes, graders, a variety of powered tools, and a dozen or so diesel engines running, all within a short distance from my and dozens of neighbor’s windows, and I am suddenly very upset about the negative impact. Developer shows their lack of concern by stating “The short-term nature of construction activities DOES NOT WARRANT ANY MITIGATION MEASURES”. How did the planning board reconcile this contradiction with zoning code?
4. Demolition: Depending on which development document you read, there will either be 15,592 tons of material removed from the site, or 8,000 tons, 370 trailer loads removed and 15,000 cube yards to be “crushed and sized for reuse”? Any one of those numbers is staggering. And of course not all of the asbestos will be removed from the site. Developer states “Halcyon Hall, Administration, Gage Hall and Aldrich Library buildings are in a highly deteriorated condition and will be demolished under an approved asbestos variance.” Destroying asbestos and lead contaminated buildings, then crushing, removing and transporting 15,592 tons of this waste across Dutchess country roads has no environmental impact? No impact on “health, safety, comfort, and general welfare”?
5. Viewshed: An Element of village code is "To protect the natural beauty of Millbrook. The viewshed… would be preserved”, "preserve our historical structures as much as possible.”, and create “passive recreational use for neighborhood residents and the public.”
Then why has the board allowed a very large Storm Water Management pond to be placed in the Viewshed, an ugly eyesore right in front of the Halcyon foundation, with the possibility of another in view of the golf course? Can the board tell us how many SWM ponds will be created, and where? Why are these not prominent on every development map? What’s the purpose of a Viewshed if the developer will be placing wells, a 200,000 gallon water storage tank and water treatment/pump house, parking, swimming pool, and an ugly SWM pond in it?
6. Development reports: Did the planning board simply accept development reports at face value, or was any of it challenged? I spent countless hours pouring through development reports, and came away with a feeling that developer was not “consistent” with their data. Some examples?
- The project states well pumping capacity at 22.5 gpm on the EAF, elsewhere proudly declaring a combined capacity of 90 gpm. The environmental impact of 22.5 gpm (12,000,000 gallons/year) versus 90 gpm (47,000,000 gallons/year) is staggering. So which is it, 22.5 or 90?
- Developer runs a meaningless 7 day well flow test in February, immediately following the 4 wettest months of the year. Why didn’t the planning board challenge that and require a valid test in August or September over a period of weeks, not days?
- Developer says the project time will be 36 months, including demolition. After 6 months of demolition, that leaves 30 months for buildup. That’s an average of one unit every 10 days! Does the planning board really believe that even in a sound economic situation this project will take just 3 years, or will we be left with an ugly construction zone for the next 10, 15, or 20 years?
- Developer leaves the EAF question “is this a multi-phase development?” unanswered, indicating this is NOT multi-phase. Zoning gives the developer an out, with “Multi-year approvals of final planned unit development plans will be permitted to allow the development in phases”. Much easier to convince the public that all negative impacts will be “temporary” if your project is only 36 months, and not 10-20 years as we should expect. Does the planning board believe this is a multi-phase development, or will it enforce a completion timetable of 36 months?
- Developer says he can construct up to 126 units, including 24 existing units in Carroll Hall. But that’s wrong because zoning states “Existing buildings may also house a maximum of four units per acre without the twenty-acre aggregate requirement”. Carroll Hall has approximately 2 acres, therefore 8 units. Was that challenged, or accepted?
I appreciate and thank the planning board for the long hours and hard work they put into this decision. However, that does not mean that I must agree with their decision — and I do not. Possibly the board can convince those who disagreed with the negative declaration that we were simply wrong, but we need full disclosure for that to happen. I hope the Round Table will take on that task.