By Nathan Mayberg
WOODBOURNE August 12, 2005 A 489-home development on 114 acres near Morningside Lake near Morningside Park in Hurleyville was not what the majority of roughly 80 people wanted to see in their town, as evidenced during a public hearing held by the Town of Fallsburg Board at the Woodbourne Firehouse Tuesday.
The developers, the Kleiner Group (or Swan Pointe LLC, as they are also known) based out of New Jersey, were represented by local attorney Jacob Billig and engineer Glenn Smith in front of a mostly pessimistic crowd.
The developers were seeking approval for a Planned Unit Development, which would permit the town to rezone their property and allow them to build at a greater density than current zoning allows.
Aside from a large crowd which nearly filled the firehouse, the applicants will have to tangle with the SYDA Foundation and their powerful attorney Robert Alessi, with the Albany office of the mega-firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae.
The property fronts Route 52, across from New Hope, one mile east of Loch Sheldrake. Midwood Road and Murphy Road are nearby, said Billig and Smith.
If the Kleiner Group followed the towns zoning regulations, they could build 80 homes on their 114 acres. Seventy-five percent of their property is designated Recreational-1, which requires 3 acres for each home. The remaining 25 percent is zoned Residential-1, which requires half an acre for each home. The developers are asking to build on approximately a quarter of an acre of land for each home.
Billig said the corporation initially intended to build more than 600 homes, but that was brought down by the planning board.
Town of Fallsburg Supervisor Steven Levine said the board has been in discussion with the developers and their local representative for about a year now. He spoke positively about their success in the housing market and how they would bring more people to the area.
The bottom line is it is on the tax rolls, he said at one point. Most of the hamlets are dead. . . . There is nobody here. . . . Its not what it used to be.
Billig said the corporation would also build 30,000 to 50,000 square feet of retail space to satisfy one of the town boards requests. The homes themselves would be single-family townhouses.
Billig was forthcoming with certain environmentally sensitive issues about the site. He said that bald eagles have been seen at the lake. There are wetlands on the site, and he will work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on both of those aspects.
About 47 acres of the property is not connected to town water and sewer. Smith said the developers would pay to extend the sewer line to their property. They would also begin digging for wells, which they would donate to the town.
One local resident said that this is getting to be runaway development. I dont want to be in such a high-density town. He also did not support placing retail space outside of the downtown area, for fear that it will further cripple the towns main streets.
He was not a believer that the new flood of residents would lower taxes either.
The taxes never go down, he said. They always go up.
Another local resident said that developers should be required to pay mitigation fees for all of the impacts they will place on local infrastructure. Many towns already do, he remarked.
He said the developers should be required to conduct school, water, sewer and traffic impact studies.
Billig said the development would help reinvigorate a town which once was lined with stores but has since seen many of them disappear after most of the hotels closed.
Others were upset that the town would consider disregarding its comprehensive development plan, on which it spent thousands, and be in favor of such a high-density project, where houses would be lined up nearly on top of each other, as pictures showed.
One woman said the development should not be located near Morningside Park, the jewel of the town.
Our lake area is a gem. Not every town can say they have a lake.
Several said they supported development but in a managed way, not in a stampede of our open green areas, as a local put it.
One called the raise in density by more than six times the allowable rate frightening.
Fallsburg Central School Board of Education President Robert Scheinman estimated that the district could only handle an additional 70 students. With several building projects already approved over the last year, including a large one in Hurleyville, he believed this project would require a new school to be built. School taxes have already been rising in the high single digits to double digits over the last five years, and this would make things worse, he said.
The greatest fireworks were reserved for Alessi, who was clearly well-versed in environmental law after more than two decades of experience.
The SYDA Foundation, a meditation-oriented institution which he represents, was concerned first and foremost about noise and traffic impact. He called for the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act regulations to be followed immediately. An environmental impact statement will be necessary, since the project is a Type 1, based on its large scope.
The public hearing was premature in his view, since an environmental review had yet to begin.
This is one of the largest developments to come to Sullivan County, he explained.
Billig responded that an environmental impact statement is unnecessary, and that SEQRA was already being followed. He said that further studies and reviews would be conducted in the future.
Levine extended the public hearing to the next board meeting in two weeks and said it could continue to next months meeting as well.
Afterwards, he said, Its the beginning of the process. Were listening to public comment. Well take what they say into consideration. The developer will have to come up here and answer some questions.