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Planning Board Minutes 12/11/07


A regular meeting of the Planning Board of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, New York was held on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 in the Municipal Building.

MEMBERS PRESENT:        Chris Kehoe, Chairman
                                Vincent Andrews
                                Robert Luntz
                                Deven Sharma

                ABSENT: Fran Allen
                ALSO PRESENT:   Ann Gallelli, Liaison from the Village Board
Daniel O’Connor, P.E., Village Engineer

1.  Call to Order:

The meeting was called to order at 8:10 P.M. by Chairman Kehoe.


Chairman Kehoe suggested that the Planning Board should move to the third item on the agenda, “Approval of Minutes.”  He noted that board member, Deven Sharma, has not yet arrived, and Mr. Sharma’s presence would be required to hold the public hearing on the Ackerman/Harbeson/Morgan subdivision application. The Planning Board members present approved the Tuesday, October 23, 2007 minutes, as amended, on a motion by Mr. Luntz, seconded by Chairman Kehoe and carried by a vote of 3 to 0.


*    Brian Ackerman/John Harbeson/Lael Morgan – Batten Road (Sec. 68.17 Blk. 2 Lots 7, 8.1 & 9) – Application for a Preliminary Subdivision Approval

Chairman Kehoe recused himself from the review of this application. He explained the reason for doing so, stating that his wife operates a tutoring business in the Village and has, in her capacity as a tutor, one of the Applicant’s children as a student. Chairman Kehoe noted that the public hearing could now take place as Mr. Sharma has arrived, and the Planning Board has a quorum of three members.  He asked Mr. Luntz to take his place as chairman for the review of the application.

Norman Sheer, attorney for the Applicants; Ronald Wegner of Cronin Engineering; and Brian Ackerman, Ann Harbeson and Lael Morgan, owners of the property, were present.  

Mr. Sheer reviewed for those members of the public present the proposal before the board. He noted that this proposal has (already) been before the Planning Board several times. The project involves changes to the lot lines of three parcels of land.  Two of the three parcels are improved and the other (third) parcel is vacant.  The lot lines would be adjusted so that the third vacant lot would be “buildable.” At a previous meeting, the Applicant requested that the Planning Board recommend to the Village Board that the subdivision requirement be waived so that they could proceed with an adjustment to the lot lines. The Planning Board recommended that the waiver be granted. The Applicant went before the Village Board, and the Village Board denied the waiver.  The Applicant is back before the Planning Board tonight with their application for a preliminary subdivision approval.

Mr. Sheer stated that the total size of the three parcels is approximately 11 acres.  He referred to the subdivision map showing the three parcels and pointed to the existing homes on the two “improved” lots.  Mr. Sheer said that the Applicant proposes to “break off” one lot and sell it as a building lot.  This (vacant) lot is approximately 2? acres in size.  Mr. Sheer noted that, prior to this proposal being sent to the Village Board, a discussion had taken place with the Planning Board about granting a sewer easement to the Village.  There was also a request made by the Planning Board that the Applicant grant to the Village a trail easement.  Mr. Sheer said that the Applicant is (would be) willing to grant the sewer easement but not the easement for the trail. The Applicant is concerned about the trail being placed too close to the Harbeson’s house and too close to the (proposed) house on the vacant lot. Mr. Sheer noted that the Applicant had expressed their willingness to offer the Village a trail easement when their application for a waiver from the subdivision requirement(s) was being considered. Now that the waiver has been denied and the Applicant has to go through the subdivision process rather than a lot line adjustment, the Applicant has to incur the additional expense(s) involved. Mr. Sheer noted to the Planning Board that the Applicant would be willing to pay the recreation fee in lieu of providing land for parks and recreational purposes.     

Mr. Wegner said that the Applicant’s plans have been revised, according to the comments received at the November 27th meeting. The title of the plans has been changed from “Lot Line Adjustment” to “Preliminary Subdivision.”  Drainage structures have been added to the plan(s) to demonstrate how the runoff would be captured in dry wells.  The approximate location of the existing rainfall drainage channel has been shown.  The revised plans also show the adjacent residences.

