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Planning Board Minutes 12/08/2009

VILLAGE OF CROTON ON HUDSON, NEW YORK

PLANNING BOARD MEETING MINUTES – TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2009


A regular meeting of the Planning Board of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, New York was held on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 in the Municipal Building.

MEMBERS PRESENT:        Chris Kehoe, Chairman
                                Fran Allen
                                Vincent Andrews
                                Robert Luntz

ABSENT:                 Mark Aarons

ALSO PRESENT:           Daniel O'Connor, P.E., Village Engineer


1.  Call to Order:

The meeting was called to order at 8:00 P.M. by Chairman Kehoe.

  • OLD BUSINESS:
  • Croton Community Nursery School – Lower North Highland Place (Sec. 67.20 Blk. 2 Lots 5, 6, 9 and 25 [formerly Lots 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 25]) – Application for a Preliminary Subdivision Approval
Norman Sheer, Esq., attorney for the Applicant, and Ron Wegner of Cronin Engineering were present.

Mr. Sheer noted that Chairman Kehoe has expressed his concern about the possibility of there being restrictions for the development of the nursery school property. He (Chairman Kehoe) thought there might be a contractual agreement between the donor of the property and the nursery school restricting what the nursery school could do with the property.  Mr. Sheer said that he asked the school’s counsel Jerry Klein to look into this matter.  Mr. Klein went through the school’s old records and found nothing to this effect.  Mr. Andrews said that it is his recollection that the title company did not find anything regarding restrictions on developing this land.  Mr. Andrews said that the Village Attorney James Staudt was asked to go through the deeds, title report, etc., and he also did not find anything.

Mr. Sheer said that, as part of the submission for tonight’s meeting, the Applicant has included plan #SP-1.0 CONS, which shows an alternative project layout with a conservation parcel (as opposed to a conservation easement) of more than 5 acres.  Mr. Sheer said that, in the alternative layout, the conservation land has been enlarged and the lots have been made smaller, which would control the size of the homes. The 5-acre conservation parcel being proposed would be dedicated to the Village as an open space parcel.  Mr. Sheer said that in his experience with conservation easements property owners think that the land is theirs, and they tend to encroach on the conservation easement. Mr. Sheer noted that a conservation easement was established in the Arrowcrest Subdivision, and encroachment into the easement has taken place.  Mr. Sheer said that he would think that by making this parcel someone else’s (the Village’s), that kind of encroachment would not happen.  Chairman Kehoe noted that this proposal for the dedication to the Village of a conservation parcel would have to be approved by the Village Board.   

Mr. Wegner said that for tonight’s meeting he has prepared a steep slopes analysis showing disturbance(s) in different categories. He did a comparison of lot disturbances for the original and the alternative layouts for Lots 1 and 2.  Mr. Wegner said that pulling the house forward on Lot 1 would reduce the steep slopes disturbance(s).  It would also make it necessary for the Applicant to have to seek a front yard setback variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Mr. Wegner said that in the alternative layout for Lot 1 the disturbances would be reduced in all categories as follows: in the 15% to 25% category the reduction would be just over 500 square feet; in the 25% to 35% category, 723 square feet and in the greater than 35% category, more than 1,400 square feet for a total of (approximately) 2,600 square feet less disturbance.  Ms. Allen asked Mr. Wegner what the total amount of disturbance to the steep slopes would be in the alternative layout for Lot 1, to which Mr. Wegner said that the total disturbance in all three categories would be 10,019 square feet.  

Chairman Kehoe noted that, in so far as the disturbances to the steep slopes, wetlands, etc. are concerned, all of the lots in question are restricted by these types of (environmental) constraints.  Chairman Kehoe noted that there is very little land left in the Village that would not be so restricted.

The Village Engineer asked Mr. Wegner what he did on Lot 1 to obtain the steep slope reductions, to which Mr. Wegner said that he pulled the house forward 20 feet to get it off the hill.  Mr. Wegner noted (again) that moving the house forward would make it necessary for the Applicant to have to seek a zoning variance.  Ms. Allen questioned what the procedure is for obtaining a variance from the Zoning Board.  Are variances “as of right” or would the Planning Board have to send the Applicant to the ZBA?  Mr. Andrews went over the reason for needing a variance, stating that the Planning Board had asked the Applicant to try to minimize the disturbance(s).  The Planning Board is in a dialogue with the Applicant’s engineer to see how the environmental impacts could be reduced and one way of reducing the impacts would be to move the house forward. By doing so, the Applicant would have to seek a front yard setback variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Mr. Sheer said that he would think that there would be no variance issued at this point.  One would not go for a variance on the basis of a conceptual layout on a subdivision plan.  One would do so at the time of the minor site plan approval. Mr. Sheer noted that the original layout that was proposed would not require a variance.  Furthermore, the board would not be issuing the environmental permits at this point. That would come later with the minor site plan approval. Chairman Kehoe told Mr. Sheer that subdivisions are regularly developed with the issuing of environmental permits. Chairman Kehoe said that he does not want to give the impression to the public that it is unusual to have to grant environmental permits for subdivisions. Chairman Kehoe pointed out that the alternative layout for Lot 1 does lessen the environmental impacts, but there would still be significant impacts.

