A group opposed to the library moving to Bearsville has sued the library district and several town boards and commissions to stop progress, claiming it didn’t undergo the proper environmental review.
Calling itself Library Lovers, the group, headed by Hera (no legal surname) and Elaine Hencke, filed an Article 78 petition with the New York State Supreme Court on June 27.
“The library board haven’t taken a full and hard look at the environmental consequences of what my clients regard as a hasty decision to move the Woodstock Public Library from its 100-year historic home to 10 Dixon (Avenue), the former optic lens manufacturing site,” said Library Lovers attorney Jennifer Stewart of the Yonkers and New York City law firm Smith, Buss & Jacobs.
Article 78 is the process by which a decision by a governmental body is legally challenged.
Library Lovers had requested a temporary restraining order to stop the sale of 10 Dixon Avenue, the former Miller/Howard Investments building, to the library district, but Ulster County Supreme Court Judge David Gandin declined to issue the order and the sale went through on June 29.
The library district did agree to voluntarily postpone excavation until September, when Gandin is expected to rule on the merits of the Article 78 petition.
“Until then, planning and preparations for interior renovation are moving forward as we are eager to continue the work of creating a new library for Woodstock,” the Library posted on its website.
Library Lovers attorney Steward elaborated on the lawsuit.
“So it’s an expedited proceeding that allows us to ask the court to take a look at what’s happened here. And if they agree with me and my clients that the environmental laws have not been complied with, to order the library board to stop what they’re doing until they’ve completed the necessary environmental filings, including an environmental impact statement, to really do an analysis,” Stewart said.“What happened is that the board declared this a Type II SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) filing, which is, by definition, an action that is unlikely, or it’s impossible for it to have a real environmental impact…And they cited two sections of the governing regulations that clearly don’t apply. The references they cited were for an in-kind rehabilitation, which would mean an office building that stays an office building or a school that stays a school and it’s just being rehabbed and updated, not what’s going on here…We have an office building that’s changing to a library.”
Stewart said the Type II designation is “flat-out incorrect.”
The next step is for the court to review the petition and see which side is correct.
Included in the Article 78 are the Woodstock Town Board, Woodstock Planning Board and Woodstock Environmental Commission, which have until the end of July to respond.
“The central concern is the contaminated soil and groundwater that’s been measured on that site repeatedly in studies done in 2012, and in studies done this year. We want to keep that out of the neighboring properties and the town’s water supply, which is right down the road,” Stewart said.
The petition also cites a 2015 oil spill on the property and alleges it was never remediated, nor was the contamination found in the 2012 study.
“In approving the library project, the respondents have ignored the significant adverse environmental impacts which will result from soil disturbance and excavation at the site, have disregarded the elevated levels of contaminants at 10 Dixon, and have ignored the potential effects on the town’s water supply,” the petition states.
“Moreover, the Board of Trustees of the Woodstock Public Library District, as the lead agency for the library project, failed to perform the due diligence required by SEQRA by incorrectly classifying the library project as a Type II action.”
A 2012 environmental report commissioned when Miller/Howard purchased the property showed elevated levels of arsenic and lead from manufacturing processes at Model Optics, a former lens maker.
However, test borings and a follow-up report from Colliers Engineering found no lead or arsenic that exceeds state thresholds. All other chemicals found were below limits acceptable for household use.Woodstock Water and Sewer Superintendent Larry Allen said the property poses no risk to the town wells, which are about 300 feet from the property.
The Woodstock Environmental Commission agreed with the Colliers findings and recommended regular indoor air testing as a precaution.
Library closes on purchase of 10 Dixon Avenue
On May 10, with a vote of 845-500, Woodstockers approved a $3.95 million bond to purchase the former Miller/Howard Investments property at 10 Dixon Avenue and move the library the library there.
The library received the proceeds from the bond offeringon June 28 and closed on the $2.579 million sale June 29. Renovations will cost an estimated $1.2 million and the remaining funds will be used for moving expenses.“We are eager to begin repurposing this building to deliver the library facility and services Woodstockers have asked for and supported at the ballot box,” the Library posted on its website, woodstock.org.
The Library also posted that, “at its June 23 special meeting, the Board voted unanimously to hire JC Alten as construction manager for this project. JC was instrumental in envisioning the transformation of this office building into a thriving community library, and his established rapport with the board and staff and familiarity with our needs will be useful in bringing this project to successful completion. Look for updates as project planning continues in this newsletter and on our website at www.woodstock.org/planning.”