Mr. Sheer pointed out that the house on the Applicant’s subdivision plan(s) is “conceptual only.” It is being shown for purposes of the subdivision application. If and when the vacant lot is sold, the owner/developer would have to come back before the Planning Board with a minor site plan application. The house being proposed on the minor site plan would not necessarily be that which is on the subdivision plan(s).

Mr. Luntz noted to those present that, for tonight’s meeting, the Applicant has submitted to the Planning Board a revised Short Environmental Assessment Form (SEAF).  A Drainage Analysis has also been provided.  Mr. Wegner told the board that the Applicant’s Drainage Analysis demonstrates that they can capture storm water runoff in two proposed dry wells and mitigate increases in runoff for a 10-year storm event. The Village Engineer noted that if, during the excavation, the contractor were to hit bedrock, the dry wells would have to be relocated.  The dry wells would have to be put in a spot where there is soil. Mr. Wegner said that he has done “perc” tests, and according to the test results, there would seem to be enough soil.  The Village Engineer reiterated that if the contractor were to hit bedrock, another site for the dry wells would have to be found.

Mr. Sheer noted that the new vacant lot is compliant with zoning.  It would appear that no variances would be required to build a house on this lot.    
Mr. Luntz said that the Applicant has provided a Steep Slopes Analysis, which indicates that the disturbance to steep slopes is less than the maximum allowed.

The Village Engineer referred to the two retaining walls – one eight feet in height and the other, ten feet – situated at the proposed driveway entrance opposite Eklof Court. The Village Engineer said that he would be concerned about the visual impact of these walls on someone pulling out of Eklof Court.  He suggested that landscaping should be provided to screen the walls.  Mr. Sheer said that, in his view, this would be an issue to be resolved at the time of the minor site plan approval. The Planning Board might decide at that time that the driveway entrance should be relocated.  

Mr. Sharma questioned why the Applicant is no longer willing to offer a trail easement to the Village.  Mr. Sheer said that, at previous meetings, the Applicant expressed concern about having the trail so close to the house on the new vacant lot. It was thought that it might prove to be a disincentive for someone buying the land, should the trail be situated so close to the house. The Applicant offered to grant a trail easement as a “trade-off” for the granting of the waiver from the subdivision requirement. The Village Board deemed it inappropriate to grant the waiver. The Applicant came to the conclusion that, rather than risk making the lot less “saleable” by approving the trail link, the Applicant would, in the alternative, pay a recreation fee.  Mr. Sheer noted that it is clear in the Village Code that the applicant has the option of paying a recreation fee.  Mr. Andrews questioned if the alternative of paying a recreation fee is the option of the applicant. It was his (Mr. Andrews’) understanding that the Planning Board has to determine whether a portion of land on the property is suitable for parks and recreational purposes. The Planning Board has not made that determination yet.  Mr. Sheer said that the Applicant would ask that the Planning Board consider the granting of the sewer easement as a “trade” for the trail easement.  “We [the Applicant} ask that you recognize that the sewer easement is a considerable contribution.”  Mr. Sharma said that he, too, would believe that the option of paying a recreation fee is at the Planning Board’s (rather than the applicant’s) discretion.

Mr. Luntz opened the public hearing.  He asked if there were any comments from the members of the public present.  Mr. Trendell of 39 Batten Road told the board members that at the Village Board meeting on the application for the granting of the waiver, the Village Board recommended that a full-blown environmental impact study be done. The retaining walls at the entrance to the new lot would have an environmental impact on the neighborhood from an aesthetic standpoint, given their height (eight and ten feet, respectively), and their location across from Eklof Court.  The Village Engineer noted that these walls would have to be constructed for grading purposes. The aesthetic impact of the two retaining wall(s) would be an issue to be addressed at the time of the minor site plan approval.  Mr. Luntz asked if the proposed driveway would be paved or gravel, to which the Village Engineer replied that the driveway would have to be paved.  A gravel driveway would eventually wash away.  Mr. Trendell said that he would think that a full-blown environmental impact study should be required because of the potential for flooding on Batten Road.

