Jul 30, 2014
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Athletic Field Plans Spark Neighbor Concerns

The Rippowam Cisqua School wants to modify a permit to carve out additional space for athletics off Clinton Road.

Athletic Field Plans Spark Neighbor Concerns

After more than three hours of exhaustive argument, two longstanding and contentious Bedford zoning board applications achieved, post-midnight Thursday, just a date to renew the battle next month.

The applicants, the and have made multiple appearances before the zoning and planning boards in their quest, respectively, to off Clinton Road and on the former Carvel site, 570 Bedford Road.

Both applicants are asking the zoning board of appeals to grant variances—exceptions to the town’s land-use code—that would allow their plans to proceed. But separate sets of neighbors by turns voiced concern at public hearings Wednesday—the day the meeting began—over plans for an irrigation system at the Rippowam site and derided the proposed car wash as an “extremely intense” use of the property.

The marathon session saw two other applicants, exhausted by the wait, drop out of this week’s hearings. Two others had their appeals heard out of turn, pushing the closing minutes of the car wash’s two-hour clash of views into Thursday’s wee hours.

Rippowam Cisqua

The tony private school for students in grades 5-9 wants to modify a special-use permit to carve out additional space for athletics off Clinton Road. The change would provide, depending on who’s talking, one or two new areas for outdoor sports like lacrosse and soccer, adding them to a cluster of existing fields.

At the same time, school officials are looking to bury dozens of pop-up sprinkler heads throughout the multifield complex to provide automated, overnight irrigation. While the sprinkler system is not a formal part of the Rippowam Cisqua variance application, it has triggered concerns among neighbors over its impact on nearby water wells.

“Putting in the irrigation system,” Rippowam attorney John Marwell told the zoning board, “is the reason we’re before you.”

Indeed, he said, the school believes it has no obligation to run its change in long-established fields through the town approval process. “Our view . . . is that the renovation of the existing fields requires no special permit, requires no permits,” Marwell said.

Flanked by specialists in water usage and the school’s head, Matthew Nespole, Marwell made his case to the appeals panel, asserting at the outset that Rippowam looked to create one new field, not two, as the zoning board had advertised. He said that area would be divided in two only at times when the “regulation” field was not in use.

Moreover, he said in response to a question, no one can produce the special-use permit that was the subject of the hearing in the first place. It exists as a matter of historical record, Marwell said, but no one can find a copy of the document to spell out specifically the provisions being modified.

The school was founded in 1917, he noted and has stood at its current location, 439 Cantitoe St., since 1922. Bedford’s zoning board of appeals, by contrast, has only been in business since 1929.

Marwell called on John Benvegna, a certified professional geologist with Leggette, Brashears & Graham Inc., to calm residents’ fears on the water issue.

Benvegna, a vice president in the groundwater specialists’ White Plains office, said the school would use about 2 million gallons annually, reaching a worst-case high of perhaps 23,000 daily gallons in the dog days of summer. LBG, he said, had tested the effect of the irrigation system on all wells within 370 feet of the proposed new field. “It is our opinion,” he said, “there’s no impact.”

Asked by new ZBA member Meredith Black whether the system could draw down wells outside of his 370-foot circle, Benvegna said, “In my opinion, no.”

Nevertheless, neighbors from inside the circle and at least one from beyond it, expressed misgivings at Wednesday’s hearing.

Katie Durfee, who lives inside the circle at 33 Clinton Road, said, “We’d like our well tested under the same circumstances as the school wells.” And Melissa West, who lives outside the 370-foot ring at 55 Clinton, said she was nevertheless concerned that her well water could be depleted.

Bart Johnston, from 465 Cantitoe, looked askance at talk of compensating anyone whose well was harmed by the irrigation system’s demands. “I view this offer with skepticism,” he said, noting the difficulty in proving fault if a well does go dry.

Still, he said, “We’re generally content with the [fields] proposal so far.”

So, too, was George Johnson, president of the Fox Lane Youth Lacrosse program, who found additional playing surface and said, “I appreciate having use of the fields.”

The board, which voted unanimously to declare itself the lead agency investigating the project’s potential environmental damage and what can be done to mitigate it, will continue the public hearing at its Sept. 5 meeting.

RCS in tax-free bonds from the Westchester County Local Development Corporation, which it says will help the school realize savings up to $100,000 per year in the fields project and by refinacing old debt.

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