By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON October 3, 2006 Twenty-one people had to leave the room before the Town of Cochecton Planning Board began its meeting Thursday.
Fire officials and board members insisted upon it, pointing out a sign which clearly stated that fire regulations don’t allow more than 45 people in the town hall’s meeting room.
Some reluctantly left, with the promise from Board Chair Sharron Cardone that they would be notified when New Turnpike Homes came up for discussion.
Indeed, that’s why most of the 80 residents attended and why most of them stayed in the packed room despite the fire code.
Huntington Manor Discussed
Prior to that key agenda item, however, everyone got a chance to hear about a proposal to build 10 homes on Sullivan County Route 116 at its intersection with Smales Road in Lake Huntington.
Consulting Engineer Joseph Gottlieb answered board questions about sewer (the developer plans to hook into the town’s sewer system) and was made aware that the Cochecton Ambulance Corps’ new station will be across the street.
Called Huntington Manor, the 8.6-acre property currently owned by Jeffrey Boyd of Middletown will feature a cul-de-sac providing access to the 10 lots, ranging in size from 20,000 square feet to more than an acre.
Gottlieb and crew will return to a future board meeting for further action.
New Turnpike Scoped Out
Monticello attorney Martin Miller, representing developer Paul Savad of Nanuet, returned Thursday to outline his client’s project and listen to board and public comment. (No board action on the matter was slated, and none was taken.)
Catskill T.R. 27 Cochecton, LLC, aka New Turnpike Homes, is a proposed 42-home development (the number of homes is subject to change) on 85 of 108 acres currently owned by Grace Segrell. The remaining 23 acres are intended to remain open.
The $250,000 homes would be clustered along a loop served by a boulevard entrance with a mountable median for emergency trucks. There would also be a separate emergency access.
Residents would be required to join a homeowners’ association that would maintain the private roads, a clubhouse and a pool.
Situated along the partially-paved New Turnpike Road at its intersection with Cross Road, the property abuts the Town of Delaware.
And that’s where an intriguing question was raised.
New Turnpike Road landowners Mitchell Heaney and Allan Rubin brought a series of maps to Thursday’s meeting showing different boundary lines for the towns of Delaware and Cochecton.
Heaney displayed a 1968 topographic map, a 1986 National Park Service map and a tax map that showed the town line farther north than the maps the developer is using.
When he questioned the county about it, officials told him that boundary has been in dispute since 1864, but Heaney didn’t believe its lack of mention regarding New Turnpike Homes was an error or oversight by Savad.
“I think this plan is so misleading and fundamentally flawed that you should be disapproving it immediately,” said Heaney.
Excitedly pointing to the maps he brought, he charged that the development sketch plan didn’t include undevelopable land that Segrell owns next to the disputed town line.
Using a topo map which showed neighbor Earl Bertsch’s garage on Segrell’s property, he alleged that the sketch plan came by its 108-acre depiction by erroneously including Bertsch’s land, rather than the undevelopable piece.
Since the usable and unusable portions of a to-be-developed property are important in determining the correct percentage of open space, Heaney and Rubin were concerned the calculations were inaccurate.
Heaney admitted that since several maps disagree, this all might be an innocent error (or an unwitting part of an ancient border dispute), but he also acknowledged that his aim in bringing this to everyone’s attention is to see the development proposal abandoned.
Bertsch, a planning board member who had unsuccessfully tried to make his driveway a town road that would have been the development’s second exit/entrance, was not present to talk about the matter, but Heaney said he and other hunters and horsemen were well familiar with the area.
Segrell herself, however, was in attendance and angrily questioned Heaney about who gave him or anyone else permission to be on her property. The argument got so heated that the board had to shut it down.
Despite the drama, however, Miller and the board agreed Heaney and Rubin’s claims deserved investigation.
Of course, public comment was not limited to Heaney and Rubin. Resident after resident most of whom live on New Turnpike Road and have joined forces as the Keep Cochecton Rural Concerned Citizens Group expressed serious concern about the development, agreeing with the board that this may very well be the first of many such developments to come to a township that so far has not seen large-scale housing efforts.
Many called for a full and rigorous state environmental review (SEQRA), although most admitted they would be happy just to see the proposal withdrawn.
Attorney John Parker, representing several of the residents, even questioned the legality of the proceedings, saying “threshold” concerns like notifying all neighboring property owners had not been addressed and that this “mini-scoping session” (as town officials had called it) was premature.
Increased traffic, water use and impacts on the quiet, rural environment topped the list of concerns, but Miller said his client was ready to respond to those issues when directed to do so by the board.
“We recognize that there are a number of community concerns,” said Miller. “We’ve identified these issues, which are the exact issues I identified at the earliest stage.”
Miller, however, didn’t stop there.
“The fact of the matter is, people will be moving into Cochecton,” he stated to the crowd. “You’re looking to preserve for yourself that which is not yours! You want to preserve it? Buy it.”
He added that Segrell might be willing to sell to any of the residents in attendance, should the price be right.
“Put yourself in the property owner’s position a little bit,” he continued. “Give some consideration to your neighbors.”
He was met with laughter, which Miller replied to angrily, “I think you are being disingenuous to a neighbor and selfish.”
At that point, several people walked out upset, but not before they had also heard from a Segrell family friend who said the Segrells have owned a local home since 1939 and this particular property with all taxes paid since 1961.
The friend, Judith Lodato, said Grace Segrell needs to sell this land in order to maintain her current home outside of the area and “should have the right to sell just as all of you would” should all town requirements be met.
Board Chair Sharron Cardone, though, said she was sympathetic to residents concerned about unwelcome changes.
“I moved up here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city,” she admitted, urging residents to continue swelling attendance at planning and town board meetings.
However, she also admitted that developments meeting town requirements cannot be stopped.
“Development is coming to Cochecton, whether we want it or not. It’s inevitable,” she said.
To that end, New Turnpike Homes is due back on the Cochecton Planning Board’s agenda. The next regular meeting is scheduled for October 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the town hall in Lake Huntington.
“We have a lot of work that has to be done,” said Cardone.