Thomas Szoboszlai of 1 Eklof Court was present. Mr. Szoboszlai said that the Applicant’s attorney, Mr. Sheer, mentioned earlier in the meeting that much of what is before the Planning Board tonight has already been before the Planning Board.  Mr. Szoboszlai said that the fact is that this is a public hearing tonight, and this is the first time that a public hearing before the Planning Board has taken place.  Chairman Kehoe has recused himself from the review of this application. Mr. Szoboszlai said that this member of the Planning Board (Chairman Kehoe) has had a great influence on the outcome thus far, and he is no longer present.  In so far as environmental issues are concerned, Ms. Allen had indicated at a previous meeting that the geology of this lot is one of the most complicated of any in Westchester County.  For that reason, Mr. Szoboszlai did not think that a “short form [environmental] assessment” would be adequate.  

Mr. Szoboszlai said that the Applicant has indicated that they meet the steep slopes requirements; however, according to the steep slopes analysis on the plan(s), they barely comply with these requirements.  Mr. Szoboszlai thought that, due to the fact that they (the Applicant) are barely in compliance with the Steep Slopes Ordinance, the Planning Board has an obligation to more thoroughly examine the calculations provided. Mr. Luntz noted that a computer program designed specifically for engineering purposes calculates the steep slopes. He personally would tend to rely on a professional engineer, who is willing to put his seal (stamp) of approval on the drawings, that the Village’s requirements have been met.

Mr. Szoboszlai noted that the Applicant has stated tonight that they are no longer willing to offer the trail easement to the Village due to the fact that they now have to go through the expense of a full-blown subdivision process.  He failed to see what additional expenses the Applicant would have to incur.  They (the Applicant) are simply continuing the (subdivision) process that began months ago.  

Mr. Szoboszlai said that, as the Planning Board is doing a full subdivision review, they have to make sure that all the new lots comply with the zoning.  All the site work relates to the vacant lot.  There does not appear to be any proposals for construction on the two existing (improved) lots.  He questioned how the Planning Board would know that these two lots comply with the zoning.  The Village Engineer noted that these two lots are being made larger as a result of the subdivision.  In so far as meeting the zoning requirements is concerned, they would end up being more, rather than less, conforming.  The Village Engineer noted further that these two improved lots might predate the 1931 Zoning Code.  If so, they would be considered legally non-conforming lots. Mr. Szoboszlai said that, as he understands it, because the lot lines are changing, and a subdivision of these lots is now being proposed, these lots must comply with the current zoning. Mr. Sheer noted that the Applicant is not increasing the degree of non-conformity of the existing (improved) lots by subdividing the property.  In each case, a portion of the vacant lot is merging with the existing (house) lot.  A new third lot is being created.  Mr. Sheer pointed out to the Planning Board that “We [the Applicant] are not asking you to approve [these] other spaces as lots.”  Mr. Sharma said that it would seem to him that this proposal for a subdivision of land would not add to any non-conformity, if it ever existed.  He questioned putting the Applicant through the exercise of doing further research into this matter.  The Village Engineer noted that, with the lot line adjustment, one of the existing lots would go from 2.1 acres in size to 6 acres.  The other lot would go from 0.7 acres to more than 3 acres.  This represents a huge increase in lot area for both lots. The Village Engineer noted further that the setbacks for both houses would not be less than they are now as a result of this subdivision.

Mr. Trendell asked if, for example, the 6-acre lot, now being proposed, could be subdivided later on, to which the Village Engineer said that a property owner has a right to make an application to the Planning Board for a subdivision of land.  The Applicant would have to go through the subdivision process.  It would be up to the Planning Board to approve/deny the application.

