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DEC Listens During 4 Hours of Clovewood Virtual Public Hearing

Updated: Apr 5


At the top right the clearing approaches Schunnemunk peaks

Violations were issued by the DEC for work done without permits


Village of South Blooming Grove/Town of Blooming Grove - A project that has gone through nearly 15 years of major changes, revisions and changes of ownership members received over 100 letters from residents to the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) which subsequently took the unusual step of scheduling a WEBEX Public Hearing (similar to a Zoom but with only audio to protect the anonymnity of participants). Over 250 participants spoke during the more than 4 hours of the hearing. In fact, due to the large number of participants each speaker was limited to 2 minutes.


(Please be patient, the audio files are memory intensive and may be slow to upload)


Blooming Grove Town Supervisor,

Robert Jeroloman Comments on issues related to project changes, Part 1



Supervisor Jeroloman, Part II


  • Town Planner, Bonnie Franson, of Nelson, Pope, Voorhis, Summarizes her reasons for recommending that current permit applications be denied, Part I

Planner, Bonnie Franson, Part II



Washingtonville's Mayor, Tom Devinko opened the Village Hall for anyone who might need help connecting via WEBEX, but given the bad weather most people chose to connect from home. Still, the group watching brought lively pertinent discussion.


The proposed development called "Clovewood" is located at the foothills of Schunnemunk Mt. on Clove Road about a mile Northeast of Route 208. It is technically in the Village of South Blooming Grove, just before the Village meets the border of the Town of Blooming Grove. Portions are adjacent to State Parklands and the County's Gonzaga Park. The project has been in a bankruptcy agreement with a court judgement that states the developer, "Keene Equities" must make regular payments while approvals are being sought. The current design calls for a 600-home layout, a number he says is necesary to make a profit on the project. Recently Village code was changed that would allow "Accessory Dwellings" with Planning Approval bringing the unit number potentially much higher and affecting the needed amount of water pulled and sewage discharged.


Key issues from the perspective of those opposing the project as designed are; 1. The "Accessory Dwellings" they say could double the unit total from 600 to 1200, 2. Stats on water withdrawal and criteria and sewage effluent discharge into Satterly Creek (a seasonal creek prone to flooding during rainy season and frequently going dry during Summer, 3. Broad clearcutting of trees, grading, and road construction without permits while ignoring numerous "Stop Work " orders, 4. Destruction of what was protected timber rattlesnake habitat, without permits 5. Traffic increase to the already congested commuter traffic of Route 208, 6. Socio-economic impacts on existing residents 7. Potential visual and financial impact on the trails and the greatly hoped for growing Tourism industry and benefits of healthier living along the Schunnemunk Trail and its associated farms This trail will connect with the Long Path and a newly developing Highlands Trail link in Woodbury and will enable a route from Orange County's new Schunnemunk Rail Trail, beginning at the former Camp LaGuardia property in Chester & Blooming Grove which will become a new County Park, going through Blooming Grove and all the way to the connection with the Appalachian Trail that goes from Maine to Georgia. High density housing will not likely be what tourist and health and environment loving visitors are seeking.


Support for the project was voiced by officials of the Village of South Blooming Grove and about a dozen Hasidic residents as well as a Hasidic group from Brooklyn echoing their need for more affordable housing. The Village officials say that that they have corrected all of the violations issued by the DEC for their early work, as well as an incident of greenish-blue dye (not allowed to be used without special permission), that was illegally added to the overflow of flooding and turbulent muddy drainage water that overflowed the Satterly Creek and continued through much of the Town of Blooming Grove, including to the Moodna Creek in the center of the Village of Washingtonville, both of which are used as important drinking water sources. While residents were told that the dye was not toxic, concerned residents that get their drinking water from the Satterly and Moodna Creeks were never able to find out the exact makeup of the dye.



Several Hasidic residents and officials stated they believe that the opposition has antisemitism at its base and emphasized that they are simply following steps toward a needed goal, supported by Governor Kathy Hochul, of increasing affordable housing resources. Several other Jewish residents called in to say the opposition has nothing to do with religion, but rather with following laws and regulations and respecting the nature of the land in order to keep everyone safe and healthy. One advocate said that that not only would there be no negative effect on the traffic of Route 208, that changes with the light signal and widening of the road are changes that improve the traffic flow. But with daily congestion already keeping commuters at a standstill, what will happen with a potential 1200 homes with 2 or more drivers and not only a likely 2400 new drivers, but taxis, buses and all kinds of service vehicles. Given the loss of timber rattlesnake habitat they pointed out that the current plan sets aside 403 acres that will be protected rattlesnake habitat in perpetuity in the latest plan, but there is no certainty that the snakes, who have developed a residency over thousands of years, will be able to adapt to whole new lifestyle any more than the residents, both new and old.


