Opponents of the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project were the minority of speakers at the latest extension of the town planning board’s public hearing this Monday night. They will get one more crack at trying to persuade board members to require a full environmental impact statement next month. There was very nearly a vote to make a negative declaration of environmental significance, which Mike Moriello, the preserve’s attorney, very much wanted to see happen, but with some changes made to the environmental assessment form at the meeting board members preferred to exercise caution in how they proceeded.
Of the 17 people who spoke during the hearing, only four urged board members to require an EIS. Three of those closed in the same way, indicating that they were puzzled by the long delay in requiring the additional documentation, and asking, “How long does the community have to wait?” Those who urged board members to require no additional studies decried assertions that the plan to install several new buildings, trailheads and parking lots to access the 857-acre Foothills parcel constituted a “mega-development.” They pointed to the thousand pages of studies already performed by preserve consultants. Those pages were on display at the meeting, next to preserve executive director Glenn Hoagland on a dolly.
A number of supporters referenced the CVS project, as the closure of that public hearing is a bone of contention for people who don’t want it to proceed. Comparisons were made to explain how the present application would be good for the community, while the drug store and burger shack would be bad. Members of the Citizens of the Shawangunks — the group pushing for a Foothills EIS — were even encouraged to turn their efforts towards opposing CVS instead.
Board attorney George Lithco agreed with opponents who have asserted that the classification of project brings with it a presumption that an EIS is required, but he said it was a “refutable” presumption. Much of the community concern has been around traffic impacts, and a number of studies were performed voluntarily to ascertain how they might be mitigated, as the peak number of additional trips — 94 per hour on autumn weekend afternoons — falls far below the thresholds established under the State Environmental Quality Review act, or SEQR. Board members agreed that many of the traffic problems on Route 299 stem from issues that exist outside of this project’s purview, such as poorly-aligned intersections and a speed limit of 55 miles per hour.
Chairman Mike Calimano is trying to address the latter by obtaining funds to study that corridor fully prior to the town council making a formal request to state officials to reduce the speed. The highway department already has plans to realign the worst of the intersections, at Gatehouse Road.
One aspect of the project which has gotten little attention in recent months is that there is a subdivision as well as a site plan. As part of its agreement with OSI to acquire the land, Mohonk Preserve will convey the 19.1-acre “hillside lot” back to OSI, since it’s on the other side of Butterville Road and doesn’t fit into the program needs laid out by preserve personnel. While it’s a buildable lot, the subdivision plat will deny further subdivisions, so only one house could ever be constructed there. Since these plans were put forth over a year ago, the river-to-ridge trail concept has emerged, which reduces the likelihood that OSI will ever sell that lot to a private owner.
A vote on a negative declaration is expected at the board’s April 11 meeting.