To the editor: I am the attorney who brought the Article 78 Petition against the Silo Ridge Modified Project on behalf of the Amenia Fish and Game Club. The core issue of this Petition was that the developer was granted approvals to construct homes, as well as other facilities, within five-hundred feet of an outdoor shooting range utilized by the Club. The Petition complained that such uses, in such close proximity to each other, were not compatible.
The Petition highlighted the fact that the Club has been in operation for over seventy years and has been a good neighbor which has opened its property up to police enforcement, youth organizations, and for large gatherings by community members. All parties have consented to discontinue the action in return for the development of a new indoor range being constructed at the cost of Silo Ridge.
While I had a duty to zealously represent my client, I also have a duty to the public. This is a duty I have always been committed to. I grew up on Long Island and worked in the trenches to protect the Pine Barrens, advocate for the regulation of pesticides, and reform the second largest town in the country which used to be known as “Crookhaven.” I won an award for the study of municipal law while at Hofstra Law School. I also was the main actor in developing a program to obtain private funds for public parks while a Suffolk County Attorney. Thus, when I was informed that a key proposal in the Town of Amenia was being met with significant opposition, I felt I was in a position to utilize my skills to support the community. I met with dozens of active citizens who educated me on their concerns.
I spent many hours reading through Town documents and consultant reports. I arrived at the conclusion that the Modified Project had not been fully analyzed as is required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act. My main concern was that the Modified Project had not been studied through the prism of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Such study should have been conducted as the Modified Project is significantly changed from the Original Project.
The Original Project, after close scrutiny by the Amenia Comprehensive Plan Committee, had obtained status as fit for the designation of being within a Resort Overlay Development District. Such a status permitted the developer more flexibility in its plans. The idea was that the Original Plan would support the surrounding business community of Amenia. A key feature of the Original Plan was a three-hundred unit hotel. The Modified Project includes less than fifty hotel units. In order to maintain its designation of being a fit proposal for the Resort Overlay District, the Planning Board should have requested that the Town Board, in conjunction with the Planning Board, study the Modified Project utilizing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
As the Modified Project has not received such scrutiny, there is a lack of information concerning whether Amenia will benefit from newcomers spending money in the outlying areas. Other serious environmental issues confronting the Town of Amenia are the approved proposals to construct homes on steep slopes, the massive amount of water estimated to be used by the development in an area with shallow wells, and contaminants found in test wells at the site which are possibly flowing from surrounding shuttered landfills. Further, several ideas that would have made the project better have been left out of the final Modified Project.
The view from Delavergne Hill, from which we get the name “Amoena,” used to have a pull-off in order to provide a vantage point for community members to view the majestic landscape. The public has been told that a space would be provided for such - - when will that happen? A neighboring community, known as the Omega Center for Sustainable Living and situated just twenty miles away, features a state-of-the-art water treatment facility which currently returns clean water to its water table. Amenia has for a long time needed, and never been able to afford, any form of sewer treatment plant. A sewage treatment facility is sorely needed to accommodate the anticipated growth of the community of Amenia so that we can return clean water to the Tenmile River as it flows south to Wassaic.
In addition to a lack of study of the issues, there is also a valid argument that the Chairman of the Planning Board violated the Open Meetings Law by holding meetings which were kept closed to the public. The Open Meetings Law requires every meeting of a municipal actor be held publicly with few exceptions. The law defines a meeting as one where a quorum has been reached. The Chairman of the Amenia Planning Board violated the spirit of that law by holding multiple meetings at which he ensured there would be no quorum at any one meeting. The effect being that there indeed was a quorum at the combined meetings. This violation of the law taints the entire process utilized in approving the Modified Project of Silo Ridge.
While the Article 78 has been discontinued, there are other opportunities to weigh in on the important issues confronting Amenia stemming from the proposed development of Silo Ridge. If the developer was willing to continue working with concerned citizens of Amenia, Silo Ridge could be a welcome development which fulfills the hard work of the Comprehensive Plan Committee (which endeavored for several years to arrive at the proposal for the Original Project) and respect the local character, history and environment. Sincerely, Joshua A. Douglass, Esq.