By Dan Hustt
LIBERTY September 8, 2006 A raft of major and minor subdivision applications came before the Town of Liberty Planning Board Tuesday, ones that together could change the face of Sullivan Countys third most populous township.
The minor subdivisions each concerned splitting one lot into three or four, but the major subdivisions featured anywhere from 22 to 44 proposed lots, in projects stretching from Swan Lake in the south to Lenape Lake north of White Sulphur Springs.
And by the time the board had made it through the public hearings, presentations and discussions, the meeting had lasted four hours and no longer hosted a packed room (held at Libertys Senior Center in anticipation of the crowd).
The Five Major Projects
Largest among the five major projects discussed that evening was R&M Farm, a 44-home development planned for a 250-acre parcel between Lenape Lake Road and County Route 146 (Dahlia Road) between White Sulphur Springs and Livingston Manor.
Offering high-end, single-family homes surrounded by forests and hiking trails, the subdivision would feature a homeowners association and a network of private roads connecting Lenape and CR 146. Deed restrictions are intended to keep it private and forested, said project attorney Paula Kay.
Three homes currently sit on the hilltop property, and several neighbors attended the meeting to voice concerns over the possibility their wells could go dry.
Project Engineer Glenn Smith responded that neighboring wells had been investigated for their output, but residents insisted that test wells be dug. Smith replied that the state advised against test wells, citing contamination concerns, but the suggestion was brought up to dig test wells where some of the actual homes will be built then turning them into the wells the homes will use.
Smith indicated he liked the idea, one which apparently originated with a top state water official.
But water issues continued to be a concern, with Town of Rockland Planning Board Chair Tom Ellison in attendance to monitor developments on a project Rockland officials are worried may create excess runoff into nearby streams, including the state-protected Little Beaverkill, which has its headwaters in Lenape Lake and feeds into the Willowemoc in Livingston Manor.
Reddish runoff has already been noted by several neighbors, including Cindy Woodard, who complained that her property (which includes Lenape Lake) was scoured by the runoff.
And we now have bald and golden eagles in residence, she added, saying the DEC has noted it as well, since they monitor a nearby forest.
Woodard also expressed concerns about the impact on the Manor school district (where she works), but project attorney Paula Kay replied that many of these 44 homes would likely be second homes without children although she admitted it is open to all, so there are no guarantees either way.
Traffic impact was an issue for every major project discussed that evening angled more toward the current condition of the roads than the amount of traffic and enough people spoke up about it that Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo told the crowd the town had already approached the state for highway aid.
We know we have serious problems with the roads, he said, estimating that repairs could top $5 million townwide something local taxpayers could not afford.
Ellison, watching quietly most of the evening, spoke just once, asking the planning board to seek the input of the emergency services in the Manor.
The board told the audience that its planning consultant, Tom Shepstone, and its engineer, Terry Kelly, were reviewing the project, as well, and Planning Board Chair John Schmidt said the project is due for more discussion in future meetings, in addition to being sent to the county for its review.
Public comment, however, will only be accepted (solely in written form) through this Wednesday.
R&M Farms sister project Menderis, LLC (tentatively called The Maples) was up for a public hearing that evening as well.
Both projects are being proposed by Charles Ramat, who owns a home in Bethel and is also undertaking similar developments in the townships of Rockland and Bethel.
Envisioned as a 142-acre, 26-home development, Menderis is so named because of the road it sits on between White Sulphur Springs and Youngsville. Like R&M, it would feature a homeowners association and a network of private roads connecting Menderis and East Hill roads.
It, too, would feature a minimum of trees cut and several nature trails, along with deed restrictions on the high-end, single-family homes to keep the area private and in harmony with the natural setting.
And both projects are following a three-year full buildout plan.
While only five homes some seasonal exist on Menderis Road, this project generated the most amount of comment, with neighbors expressing concerns over traffic and environmental impacts.
Some of them have even hired Elmsford attorney John Parker, who made a presentation to the planning board.
This is a precedent-setting decision for the board, he remarked, saying there had never been a project of this magnitude constructed in Libertys agriculture-conservation zoning districts.
Urging a full and thorough environmental review, Parker worried aloud that there may be more wetlands than noted on the property, along with potential Native American artifacts with historical significance (based on artifacts found on neighboring properties).
Plus the influx of 26 families, he said, could be disastrous for Menderis Road, already in poor shape.
Menderis Road is not really what Id call up to code, if it was built today, he commented. Its a little country road.
He concluded, The threshold is very low for a fuller, more thorough environmental review. The threshold is so low you could trip over it.
The board replied that, just like with R&M, Shepstone and Kelly are reviewing the plans, as is the county.
While project attorney Paula Kay said only four of the lots were under five acres, neighbor Bob Shapiro disputed that fact, arguing that his calculations showed nine such under-5-acre lots. (He originally thought there were ten such lots but had to revise that figure when board members noted there were really only nine on his list.) He attributed the discrepancy to the engineers alleged inclusion of rights-of-way when calculating acreage (which are not supposed to be included).
Other residents urged the board to keep nature foremost in mind, with mention made of bears and century-old trees in the area. The board responded that the DEC and the states right-to-farm laws would apply to such issues, adding that the property had been heavily logged, so old-growth trees likely no longer exist.
But it was Lee Perlmutter who uttered the words heard most often at such meetings, born of a frustration shared by many residents: The reason we moved here was because of the open spaces.
Perlmutter and his wife have been part-time residents for the past decade and just recently became full-timers.
He added that he was less concerned about the 26 families that would move in (many of whom would likely be second-homeowners) and more concerned about the service trucks that would have to traverse Menderis or East Hill to reach them.
The board replied that it had noted similar issues with other developments and was addressing them though the fact remains that zoning allows such development even in agricultural districts.
It was stated, however, that the board was considering requiring the developers to help to pay for fixing up public access roads.
In the meantime, Project Engineer Glenn Smith said the traffic study was complete, the DEC has filed its reports, and everything is being filed with the town.
Written public comment is being accepted through this Wednesday, and the matter will be on the agenda at the next planning board meeting, set for Tuesday, October 3 at 7 p.m. at the town hall (possibly at the senior center across North Main Street, if necessary to accommodate the crowd).
Green Hills Estates, a former trailer park straddling Route 55 just south of the Village of Liberty, was sold recently to LMS Properties NY, LLC.
Over the next two years, the developers plan to turn the 118-acre property into a seasonal community (which will stay on the tax rolls, officials said) with 108 residential units 2 single-family and 53 duplexes.
There was virtually no comment on the project Tuesday, and the planning board issued a negative declaration on environmental impacts, meaning the project can proceed to the county for its review.
It will be back before the board in October.
Executive Estates, a seasonal development planned along Route 55 in Swan Lake, is seeking sewer and water services from the town and is due back in front of the planning board in November.
Attorney Jacob Billig said the 65-unit project will be built on vacant land but within an area already approved for a subdivision.
He said the planning board was pleased with the cluster development that is planned, calling it an improvement over prior plans. Billig also said the developer has promised to pay for the necessary water and sewer infrastructure improvements to service the development.
Swan Lake Paradise is another development planned for the hamlet, located off Main Street.
Offering 22-23 single-family, raised-ranch and split-level homes with four bedrooms and two baths apiece, the project would be accessed by a new road Y&Y Developers of Fallsburg would build and deed to the town.
The idea, said developers, sprang from community forums held by Cornell University to envision Libertys future.