Mr. Sheer said that in so far as the steep slopes are concerned, the Planning Board could not just say that, “they don’t like to disturb steep slopes.”  The Planning Board has to look at the standards set forth in the steep slopes ordinance and has to make their decision based on those standards.  

The Village Engineer pointed out that the granting of a front yard setback variance for Lot 1 would be an independent decision by the ZBA.  If the Planning Board feels that the alternative layout for Lot 1 is the more desirable layout, then, it might be favorable for the Planning Board to make a recommendation to the ZBA to that effect. The Village Engineer suggested that the Planning Board might want to send the application to the ZBA now.  The Village Engineer noted that if the variance were granted by the ZBA, it would only be valid for a year. Mr. Sheer said that it does not make sense to go to the ZBA “without having someone who wants to build a house.”  Mr. Sheer said that, at the time of the minor site plan approval, the homeowner on Lot 1 might offer the same (two) proposals, and the Planning Board might decide at that time that pushing the house back to its original location is a better idea.  

Chairman Kehoe noted that, with respect to the disturbance to the wetlands, there would be less of a disturbance to the wetlands buffer using the alternative layout for Lot 1.

Mr. Wegner said that, as part of tonight’s submission, he calculated the steep slopes disturbance for the original and alternative layouts for Lot 2 and found that, in the alternative layout, there is an additional 200 square feet of disturbance in the 25% to 35% category. There is 2,300 square feet less disturbance in the 15% to 25% category.  The Village Engineer said that, in the alternative layout for Lot 2, there is (would be) more disturbance on the steeper slopes.  

Chairman Kehoe referred to the alternative layout for Lot 2 and asked if moving the house on Lot 2 would reduce the impact to the drainage channel, to which Mr. Wegner said that they would still be in the drainage channel, but the impact would be reduced.  Mr. Andrews noted that the Planning Board had looked at the layouts for Lots 1 and 2 in the field.  It would appear from what has been discussed tonight that from an environmental standpoint the alternative layout for Lot 1 would make the most sense and, for Lot 2, the best layout would be the one that was originally proposed. Chairman Kehoe noted that pushing the house further back on Lot 2 would bring it closer to the wetlands buffer, to which Mr. Wegner said that it would, indeed, be closer, but it would not be in the buffer.  Chairman Kehoe said that, given the environmental constraints, he would believe that Lot 2 should be eliminated altogether, to which Mr. Wegner replied that the environmental impacts were not as great in the original layout for Lot 2.

Mr. Wegner said that for Lot 3 the steep slope disturbance would mostly be in the 15% to 25% category.

Chairman Kehoe noted that, with respect to the steep slopes disturbance on Lot 4, the total amount of disturbance for the construction of the proposed driveway on Lot 4 would be considerable.  There would be considerable disturbance in the 35% or greater category.  Chairman Kehoe noted that the house location (as opposed to the driveway) would be in a relatively flat area.  

Mr. Sheer noted that, with respect to the total land disturbance for this subdivision, a little more than one acre of land would be disturbed on a site consisting of more than ten acres.  Mr. Sheer noted that .6% of wetlands buffers would be disturbed.  Mr. Sheer said that if one were to look at the entire site, the disturbance would not be that great, “given the fact that there are not any cornfields left in Croton.” Mr. Sheer noted that the 5-acre parcel of land in the back proposed to be dedicated to the Village has a great many environmental features that are not being disturbed. Chairman Kehoe said that, as part of their review, the Planning Board would need to look at the disturbance in the areas where the houses are being built, to which Mr. Sheer responded that he is not saying that the Planning Board should not do that.  The Planning Board would be looking at site-related issues “down the road” at the time of the minor site plan approval(s).  Mr. Sheer said that he would think that it is reasonable at this point in time to look at how much overall disturbance there would be for four houses on a 10-acre site.  

