Friday, Jul 12th

Neighbors Plead with the Planning Board to Turn Down a Subdivision in a Flood Prone Neighborhood

46LincolnTreesWhat is the role of the Planning Board? Should they permit new development in flood prone areas if the work will pose further risks to neighbors?

That was the question at the heart of a Planning Board hearing on June 26 when the Planning Board allowed an applicant a sixth hearing of his proposal to subdivide two lots into three at 46 Lincoln Road and 101 Carthage Road and to construct a third home in a recessed area between the two homes that originally housed a pond. The applicant is proposing to relocate a buried drainage pipe from the privately-owned parcel of land and into the Village right-of way, raising objections from neighbors.

Why the Planning Board has allowed so many hearings and why they still have not voted on the application remains a mystery. If the applicant, his attorneys, engineer and landscape architect have not been able to put forth a convincing case in six months of meetings, why are they permitted unlimited hearings?

More puzzling is the relationship between the applicant and the engineering consultants that the Village retained to review the proposal. Rather than evaluating the plan, the consultant seems to be working in lock step with the applicants and the Village to craft a project that will gain the approval of the Planning Board.

During the six months of meetings scores of neighbors have voiced their objections to the proposal. They have written lengthy letters, sent videos of the flooding and attended many meetings to relay the extent of the existing problems in the area to the Planning Board. They have outlined their fears about what further development will do to their homes and those downstream. At each meeting the Board listens, nods and then invites the applicants to come back yet again. It’s baffling.

On June 26, the applicant and an entourage of professionals were on hand seeking to demonstrate that the proposal would not cause further harm to the flood prone area. They contend that replacement trees, underground cultecs and a watercourse diversion would allow the property to retain as much water as it currently holds. What they did not address is how the outflows from the three lots might impact everyone else.

On hand for the developer were attorney Lucia Chiocchio from Cuddy and Feder, engineer Eliot Senor, civil engineer Sharon Burke and certified arborist Aaron Schmidt.

Since the last meeting in May the applicants submitted “a revised plot plan and an updated tree replacement and planting plan.” They said their will plant 78 trees including 38 large deciduous trees to replace 94 trees that will be removed to accommodate the construction.

According to the applicants they met with the Village retained engineering consultant to “refine the stormwater management system design,” and did an analysis of the runoff from an underground pipe. They claimed to be “reducing runoff by 45% to 48%” and said the project is designed for a 100-year storm. They continued, “We had many meetings between our team and Mott’s team to satisfy everything they wanted to see.”

Arborist Aaron Schmidt was asked about the ability of the new trees to absorb as much water as the old ones they were replacing and he said, “In ten years the trees will provide 90% of the absorption needed. In 15-20 years they will provide all absorption needed.”

The applicants also explained, “This is without the grass and the stormwater infrastructure. With those the site and surrounding areas will experience improved water absorption.”

Board Member Mark Seiden said, “It is going to takes 10 years to get to 90% of where it is today? “

The arborist replied, “Yes! The old trees can take up more water than the new ones will.”

When asked what happens in year one, the arborist explained, “The current trees can absorb 9,500 gallons of water. The new trees can absorb 1,700 gallons of water. In year one there will be an 80% reduction in tree absorption.”

Engineer Eliot Senor added, “There is a 4% grade so water will run through the grass. The 5,000 gallons that the trees are not absorbing will be absorbed by the grass and the detention system. Run off will be improved.”

Seiden responded, “You have to see the data. These neighbors want proof that it is going to get better. We have to overlay these other factors to prove that it will get better.”

Senor replied, “There is no computer program about grass absorption. We now have .46 acres of land. What we are proposing will have 1.15 acres of lawn which will absorb more water.”

Board member Lynn Brooks Avni said, “You’re adding a third house and all the impervious surfaces but adding an acre of lawn?”

John Ruschke, the consulting engineer from Mott MacDonald hired by the Village said, “I feel confident with the current data that I have – and that it will improve conditions on the site. They used a more complex model that captures the situation. I feel confident that it is accurate. They are proposing to do onsite mitigation. I feel comfortable with the relocation of the pipe. It will not increase flooding.”

He conceded, “There is a significant flooding problem along Lincoln Road. What they are proposing will not change the conditions along Lincoln Road. It will still flood. When you look at the entire drainage area it is unrealistic to think there is something they can do impact the flooding there. It’s not a big enough site to change the situation there. What they are doing is not going to reduce the flooding.”

About pipe he said, “All they are doing is rerouting a pipe onto Lincoln. Right now the pipe is broken. It would not be vastly improved by changing it into an open channel pipe rather than a buried one.”

