As an excavator by trade, with many local clients, Gardiner Planning Board chair Paul Colucci occasionally finds himself in the position of having to cede leadership of a meeting to his vice-chair because he is under contract with the applicant for a permit for some development project. At the May 25 meeting, however, his recusal put him on the opposite side of the table from his board, as the actual applicant – and some sparks flew.
The project under consideration is a minor subdivision of a parcel owned by PE Colucci, LLC, at the existing end of Osprey Lane. Located in a designated industrial park zoned as Commercial/Light Industrial, Osprey Lane is a town road that intersects Steve’s Lane and is perhaps best-known as the home of the Yard Owl Craft Brewery.
Colucci wants to subdivide his parcel into three lots suitable for future construction, but the project is complicated by the need to extend the lane in order to provide the required minimum 200 feet of road frontage for the third lot. A “paper road,” with an easement along one side, already exists beyond the hammerhead turnaround that currently ends Osprey Lane.
Most of the discussion at the meeting concerned Colucci’s options for addressing the missing frontage, including seeking a flag-lot waiver from the Zoning Board of Appeals and leaving the turnaround as is. Colucci repeatedly asserted his willingness to extend the road as far as might be necessary to satisfy the zoning requirement.
Ultimately, town attorney Dave Brennan agreed to formulate language for a note to be appended to approval of the subdivision, specifying that Lot Three is not legally buildable until such time as the road is extended. But Planning Board member Carol Richman had another condition she wanted imposed on the project: ensuring that the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) recently adopted by Gardiner is consulted before greenlighting it.
Early in the meeting, Planning Board vice-chair Ralph Varano cited a Threatened and Endangered Species Report from consultant Sterling Environmental Services attesting, after a site visit, that there was “no habitat present” for bog turtles, as well as two rare species of bats. Richman responded, “I’m confused – it was determined earlier that this is bog turtle habitat, and now it’s not?” Colucci grew testy, stating that Richman’s information was inaccurate, and Varano read the specific language in the report stating that the soils on the site had “no mucky component,” as would be necessary to support bog turtles.
Tempers flared on both sides of the issue again later in the meeting, when Varano walked his colleagues through the 11 questions on the Environmental Assessment Form filed as part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Varano concluded that the project would have “no or small impact” in each of the areas covered and then called for a vote for a negative declaration (“neg dec”).
Richman immediately objected to what she saw as perfunctory treatment of potential environmental impacts. “There needs to be a discussion,” she said. “To read it on just kind of stifles comments.”
“There are 11 questions here. We’re filling out a form,” Varano replied.
“They address environmental impact, do they not? We haven’t done what’s necessary to address SEQR unless we consult the NRI,” Richman insisted.
Planning Board member Marc Moran tried to lower the tension, noting that “The NRI is a relatively new tool available to the town. I thought we had established a process that we would consult the NRI.” Moran reminded the board of previous discussions about making a question about use of the NRI a part of the town’s application form for property development.
“It was discussed, but not necessarily established,” Varano replied.
When Colucci interjected that he had no objection to a delay in the approval process while Sterling Environmental Services reviewed the NRI maps pertaining to the site, Richman said that she was “not trying to hold up the application” and suggested making such consultation a “conditional element” of issuing a neg dec for SEQR in this case.
Board members agreed to add this condition and voted in favor of a neg dec, with a public hearing on the project scheduled for the June Planning Board meeting. “I’m in favor of putting [consulting the NRI] as a checklist item on the application – possibly on all applications,” Varano conceded. “It’s a great resource. But it should be outside of the SEQR Part II form.”