The Village Engineer asked Mr. Wegner if putting in retaining walls would reduce the steep slopes disturbance on Lot 1, to which Mr. Wegner responded that if he were to put in a six-foot high wall, it would definitely make some reductions in the higher steep slopes categories.  The Village Engineer asked Mr. Wegner if he could give an estimate of what the reduction would be, to which Mr. Wegner said that there would be several hundred feet of reductions.  The Village Engineer referred to the retaining wall running the entire length of the driveway on Lot 4 and said that on the uphill side of the wall not much grading is being shown, to which Mr. Wegner said that this is correct.  Mr. Wegner said that he is trying to limit the height of this retaining wall to six feet “as a zoning consideration.”  The Village Engineer referred to the original layout for the house on Lot 2 and asked Mr. Wegner what his purpose was for grading the land around the house, to which Mr. Wegner said that he wanted to grade the land in the back (farther) away from the house and make a flat area in the front. The Village Engineer noted that there is some grading on the hillside on Lot 2. If a retaining wall were put in, it might reduce the disturbance somewhat, to which Mr. Wegner said that it might provide a minor reduction but he did not think it would be that much. The Village Engineer said that retaining walls could reduce the disturbance on the left side, to which Mr. Wegner said that this is true. If the board so chooses, he could put in retaining walls in that location.  The Village Engineer observed that, based on the layout for Lot 4, there are not that many grading changes that could be made, to which Mr. Wegner said that he could add a retaining wall on the low side of the driveway and make some reductions there.   The Village Engineer noted that putting in retaining walls at the back of the house on Lot 1 would reduce the wetlands buffer disturbance.  The Village Engineer noted that, in so far as the alternative layout for Lot 1 is concerned, the disturbance to the buffer would probably get close to “0;” however, as noted earlier in the meeting, a front yard setback variance would be required.  The Village Engineer suggested that Mr. Wegner could also look at additional retaining walls for the original layout on Lot 1 to determine how much less the disturbance would be.

Mr. Andrews asked where the sewer service for the houses would be situated, to which the Village Engineer showed the Planning Board on the Applicant’s plan where the sewer line(s) would go.  The Village Engineer said that all utilities would follow the driveway corridor(s).  

Mr. Luntz referred to the proposed limits of disturbance lines, which are indicated on the Applicant’s plan by thick (dark) dashes, and asked if these limits of disturbance lines get “locked in” with the approval, to which Chairman Kehoe responded that these lines are only “locked in” through the construction period.  Chairman Kehoe said that the Planning Board could go a level above these disturbance lines and require that the Applicant also put in building envelopes.  The Village Engineer said that the limits of disturbance obligate the Applicant to build inside the lines.  The Planning Board could impose, as part of their approval, limits of disturbance and also building envelopes.  Building envelopes could be put around the primary structures (houses).  Mr. Andrews asked if a property/homeowner could put an accessory structure such as a swimming pool outside the building envelope, to which the Village Engineer said that the Planning Board could establish an envelope for all structures (sheds, pools, garages, etc.) or just the primary structure (house).

Mr. Luntz noted that at previous meetings there has been a request from a few members for an alternative site plan showing less lots – three instead of four.  Mr. Luntz said that it would seem from past experience that the Planning Board has been displeased with the results of that kind of reduction in the number of lots.  It seems to have resulted in over-sized homes being built.  Ms. Allen said that, at the time of the minor site plan approval, the Planning Board acts as an architectural review board and considers factors such as house size.  Mr. Sheer pointed out that there is a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) law in effect in the Village.  He would think that the Planning Board would not have the discretion to request a 2,500 square-foot home on a 1-acre lot. Mr. Luntz said that if the Planning Board were to approve the subdivision presently being proposed, the areas of disturbance would be limited as indicated on the Applicant’s plan(s); there would be a “natural size” home that would fit in the allotted area(s). Mr. Luntz said that a property/home owner would be hard-pressed to extend beyond the limit lines to create even more disturbance. Mr. Luntz said that, in so far as limiting the number of lots is concerned, it would seem to him, at one level, to be a trade-off.

Chairman Kehoe said that, from the layouts being presented, Mr. Wegner has put thought into the sketches for the proposed residences.  The houses on Lots 2 and 4 show an attached garage on the side at grade level and the houses on Lots 1 and 3 show a drive-in garage.  Chairman Kehoe asked if the houses/garages were designed that way due to environmental constraints, to which Mr. Wegner said that, indeed, they were; also, they were designed that way because the Planning Board had approved these designs for houses in the past. Mr. Wegner noted that one of the styles being proposed is the Ranch style.

Chairman Kehoe said that, process-wise, the Planning Board has to schedule a public hearing on this subdivision application.  Chairman Kehoe said that the question then becomes, “What do we want to see at the time of the public hearing?”  Mr. Andrews said that he would like to have a sense from the board as to which of the layouts for Lots 1 and 2 would be preferable.  Mr. Andrews said that he, personally, would prefer the alternative layout for Lot 1 and the original layout for Lot 2, to which Mr. Luntz said that he would agree with Mr. Andrews in this regard.  Chairman Kehoe said that he would prefer the alternative layout for Lot 1; but, he still thinks that the number of lots being proposed (four) is too many. Chairman Kehoe referred to the discussion earlier in the meeting regarding retaining walls and said that the exercise that the Village Engineer went through is a necessary engineering exercise. Chairman Kehoe said that it was a “tortured discussion” about having to do all this extra work with retaining walls to set four lots on this property.  Chairman Kehoe reiterated that his position is three lots versus four.  Chairman Kehoe said that he would be willing to move forward to the public hearing with the four lots; however, his position is that four lots are too many.  Chairman Kehoe noted that board member Mark Aarons is not at the meeting tonight, so he does not know what the majority of the board members think about the number of lots.  Chairman Kehoe told the Applicant that if they want to take a chance and move forward to the public hearing, he, personally, would be willing to do so, to which Mr. Sheer said that, “that is the way we want to proceed.”  Chairman Kehoe said that he would like to hear the comments from the public on this application and opening the public hearing would allow that to happen.

