Action Should Expedite Approval Process
By Kevin Foley
The Cold Spring Village Planning Board has taken a significant step on the road toward approval of preservationist group Scenic Hudson’s development plans for the West Point Foundry Preserve (WPFP). By unanimous vote at its Tuesday, Feb. 22 workshop meeting, the five-member board declared its intent to become the “lead agency” in the complex regulatory process involving several other federal, state and local agencies. The board’s vote signals its determination to proceed under the New York State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) law to become the agency most responsible for granting Scenic Hudson permission to begin construction of a historic preservation and education center at the 87-acre site it has owned since 1996.
The Planning Board will send formal communications to other relevant agencies in the coming weeks, informing them of its intention to assume the lead designation. The notice will give the agencies, such as the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), 30 days to either recognize the Cold Spring board as the lead or raise objections about the procedure. Assuming no objections, the other agencies will then be obligated to complete their reviews of matters under their jurisdiction according to timetables set by established rules as well as the adequacy of Scenic Hudson’s submissions to them.
The decision by the Planning Board does not constitute even preliminary approval of Scenic Hudson’s application but it does create a positive framework for moving forward in an expedited manner after four years of information-sharing and discussion. “We’re delighted they decided to move toward lead agency,” said Scenic Hudson’s Director of Parks, Rita Shaheen, at the close of the meeting. Shaheen had urged the action at a Jan. 24 board meeting, expressing Scenic Hudson’s hope for a construction start as early as possible in 2011.
Elected officials such as Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and County Legislator Vinny Tamagna have heralded the WPFP as an important historic and educational project as well as an economic boost for Cold Spring and the Hudson Valley. Scenic Hudson estimates approximately 13,000 people will visit the Foundry Preserve during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. The park is expected to be closed during the winter. The Foundry Preserve, along with the adjoining Putnam County Historical Society and Foundry School Museum, the William Kemble estate, the Chapel of Our Lady Restoration and Foundry Dock Park, are listed together as a place of “national significance” on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Planning Board’s volunteer members spent most of the two-and-one-half hour meeting painstakingly reviewing and revisiting with Scenic Hudson and its consultants matters pertaining to pedestrian and traffic safety, sanitation, road construction and environmental impact. Don Mills, sales director for Clivus Multrum, manufacturer of the already installed composting toilets, assured board members they were more than adequate for the expected volume and that the solar-powered fan ventilation systems were quite reliable. “The system is extremely resilient. It has been in use successfully in state parks for years, especially when we do the maintenance,” said Mills. He acknowledged his company would have a maintenance contract for the Foundry Preserve. Mills also agreed with board member, Joseph Immorlica’s suggestion for filing maintenance reports at the Cold Spring Village Hall.
Kim Mathews, a landscape architect and a principal in Mathews Nielsen, the lead design consultant for the Foundry Preserve Project, addressed several Planning Board concerns, including the size of steps and steepness of the walkway proposed along the Old Foundry Road, anticipated signage at entrances, and new drawings she said made clear that fire trucks and the Cold Spring trolley could easily turn around inside the site. Chairman Joseph Barbaro asked her to make sure the Cold Spring Fire Company officially confirmed her assertion as to their trucks.
Some board members continued to express concern about appropriate safety standards for a proposed interior vehicle roadway. Greg Liberman of GHD Consulting Engineers, a consultant for Scenic Hudson, said the proposed road was safe and met federal park standards. He said that many states, including New York, were moving toward approving park roadways that had minimal environmental impact. He also emphasized the one-way road was more accurately described as a driving entrance designed to be narrow and tight to slow people as they enter the site with their cars.
Board members Arne Saari and Karen Doyle pressed the board’s engineering consultant, Rob Cameron of Putnam Engineering, to opine if the proposed road standards were appropriate but Cameron demurred, suggesting it wasn’t his place to say. Chairman Barbaro asked him to consider what he could say by the next meeting to help board members decide the issue. Barbaro also reminded Scenic Hudson the board needed to hear how the group planned to handle traffic when they held special events. He tentatively set March 22 as the next meeting on the Scenic Hudson application.