Jul 26, 2014

Bailey Hall Development Back on Planners' Plate

Continuation of public hearing on environmental impact statement again draws a full house—and this is only the draft, with a final version yet to come.

Bailey Hall Development Back on Planners' Plate

Three months on a proposed cluster-housing project, Katonah residents turned out in force again Tuesday to question the subdivision’s environmental impact.

“We have not made a single decision yet,” Donald J. Coe, the planning board chairman, assured three dozen of the project’s neighbors as he reopened a public hearing on a draft impact statement. At an hour and 37 minutes, with a brief intermission, Tuesday’s hearing was longer than July’s and heard from far more residents.

Admonished to ask questions rather than express opinions, almost two dozen speakers, many of them more than once, covered familiar territory— traffic and safety, for instance—but also broke new ground, taking a closer look, for example, at the potential pitfalls of phased construction.

The “conservation subdivision” could take as long as 15 years to complete, the packed hearing room was told in response to a question from Westview resident Philip Green.

While the project brought to the board by developer Cosimo Tripi envisions 23 homes clustered on about half of a heavily wooded, 26.5-acre tract, the houses would be built in stages, as they are sold. “That’s how developers work,” board member John Sullivan, an architect, said, citing the unacceptable risk implicit in building all of the units and then waiting for a buyer to come along.

Tripi, who was at the hearing, said nothing, other than to acknowledge his presence in response to a question.

As now designed, his development’s homes would be arrayed around the outside of a lighted loop road. Inside the road’s circle, an 11,00-gallon-per-day septic system would also be built in stages, as homes were sold, the audience was told.

Other residents questioned the security that would be provided between construction phases and for homes that had been built but not yet occupied.
The status of access from Harris Road—scheduled to be an “emergency-only” backup via a gated, 12-foot-wide gravel driveway—was also called into question during down periods between building phases.

The only public access linking the subdivision to the outside world ties the 30-foot-wide loop road to the 16-foot-wide New Street. That raised anew residents’ concerns that their now quiet road—Allison Cecere called today’s New Street “a tree-canopied . . .  extended driveway”—would morph into a busy, potentially dangerous and crowded thoroughfare.

Pleasant Street resident Josephine Ziegler asked whether New Street would be fortified to accommodate its increased traffic flow, including oversized construction vehicles shuttling to and from the development site. “Will you evaluate New Street for safety?” she asked.

Safety was again cited as a concern by residents, who questioned the potential use of dynamite to clear this rocky terrain for development. Longtime Westview Drive resident Dena Lempert renewed her “great concern,” expressed at July’s public hearing, over the blasting, asking about possible noise violations as well as structural damage that could be sustained now but go undetected for years. Raising a new issue related to blasting, Allison Cecere—the New Street resident troubled by her road’s suddenly expanded traffic responsibilities—also worried whether unknown rock content like lead and asbestos might be pulverized in the blasts and released into the neighborhood air as “fugitive dust.”

The board rarely responded to specific questions raised by the residents, which are meant to be answered in the final environmental impact statement. But the chairman, Donald Coe, downplayed fears of excessive explosions. Noting builders’ concerns over environmental harm and claims for damages, he said, “Developers these days are doing anything they can to avoid blasting.”

Tuesday’s meeting at the town’s Cherry Street office building was the latest in a projected series of meetings discussing the fate of the f

Through most of the last century, from 1921 to 1987, Bailey Hall was a private boarding school for mentally challenged boys. A Katonah fixture, it was abandoned after its closing and eventually lost to fire in 2000. Today, what remains is a verdant woodland and, for a number of Katonah residents, an unspoiled backyard. With a number of further hearings still to come, that condition is unlikely to change anytime soon.

As board member Felix Cacciato understated Tuesday in discussing any final disposition: “It won’t be done by Christmas Eve.”

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