Mr. Andrews said that he would also like to have a sense from the board as to whether to go with the conservation easement or the conservation parcel (dedication).  Mr. Andrews said that it is his understanding that if the land were to be dedicated to the Village, then, the Village would be responsible for maintaining it.  Chairman Kehoe said that he, personally, would prefer the separate conservation parcel controlled by the Village, to which the other board members all agreed.  The Village Engineer noted that the Village would need access to the parcel for maintenance purposes, to which Mr. Sheer said that they (the Applicant) could look into this matter.   Chairman Kehoe asked if the Village would have access off of Birch Court through Lot 38, which is owned by the Village, to which the Village Engineer said that he could check with the DPW to see if access off of Birch Court would be acceptable.  Mr. Sheer suggested that another way of providing access would be for the Applicant to entertain a right-of-way off of one of the driveways.

Mr. Andrews said that, in so far as the steep slopes are concerned, the Planning Board and the Applicant need to go through the review standards in the steep slopes ordinance.  Mr. Andrews noted that the Planning Board has not gone through the standards item by item; but, the Planning Board has probably hit on certain items already.  Mr. Andrews said that the Planning Board and the Applicant should be prepared to go through these items at the public hearing.

Mr. Wegner noted that, with respect to the wetlands, the original layout of the lots shows incursion into the wetlands just on Lot 1. In the alternate layout there is slight incursion also on Lot 2.  The Village Engineer referred to the earlier discussion regarding retaining walls and said that if a retaining wall were constructed on Lot 1 using the alternative layout, then, there would potentially be no wetlands permit required.   

Chairman Kehoe asked Mr. Wegner to provide to the Planning Board for the next meeting colored maps showing the three categories of steep slopes on the property.  Chairman Kehoe said that these colored maps would be helpful in understanding the impacts.

Chairman Kehoe suggested that the public hearing could take place at the first Planning Board meeting in January (January 12th) rather than over the holidays.

Sam Watkins of 30 Lounsbury Road came forward and said that this board has been talking tonight about the “lesser of three or four or five evils.”  He questioned why the Planning Board feels that they have to arrange this parcel so that this developer “can make money.”  Mr. Watkins said that the purpose of this board is to allow development to proceed effectively and efficiently taking into consideration the environmental impacts. Mr. Watkins said that it could not hurt to have a three-lot subdivision drawn out to see how the three-lot layout lessens the impacts on the environment, to which Chairman Kehoe said that, as the Planning Board goes through the public hearing process, it might be that this subdivision ends up with three as opposed to four lots.  Chairman Kehoe added that he does not believe that it is the role of the Planning Board to say that this property is “so environmentally constrained that you can’t make an application.”  Mr. Luntz noted that the Planning Board members have all been to the site and have seen where the houses are supposed to be.  Mr. Watkins noted that the house on Lot 1 has been shifted to get it out of the buffer, but now, it needs a variance.  Mr. Watkins said that it is quite possible that this particular site should not be developed as proposed.  He would think that it would make more sense to see what a plan with three lots would look like, to which Mr. Luntz said that it was suggested to the Applicant that they do a comparison of three versus four lots and they chose not to do that, so the Planning Board is moving the process along.  Ms. Allen questioned the effectiveness (with respect to this application) of the new steep slopes law and said that she would review the old law to see if “any of this is possible,” to which Chairman Kehoe said that in his experience there is no such ordinance that says “you cannot disturb a steep slope.” Chairman Kehoe said that there is no such ordinance that prohibits people from making an application.

Chairman Kehoe stated that the public hearing on this subdivision application would take place on Tuesday, January 12th.

  • APPROVAL OF MINUTES:
The minutes of the Tuesday, November 10, 2009 Planning Board meeting were approved, as amended, on a motion by Ms. Allen, seconded by Mr. Luntz and carried by a vote of 4-0.   

  
  • ADJOURNMENT:
There being no further business to come before the board, the meeting was duly adjourned at 9:35 P.M.

Sincerely,



Sylvia Mills
Secretary

Sylvia Mills
Village of Croton-on-Hudson
Engineer's Office
tel: 914-271-4783
fax: 914-271-3790