How Steep is Too Steep?

Planning Board considers driveway with 20 percent grade

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Plans for a new house at the end of an old, steep drive raised concerns from Philipstown’s Planning Board last month.

The Planning Board scheduled a public hearing on the project for Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Old VFW Hall, on Kemble Avenue in Cold Spring.

The plans call for a 4,000-square-foot home and 900-square-foot garage on a parcel on South Highland Road across from the Garrison Fish and Game Club. A conservation easement covers the 17-acre property and state park land surrounds much of it.

The approach to the site is an older drive with a 20 percent grade, although town laws generally forbid driveways with grades of more than 14 percent. The parcel’s owners, Joseph Fratesi and Lindsey Taylor, want the town to waive or modify the restrictions, according to their representative, Glenn Watson, of Badey and Watson Surveying & Engineering.

Watson said the drive was created before adoption of the current code. At the Planning Board’s Dec. 13 meeting, and in a Jan. 3 letter, he argued that accommodating the drive makes more sense than trying to create one with a grade of 14 percent or less. A driveway reconfiguration would involve “excessive tree removal, cuts and fills, and land disturbance, and encroachments on wetlands buffer zones,” Watson stated.

During the Dec. 13 meeting, Planning Board Member Neal Zuckerman recalled that during the board’s site visit, some members walked up to the site rather than attempt the steep drive with their cars.

“There’s a point where steepness becomes destructive and a challenge,” Zuckerman said. “When does it become too much: 20 percent? 22 percent? I’m just raising the question. When does it become a little bit unsafe?”

Ron Gainer, the town’s consulting engineer, noted that the town has allowed driveway grades as high as 17 percent.

Planning Board Member Kim Conner cautioned that the board must also consider the potential for development triggering excessive stormwater runoff down a steep slope.

“It’s not just the percent of grade, it’s the distance the percent of grade goes,” added Steve Gaba, the town attorney. “The burden is on the applicant to satisfy you that it’s safe.”

One thought on “How Steep is Too Steep?

  1. Thank you for elucidating Philipstown driveway grade requirements and precedent. I hope the Philipstown Planning Board will stick to those guidelines.

    The project at 220 South Highland Road begs the question, however, how was this ever deemed a suitable building site? It is hard to envision how we would create a great park and trail system, then allow a nearly 5,000-square-foot building to pop up next to it. The house would loom over the Moneyhole Mountain trail connecting Earl’s Pond and Catfish Pond in Garrison.

    As a Philipstown resident and lifelong hiker in this area, I did not know this site was originally part of a parcel donated to Fahnestock State Park by a previous landowner. I also did not know that the driveway would not conform to grade requirements.

    If this house is built, I will tend to avoid this trail. It is too bad that one person’s gain would mean a forever loss for everyone else. Take a walk to this place on a calm, sunny January day. You’ll see.