Mr. Szoboszlai said that the plans for the house show an 18-foot wall running the entire length of the lot. As he understands it, this is the best that the Applicant could do with the new vacant lot, as it is now being configured. He thought that if the Planning Board were to grant their approval, restrictions/limitations should be put on the size/height of the walls.  The retaining walls would be an eyesore.  They would change the character of that area of the Village.  Mr. Luntz asked where the 18-foot high retaining wall is situated, to which Mr. Szoboszlai said that he is referring to the two walls at the driveway location, one being eight feet in height and the other ten feet for a total of 18 feet. Mr. Szoboszlai said that these two wall(s) would appear to be 18 feet high from street level, to which Mr. Luntz said that, nevertheless, there is no wall being proposed that is 18 feet in height.   Mr. Andrews said that when a future applicant comes before the Planning Board with a minor site plan application, the Planning Board would review the site plan for conformance with Village Code requirements.  Any issues pertaining to these retaining walls would be reviewed at that time.  Mr. Szoboszlai thought there should be restrictions placed on the construction (house, retaining walls, etc.) at the time the subdivision is approved.  Otherwise, it creates a situation, which is untenable for a future board.

Mr. Szoboszlai said that it is his understanding from the Applicant’s plans that the height of the house is (would be) somewhat less than 35 feet.  He pointed out that the house is being built on a hill and would appear to be almost twice that height from street level.  Mr. Andrews noted that there are many houses in the Village built on a hillside.  Mr. Szoboszlai said that he would think there should be a restriction placed on the height of the house.  Mr. Andrews said that he personally would rather not put a restriction on the height, size, etc.  The Planning Board would want to have flexibility in these matters when the minor site plan application comes before the board. Mr. Szoboszlai asked that the Planning Board put a limitation on the height based on the lowest point of the footing(s) of the house.  The Village Engineer noted to Mr. Szoboszlai that the calculation(s) for determining the height of a house is (are) defined in the Village Code.  Mr. Szoboszlai said that he would think that a further limitation should be placed on the height.

Laura Seitz of 2 Brook Trail was present. Ms. Seitz said that she was pleased that, in so far as this subdivision proposal is concerned, the vast majority of the land would be left woodland.  She noted that only one new lot, 2? acres in size, is being proposed; a substantial amount of the subdivided land would remain as is.  Ms. Seitz said that from what she is hearing tonight, “People don’t want a house in their back yard.  People get used to things the way they are, and any change is unfair and unreasonable.”  Ms. Seitz noted that a property owner has the right to build on his/her land.  She would want the Planning Board to consider the steep slopes, water runoff, etc., but she would think that, “We cannot exercise our preference to leave a lot empty because we are used to it.”   

The Village Engineer asked that the Applicant provide an estimate of the cost of putting in the sewer connection to Eklof Court.  He noted that the sewer easement metes and bounds would be developed later on.  The metes and bounds description would be worked out in conjunction with the signing of the final subdivision plat.

Mr. Luntz noted that it was suggested earlier in the meeting that a Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) should be required. The Village Engineer noted that the requirement for an FEAF provides for a more thorough environmental review of a project. The Village Engineer pointed out that this project would not take place in a Critical Environmental Area (CEA). Mr. Andrews asked the Village Engineer what it says in the Village Code regarding the requirement for an FEAF.  The Village Engineer told Mr. Andrews that, according to the Village Code, the requirement for an FEAF is left up to the Lead Agency.  The Village Engineer told the board members that it could be considered reasonable to ask the Applicant to submit an FEAF.  Mr. Sharma said that he would think it would not be necessary to require an FEAF.  He did not see how this project would relate to the issues included in the long (full assessment) form.  Mr. Luntz said that he would tend to agree with Mr. Sharma in this regard.  