Board member Deb Pekarek asked, “Is there anything more the applicant can do it to make it better? Adding a house and increasing the size of the other two houses will not impact existing conditions even more?

Ruschke replied, “They are saying that they are reducing the overall flow. I can’t represent that what they are going to do will help. I am not comfortable saying there will be flood reduction.”

Seiden said, “You have a property that currently floods – why is the yardstick that we are applying “don’t make it any worse.” It seems to me that engineers are supposed to make things better.”

During public comments, several neighbors spoke.

Perci Battiwalla from 129 Carthage Road said, “You have heard from every resident that we have a huge problem. On May 23 we had 30 minutes of rain and the whole place was flooded. I have heard a lot of conflicting information. We are adding an additional house – we are not changing the width of the pipe. Where is the water going to go? We have to fix this problem. This is not a solution.”

Divya Jain of 54 Lincoln Road said, “Some of the water will be released in the open stream on 58 Lincoln. Where is the analysis of the increase in water that will be released into that open stream?”

Diana Hurwitz of 45 Fayette Road said she has lived there for 25 years and “the water table has changed. Flooding is more pervasive, This year the weather service predicts over 20 big storms.
This is a sensitive area that I consider a wetlands. I think it is a horrific idea. I think two houses should be built. The role of the Planning Board is to protect existing residents. So far the Planning Board has held six meetings on this. This plan will only exacerbate the flooding which gets worse every year. The simplest most elegant solution is usually the one that comes closest to the truth. The plan is not an improvement. The application should be rejected as it puts the neighbors at risk.”

Nelson Soares of 49 Lincoln Road said, “We have lived there since 1989. Developers will build and then move on. What about a bond to address this when it hurts us? What happens when you have a significant amount of rain in a short period of time. The math does not make sense on the amount of permeable service.”

Laura Kalmanoff of 38 Crossway said she has lived there since 2005. She said, “It is a terrible idea to put three houses in this area. It was a beautiful piece of land. This town is beautiful – it is being destroyed. There is a stream that runs down Lincoln Road. It’s obvious that the weather is getting worse,” and she spoke about the effects of development on the wildlife and the birds.

Jack Miller from 45 Fayette Road said, “From the beginning this has been controlled by the applicant. I went to the library and I found (an old map) with the pond on that property. There is a dangerous precedent for approving this project. There are major changes to weather patterns. There used to be a stream and a pond. The next applicant will apply to build on a pond or a stream and divert it into the street.”

About the neighbors’ advocacy he said, “I am proud of my young neighbors. They are at the Justin Timberlake concert tonight. People are bringing their kids to camp. No one is here saying this is a good idea.”

A man from 50 Lincoln Road said he sent a video to the Planning Board. He said, “I have lived in the next house for 5-6 years. It looks like a pond in the winter.”

Sam Blakely of 47 Fayette said, “There was always a lake behind my house.”

David Goldschmidt of 108 Carthage Road said, “I live directly across the road. The project is not going to improve the situation …maybe keep it the same – if the trees grow, the system is maintained. After the developer has long gone, it will take years for the trees to mature. The risk is completely on the neighbors. That’s not fair. At first I thought a bond was a good idea. But it doesn’t help the situation. If we have to access the bond we have been damaged. It won’t help the neighbors. I think the Planning Board should make sure they we are not harmed.”

Chairman Clapp asked the engineer, “What about the downstream effects?” Ruschke replied, “They did not do a downstream model. It is a more extensive, expensive approach. The infrastructure is undersized – it is not designed to accommodate the conditions. It would take a much bigger flood mitigation project – more infrastructure….. It is only a matter of time before FEMA changes these definitions.”

During deliberations Chairman John Clapp reminded the Board that the pipe was not being relocated to improve drainage solely, but rather to help allow for the new third lot.

Attorney Chiocchio said, “We did have a wetlands scientist look at the site. This is not a stormwater site – it is too small to address the stormwater in the area.”

The Planning Board deliberated and approved projects at 9 Ogden Road and 5 Cayuga Road but did not vote on 46 Lincoln and 101 Carthage, saying some of the reports had been submitted too late to be considered at this hearing.

The site is on the agenda again for July 31, 2024.

The project calls into question the role of the Planning Board and Village Engineering Department. Should they allow further development in a flood prone area when neighbors are already suffering significant damage during rainstorms?

Since the developer is already building two new houses, could he be required to convert the “pond” between them into a timed-release retention pond that would help to slow the flow of flood water rather than attempt to divert the water into the street?

If the Planning Board is weighing whether the developer will take to the court system on appeal if he is turned down, should they also weigh this risk against the possibility of a lawsuit against the Village from the neighbors if they are further harmed by the project?

We shall see.