Other residents say they do not oppose housing, but that this plan is far too overwhelming for the small village and town they want to put it in, which was named "Blooming Grove" because of its abundant natural resources and scenic views. Historically, since the early 1900's, city people have come to Blooming Grove during Summer months to get away from high density housing and enjoy its open spaces, and in fact that is why most current residents moved here. They consider the Schunnemunk Ridge and Valley views as its treasure. They are especially concerned about water resources and the expansive destruction in the area of Schunnemunk of both its near and far away views and the natural resources it helps create for the rest of the town. Particularly alarming is that one of the world's top hydrogeologists was hired about 7 years ago. He and his crew examined the plans for water intake, and the condition of the underlying aquifer and concluded that it is already showing signs of stress, and that if it is further stressed the underlying microbiology at its base could be damaged to such an extent that it could cease to recharge. Additionally, initial sample well testings affected adjacent wells on properties in the Town. Promises that there would be changes and retesting never happened. As far as the overall health of the underlying aquifer, one environmentalist gave a scientific description of the enormous values trees and brush give in terms of water exchange it provides for us and our climate in general. This happens because the main branches and leaves conduct water through the root structure that carries water down to the aquifer while associated root systems and other brush aid in absorption and prevent runoff. Over time the trees not only catch rain, but they also give off moisture, and that moisture after going skyward eventually brings more rain. Another factor in runoff is that when hundreds of acres are cleared and thousands of tons of fill are brought in to create a level base out of the way of drainage, the area terrain is drastically changed in ways that may not be anticipated and most wildlife goes searching for a new home. Thousands of trees in the town and its villages have been clearcut along with associated vegetation in just the past 2 years, without any estimation of cumulative effect. Further, numerous site were clearcut at the ame time (to avoid the Indiana Bat cutoff date. Not only has most of this deforestation ignored buffer protections, they then left the wood piles standing during the heat of Summer creating not only a visual mess but also a serious fire hazard. Clovewood was not the only project that did this, there were approximately 5 sites and clearly some kind of code enforcement needs to be put in place, whether local or by New York State to restrict this practice.


Many of the resources measured for the project were done over 5 years ago, and among other things population numbers have changed, along with the Village's carefully crafted original Comprehensive Plan which put a high priority on retaining its rural character, the content of which has been significantly changed along with new regulations. A correction for a number of these problems, mentioned by one resident, would be to develop in phases that can be evaluated intermittently, before a minor problem becomes a major problem that causes flooding and road damage and puts peoples homes and lives at risk. But towns and villages have "home rule". Different groups of people have different preferences for land use and this becomes reflected in a municipality's Comprehensive Plan, and is govened mostly by its Village officials unless there is a specific predicted danger (which may be in this instance where water and sewer have major impacts on the general public's health).



Another project in the Village, "Prospect Gardens", only about 2 miles downstream along the Satterly Creek also clearcut their site, also did work wothout permits, dumped many tons of stone and dirt thus changing the topography all at once, also flooded the Satterly, damaged Prospect Road and received citation from DEC during March, prompting the idea of requiring phases on all developments of a certain size and determining the cumulative impact of projects within 5-10 miles of each.


By the end of the nearly 4 1/2-hour marathon hearing, what was clear is that by and large speakers were not opposed to a housing development. Many seemed to indicate that they would accept a proposal for affordable housing, but not at 600 and not with Accessory Dwellings in the environmentally sensitive Schunnemunk Valley. Another new village code that would segment water statistics according to newly planned Clovewood subdivisions was found to be inadequate and therefore unacceptable by Town Supervisor Rob Jeroloman who said that for any acceptable plan the water statistics must not be segmented and must show the total water and sewer use of the entire village.


The land layout, Town Planner Bonnie Franson said does not show any of the necessary mitigations of impacts, except for that of the rattlesnakes (which she also felt were inadequate mitigations). Therefore, as is, she said the permits must be refused. The plan to discharge treated effluent into the Satterly Creek has two views as well. Residents who live along the Creek as well as where it flows into the Moodna in Washingtonville say it's simply unsuitable since the creek is intermittent, and that the cumulative drainage failures of both Clovewood and Prospect Gardens, plus this past year's onsite overflows, don't speak well for a solution that would satisfy residents with wells along the discharge route, especially since the dye that was added after last year's turbulance issue flowed all the way into Washingtonville, (one resident pointing out that scientist were able to predict likely COVID outbreaksl by studying local sewage effluent). Some say the water still has a greenish tint. But representatives for the Village disagree, and say that with their effluent treatment process there will be no problem. A resident who has well water downstream suggested that a better resolution would be to send the effluent to Harriman Treatment Plant.


Congestion, of any kind frequently causes health irregularities, whether traffic, the environment, or its animals. In a not so surprising coincidence after the public hearing was over, two communities in the vicinity (one in New Windsor and one in Blooming Grove...actually right at the border of the Town and Village on Round Hill Rd. behind this writer's farm) had a surprise and a bit of fright with packs of coydogs, a genetic cross between coyotes and dogs which has become more frequent as residential and country life intermingle. Both face adaptation issues, having developed in much different environments. Adaptation is necessary for survival, but it is also often dangerous. So if you hear something that sounds sort of like a coyote or wolf, and sort of like a yapping dog, it might be a coydog or coywolf...welcome to the new environment that results from us taking too much of another creature's home. It's a warning that change is best if it is done carefully, considering all of the possible ramifications. Hopefully the parties hoping to develop an affordable complex will another look, with the help of environmental advisors, at what could really work, for both the people who live here now, the ones who would like to move to "the country", and help maintain its beauty and the environnent that supports it.


Interested persons who have not yet communicated with the DEC about this project may do so until April 12. Letters should be addressed to:


Tracey O'Malley,

NYS

DEC Region 3 Office

21 South Putt Corners Road

New Paltz, NY 12561



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