The Amenia Planning Board adopted its Finding Statement on July 29 that was supposed to cover all the environmental impacts and detail how any significant impacts were mitigated. It also gave site plan approval to the Silo Ridge Project and consented to waivers from the Zoning Law as requested by the developer. At its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19, the Amenia Town Board approved by a vote of 3-2 the work of the Planning Board by adopting the Findings Statements and approving the numerous waivers from the town’s zoning laws.
This was a significant action in that it ended the town’s review process over a 670 acre property that is now able to be developed with 243 dwelling units, a restaurant on top of Delavergne Hill and numerous other buildings related to a gated community with its own golf course. For all the land on the south side of Route 44 the approvals included site plan approval, which means the developer can start building the infrastructure and obtain building permits. It also means there are no more public hearings required for any part of the development.
That there were many who were dismayed at the town’s capitulation to the developer would be an understatement. Our articles, letters to the editor and guest columns have pointed out problems in both the process and substance of the town’s review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and the planning laws. Many of these problems were unresolved. Those problems were forcefully brought to the town board’s attention at or before the meeting last Thursday.
One the problems is the town’s inability to monitor the development to assure that it is carried out in accordance with the plans that have been approved and the laws that are in effect. The town has neither the staff nor a budget to support a system of inspections, data collection, to create a photographic record, to issue citations, to bring enforcement actions, all of which is necessary for a development of the size and complexity of the one that has been approved.
At the time the town board approved the Silo Ridge plan, eroded portions of the golf course were visible from Route 22. Down stream the Amenia Cascade Brook and the Ten Mile River were visibly brown from sediment runoff. Extensive areas without cover of turf or vegetation at the foot of the steep slope show gullies from run-off. This should serve as a warning as to what will happen as this project continues.
We can comment that the dice were loaded from the beginning. The leaders of the town’s boards had given the developer their assurance of full cooperation as a welcome mat. That should not have meant that they would abandon their responsibilities under the law and to the community. SEQRA is supposed to be a tough review so the natural resources and the town’s citizens are adequately protected. Many feel that SEQRA was undermined, short-circuited and ignored. Issues were glossed over or avoided altogether.
It should be recognized that a town board of a small town is no match for a developer of a mega-project who can call on consultants, lawyers, public relations experts, event planners and the like. The town is out-matched and it knows it. To capitulate is the norm; it is the easy way out. Just look around at other communities all over America and you see the results. Even though the Amenia Comprehensive Plan is precise in its declaration in favor of a rural future for Amenia, and that policy is clearly incorporated in the town’s zoning law, that policy is abandoned when a developer wants to bulldoze a hillside for roads, house sites, buildings, a golf course and a restaurant.
The town has given away the view we once cherished and were proud of; it has given it to a developer who will sell it to others. That view was a community asset that has been wrongfully taken from us and privatized.
We can end this lament by expressing our opinion that the golf course we now see from Route 44 is not a rural amenity; it not a natural part of our historic landscape. It looks artificial, foreign, imposed, and plastic. Where did that white sand come from? Where did that bight green come from? Heavy doses of nitrogen? Specially bred grass species? One can only hope that those greens will deepen and that sand turns dirty.