Mr. Sharma brought up the issue, discussed earlier in the meeting, of the trail easement versus recreation fee for the new vacant lot.  Mr. Sharma noted that the Planning Board would want to be satisfied that they have made the right decision regarding this matter of parks/recreational land.  The Village Engineer stated that the master plan for the Village trails is approximately ten years old.  The Trails Committee had recommended that a trails link be established from Valley Trail to Batten Road.  Mr. Sharma said that he would like to make it a condition of the subdivision approval that this trail link be provided.  Mr. Sheer noted that, in so far as this subdivision is concerned, only one new house is being proposed.  The Applicant has already agreed to grant the Village a sewer easement.  Asking the Applicant to grant both a trail and sewer easement is a significant request.  Mr. Andrews said that, as a recreational use of the land, he would think that the trail link would be a worthwhile use to consider.  The Planning Board has not determined yet whether recreational/park land on this property is feasible. One option that the Planning Board knows is feasible is the trail link.  Mr. Luntz said that he would ask that the Applicant reconsider the trail link.  The trail would be placed along the side of the property. The Applicant has expressed concern about the trail devaluating the property, but he (Mr. Luntz) did not think that this would be the case.  Mr. Andrews told the Applicant that he realizes that satisfying the Planning Board’s request for a sewer easement is significant; however, he did not see how it could be a “trade off” for the trail easement, as Mr. Sheer suggested earlier.

The Applicant asked the Planning Board for a recess to discuss the matter of the trail easement.  The Planning Board granted the Applicant’s request. The Applicant left the meeting.

The Applicant returned to the meeting and a discussion ensued among the Applicant, the Village Engineer and the Planning Board regarding the trail. The Village Engineer told those present that, once a trail is established, the Trails Committee would put symbols on the trees to mark the location of the trail.  Brush and other debris would be cleared so that the trail is “walkable.”  The Village Engineer noted that the subject trail would not be heavily used, so the Trails Committee would not “wood chip” the trail.  This trail would be considered a “foot path through the woods.”  Mr. Sheer said that Mr. & Mrs. Harbeson would have to know where the trail would be located.  The Village Engineer suggested that, before the next Planning Board meeting, Jan Wines, chairman of the Trails Committee, could walk the site to map out a feasible location.  He reiterated that the trail has to be “walkable.”  Mr. Sharma noted to the Applicant that, as long as there is an agreement that the trail easement would be granted, the Planning Board could move forward with this application.  Mr. Sheer noted that it would be a condition of the approval that the location of the trail would have to be acceptable to the Trails Committee.  An effort would have to be made, in marking out the trail, to keep the trail as far as possible from the Harbeson’s residence. The condition would also say that the Trails Committee would not put down wood chips.  Mr. Luntz said that this [solution] would be acceptable to him.         
Mr. Luntz said that, as he understands it, an easement would be granted from the end of Valley Trail, which would cross portions of the newly created Harbeson lot and run along the side of the newly created lot on Batten Road.  The trail should be situated as far away from the Harbeson’s residence as practicable. The terrain in this area would be difficult, but it (the trail) would be cleared of brush and debris.  No wood chips would be put down, but the Trails Committee would put symbols on the trees to mark the trail.  Mr. Luntz proposed that the Planning Board should ask the Trails Committee to mark out the trail. The Harbeson’s should, then, walk the trail to make sure that it meets the criteria that has been discussed tonight.

Mr. Luntz suggested that, for the next meeting, the Applicant could fill out and submit to the Planning Board the FEAF.

Mr. Luntz said that he would assume, from the discussion tonight, that the sewer easement is “on the table,” to which Mr. Sheer replied that he would be working with the Village Attorney, James Staudt, on the two easement agreements (sewer and trail).

Mr. Luntz proposed that the Planning Board close the public hearing on this application, but action was not taken.

The Village Engineer said that the Applicant should prepare an estimate of the cost of the sewer line construction.

The Village Engineer noted that there should be a condition in the resolution to place iron rods at the corners of the new vacant lot.  

The Village Engineer stated that, in so far as the trail is concerned, it is a matter of finding a location that is satisfactory to the Trails Committee. Mr. Sheer noted that their (the Applicant’s) only concern is the entrance of the trail from Valley Trail.  Mr. Sheer said that the satisfactory location of the trail could be a condition of the final [subdivision] approval.

The Planning Board scheduled the next meeting on this application for Tuesday, December 18th.


There being no further business to come before the Board, the meeting was duly adjourned at 9:45 P.M.


Sylvia Mills