Feller-Newmark Road subdivision causes uproar

The ongoing saga of the proposed 11-lot subdivision on Red Hook’s Feller-Newmark Road is heating up.

It was standing room only as area residents packed Town Hall Dec. 16 and Jan. 6 to shower the town planning board with concerns that ranged from the road’s narrowness and recent accidents to environmental impacts and possible zoning irregularities.

At the Dec. 16 public hearing, project engineer Michael Bodendorf and attorney John Wagner, representing the developer, Landmark Properties, were seeking preliminary plat approval for the Preserves at Lakes Kill development after receiving a negative SEQR declaration on Dec. 2.

Flanked by two 3 by 4 foot maps of the project, Bodendorf discussed the updated version of the plan, which showed a cluster for the 11 lots on the 100-acre parcel. He explained that each house would be served by a private well and septic system and each lot would connect to a private road. The lots are in the RD3 district, and the northern 80 acres behind them are in the Agricultural Business District (ABD) and constitute the conservation easement parcel.

A tearful Kelly O’Connor of 8 David Lane then opened the public comment period, recalling how she and her family moved here in 2007. “We came for the school district and the beautiful country roads,” she said, adding that she wanted the area to be kept rural and pristine for her children.

Christopher Klose, chair of the town Economic Development Committee, was also opposed to the project. He said the objectives of the new town zoning are to wed the future with the past. “If we destroy Feller-Newmark Road, we will rip the heart out of what we’re trying to do here,” he said.

Robert McKeon, who owns 400 acres of farmland adjacent to the subdivision site, bluntly asked the board to deny the application. He said the SEQR determination was insufficient and should be rescinded because substantive changes had been made to the original application — the right of way had changed from 50 feet to 33 feet and no sight distances were included for each driveway. According to the zoning regulations, that was enough to vacate the SEQR determination, he said.

Other residents spoke of the negative impact the development would have on the rural nature of the area, the use of herbicides, the destruction of trees during construction and the traffic problems caused by 11 new houses on such a narrow, winding road.

The criticism broadened at the Jan. 6 public hearing.

McKeon tackled what he called other key issues.

“This weekend we had our third accident at the proposed intersection of this development,” he said, noting the driver took out a mailbox and grazed a telephone pole.

He then added that the real impacts of the development on road traffic had not been detailed in the SEQR declaration.

According to McKeon, other problems include zoning regulations that state house sites should generally be located 100 feet from conservation areas while some of the proposed sites at the development are as close as 10 feet to these areas. Also, he noted, a 200-foot buffer between buildings and a certified agricultural district is required.

“People who are familiar with this property, and the history of this property, wonder how these people are entitled to 11 lots,” he said.

Chris MacDonald, a lawyer hired by McKeon’s Red Hook Community Preservation Alliance, was on hand Jan. 6 to further challenge the legality of the planned number of houses.

According to MacDonald, the developers are overloading and exceeding the allowed density in the RD3 zoning district.

“There are two parcels of 16 acres in the RD 3 zone and one in the AB zone of 84 acres,” he said of the plan. Then he noted, “In the RD3 zone, you’re allowed one lot for every 3 buildable acres … The RD3 generally requires 160 feet of frontage and 70 percent open space requirement … and the problem is they put eight lots into the RD3 zone instead of adding some to the AB zone. I don’t see anything in the Red Hook zoning code that allows that.”

“They are basically flipping the densities,” he added.

Planning Board consultant Michele Greig had explained at the Dec.16 meeting that the developers calculated the density for the layouts in the two separate zoning districts and added them together. Using a formula like that, she said, means they don’t have to lay out a conventional subdivision, just use acreage and divide by the number of units allowed per acre.

Red Hook town board member Bill O’Neill, of 16 Spencer Drive, which is north of Feller-Newmark Road, spoke up as a private citizen opposed to the plan.

O’Neill, who was a member of the Working Group for Land Conservation and Development as well as the task force that created the town’s Centers and Greenspace plan, said he would support any lawful decision the planning board makes.

But, he added, “The Centers and Greenspace’s plan with its agricultural business district did not envision or intend a project such as this as a limited development option. The awkward, complicated configuration presented, of 11 homes in a cul-de-sac, with a private and shared driveway, with flag lot concepts squeezed tightly in this location, way off in the hills, with no real agricultural land protection; off an old historic town road … simply does not fit the Centers and Greenspace plan.”

He then said, “Listen carefully to the opposition, to their arguments to show this should not be approved for the reasons they give. And if you find the project as proposed is not appropriate to fit this location, then do not allow it.”

Planning Board Chair Christine Kane tried explaining how the planning board works and said, “We generally don’t make all the people happy all the time. We don’t make the law; we’re here to interpret the law. This was part of implementing the current zoning district.”

She also said the board has to treat all applicants fairly and not pre-judge them.

Wagner asked for all the public comments in writing and said they would return the answers on the substantive ones. Kane said the board would put together a list and send it to them.

Henry Cha of 1 Crescent Road asked Kane if the board can be sued if they approve the application.

Kane replied, “Yes, we can be sued, we’ve been sued in the past and could be in the future.”

The public hearing was left open until the board’s Feb 3 meeting.

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