Letter To The Editor: Follow Law, Science, Facts About Hampshire

Published February 18, 2020 in The Patch

Since 2015, the developers of Hampshire Country Club (HCC) have been working tirelessly with the Village of Mamaroneck (VOM) Planning Board and its experienced engineers to address all remaining concerns related to The Residences at Hampshire, an attractive mix of 44 single-family homes and 61 carriage homes geared towards empty nesters. The proposed project, a Planned Residential Development (PRD), set on a portion of HCC's property, will provide modern, attractive energy efficient housing for area residents. It will also provide local jobs, revitalize the Club with a new source of income and generate an estimated $5.5 million in new annual tax revenue for the Village, including $1.2 million for schools alone.

As Hampshire awaits a final decision by the Planning Board, its plan has been met with unfounded accusations from a small, vocal group, the Mamaroneck Coastal Environment Coalition (MCEC), whose leader owns five homes adjacent to the club and whose treasurer lives adjacent to HCC and is married to a VOM trustee. The data and studies confirming the overall viability, environmental responsibility and flood safety of The Residences have been thoroughly vetted by the Planning Board's experts and have been publicly available for months, if not years. Still, MCEC persists in recycling and doubling down on the same debunked fear mongering tactics disseminated through emails, its website, as well as its Facebook and Instagram social media campaigns.

Not only has this disinformation served to mislead the residents of the Village and its officials, but it has also needlessly cost Mamaroneck taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue and accumulated legal and consultant's fees.

Here, once again, is the truth as shown by the law, the science and the facts.

Wrong on the Law

MCEC makes many claims regarding alleged violations of law, yet independent analyses show them wrong on the law at every turn.

MCEC's website states that the project is illegal under Village Code due to impermissible use of private roads. This is untrue. These roads have long been used by the entire Orienta community to access the Hommocks Middle School, Boston Post Road and other points outside of the neighborhood. MCEC has no right to tell members of the community, whether currently living in Orienta or buying homes in this neighborhood in the future, that they can no longer use the roads.

MCEC's website claims that the project is illegal under Village Code due to filling in a designated floodplain. This is incorrect on two fronts: (1) Village regulations regarding fill in floodplains are not meant to regulate tidal floodplains such as the one on Hampshire's property, and (2) Hampshire's reputable civil engineers have demonstrated through detailed research that, in full compliance with Village regulations, there will be no significant change in water surface elevations on or off the property.

On Facebook, MCEC claims that the project is illegal under Village zoning law. In fact, The Residences at Hampshire is explicitly engineered to be allowable "as of right" under the property's current R-20 zoning. The current R-20 zoning allows for significantly more homes to be built than are being proposed. MCEC justifies its claim only by grossly misrepresenting the nature and size of the project. The truth is, the Planning Board's own experts have long since weighed in and agreed that MCEC's claim has no basis in the law.

And that's not the only misrepresentation regarding zoning. MCEC also repeatedly alleges that HCC is still pushing for a condominium development on the property. FALSE.

FACT: On the verge of bankruptcy, HCC was sold to its current owners in 2010. The new ownership spent several years evaluating development options that would provide financial subsidy for the club's operations while also offering a housing component that would have the least physical and environmental impact on the site. Thus, in 2014, the owners submitted a plan for a condominium development geared to empty nesters, which would have required rezoning — a request the Village Board of Trustees refused to consider. Instead, the Board of Trustees (which has purview over zoning amendments) instructed the owners to submit a plan consistent with the current R-20 zoning (i.e., "as of right") — hence, the current PRD proposal. Given that the developer's objective is to provide an additional source of revenue to help the club continue and thrive, there would be no point in pursuing a condominium plan for which the proper zoning does not exist. Though the condo plan is not an option, the Planning Board specifically included it as an alternative to the proposed project.

Wrong on the Science

Hampshire has conducted exhaustive studies of the project's effect on traffic, soil, the ambient environment and other points of impact, as detailed in its preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement (pFEIS). These studies have been conducted by respected firms and accepted by the Village's experts; the only people stubbornly ignoring the results are the leaders of MCEC.

MCEC's social media campaign claims that the project would release dangerous levels of arsenic, lead and numerous other scary toxins from the soil. However, not only have both state and local-level environmental reviews rejected this claim based upon extensive soil testing showing that no such levels of contaminants are present in the soil, but the state-approved plan to import fill for the project will actually make the existing soil less susceptible to dislocation, especially during floods, as the new fill would sit no less than 4-feet deeper below the new ground surface.

MCEC purports that the project would bring horrendous traffic jams to the immediate and surrounding area for more than five years while the project is under construction; however, actual traffic studies conducted at the Village's request at the busiest times of day indicate that there will be no decline in the level of service. VOM's consultant has agreed with Hampshire's analysis.

MCEC incorrectly believes that the project will increase flooding in the Orienta neighborhood. There is NO scientific evidence to support MCEC's claim. Indeed, the Planning Board's own engineering experts have shown over and over again that the flood modeling in the pFEIS is accurate and demonstrates that the project would not adversely affect flood levels.

HCC has presented independently verified data collected and analyzed by professional experts. The data has been accepted by the Village and the State. The public and the Planning Board should not ignore the science. Broadcasting MCEC's well-debunked rumors is no substitute for hard data. Saying something over and over again doesn't make it true.

Wrong on the Facts

Besides misquoting the law and ignoring the science, MCEC has fallen into the habit of simply making up its own facts, all demonstrably FALSE.

According to MCEC the construction will send toxins into the air through excavation by substantial "blasting" operations. In fact, there is minimal blasting planned on only 2 percent of the project site and any blasting that is required will strictly follow all NYS DOT guidelines for dust mitigation and management of blasting operations.

Web posts by MCEC claim that the construction will result in the "clearcutting" of hundreds of trees. In fact, every last tree that may be disturbed by the development has been counted and will be replaced, resulting in zero loss. Of note, some of the replacement trees included in the landscaping plan are intentionally bred for disease/bacteria/fungal resistance resulting in greater sustainability and requiring lower maintenance.

MCEC's website states that the development will jeopardize the viability of the club by reducing the current 18-hole golf course to nine holes. In fact, this reduction reflects a national trend, as people with increasingly busy lifestyles have less time for long games. The Residences at Hampshire would indeed shore up the club's viability by introducing a much-needed revenue source while making the course attractive to more golfers.

MCEC's social media campaign claims that the development would destroy a designated Critical Environmental Area. In fact, the project will avoid all sensitive environmental areas and more than 50 percent of the open space on the property will remain. Moreover, development rights for the undeveloped land will be voluntarily placed under the permanent control of a not-for-profit of the community's choosing, blocking any further development on the site.

MCEC's website states that 105 new homes will significantly exacerbate the elementary school overcrowding problem. The truth is, the carriage homes representing 60 percent of the units are specifically designed for empty nesters who typically have fewer school-aged children living with them, adding very few students to the public-school rolls. In addition, the projected $1.55 million in net tax revenue for schools alone from the projects would offset any costs associated with any new children joining the public-school system.

After years of legal, scientific and factual disinformation campaigns, it is time for MCEC to answer law with actual law, science with tested science and fact with established fact, or concede that there is no legitimate reason for further delay. This zoning compliant project will bring many jobs and millions in tax revenue to the Village and will help a valued, longstanding local recreational institution to continue operating. A petition made public last fall bears one thousand signatures from Village residents in support of this project; their voices matter, too.

Similar projects take an average of 18 months to approve. Five years is long enough for the Planning Board to decide. This project is as of right and environmentally responsible. Please acquaint yourselves with the real data, available on the Village of Mamaroneck's website.

Facebook and Instagram are not the definitive sources of truth in this matter.

For more information, visit www.theresidencesathampshire.com

Susan Goldberger
30 year Town of Mamaroneck resident
Development Coordinator
Hampshire Recreation, LLC