Jan 16, 2019 | Letter to the Copake Planning Board - Craryville Resident, Liz Nealon
January 16, 2019
Robert Haight, Chairman
Town of Copake Planning Board
230 Mountain View Road
Copake, New York 12516
Re: Proposed GRJH Inc. Development at Route 23/County Route 7
Dear Chairman Haight and Members of the Copake Planning Board,
I am writing to follow up on my remarks at the Town Planning Board Public Hearing on January 5, 2019. I have been a Craryville resident for 10 years. My husband and I both live and work here; I own and run a small business here.
We chose to live in Craryville because of the rural character of the community. We want to be surrounded by nature, to see the open sky and be able to look at the stars…. and we like being part of a small, close knit community where we know the people we see every day. We make a concerted effort to support local businesses, especially the farms that grow healthy, organic produce in the surrounding farmland.
I am also a trustee with the Copake Lake Conservation Society, located in Craryville. As you know, the CLCS is a volunteer organization designed to protect the ecological balance of Copake Lake and the watershed. Our lake has a high level of clarity and water quality --- one of the best in the state. That doesn’t happen by accident. We are vigilant in caring for and monitoring the quality of the lake. I believe we need to show the same vigilance in protecting the rural beauty of our hamlet. This was greatly enhanced by the adoption of the new Zoning Code last year, which clarified regulations for designated hamlets like Craryville. I am grateful that the Planning Board took this step in 2018, and trust that you will do the due diligence required to ensure that the proposed GJRH development meets these new hamlet guidelines.
The plans for this gas station are particularly troubling to me for four reasons:
1. Although it is getting better, the large size of the proposed development is well out of scale for the rural character of Craryville. As another commenter mentioned at the last public hearing, although the applicant indicates that there is no “restaurant” included, the plans still included an industrial-sized kitchen, storage refrigerators and freezers, and food preparation areas. The Planning Board should request that that these areas be removed, and the size of the footprint further downscaled accordingly.
2. I feel that the most recent public hearing (January 10, 2019) was unduly focused on visual impact, with little attention paid to the fundamental question of how safe it is to site the proposed gas station directly above the aquifer in an agricultural community that relies on well water. Any development that could potentially contaminate either the aquifer or our groundwater with fuel and other chemicals could be catastrophic for both homeowners and farms. We, the citizens of Craryville, rely on this Planning Board to be rigorous in its assessment of environmental risk as part of the site review process. We cannot and should not rely on verbal assurances from the applicant. For example, I know this Board has asked repeatedly whether soil testing has been done, but there is no record of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment relating to the possibility of sub-surface contaminants in the soil. We should insist that this be done.
In addition, according to Article IX of the Site Plan Review protocol, once the Planning Board determines that a proposed project subject to site review could have traffic, visual, groundwater, or stormwater impacts, the Planning Board may require the applicant to prepare and submit applicable information, studies, reports and plans, with all costs to be borne by the applicant. The potential for future contamination of both ground and surface water is of great concern to me and to many of my fellow citizens. Given the importance of these issues, the Planning Board should obtain an independent engineering consultant (paid for by the applicant) to assess the risks and determine whether this facility can be safely built at this location. We need rigorous, scientific data to assess the viability of this development in our community, and the Planning Board has the right (and in my view the obligation) to obtain quantitative assessments and assurances re groundwater and surfacewater impact before the site plan review is deemed to be complete.
3. This developer has a questionable history when it comes to environmental responsibility. The federal government brought a civil lawsuit (1) against this company in 2016 for numerous violations in multiple sites where they operated gas stations, mostly having to do with allegedly unsafe disposal of solid and hazardous waste, and poor monitoring and cleanup of leaks below ground. The suit was eventually settled, and I’d like to think that GRJH is completely reformed, and that their executives have become vigilant environmental stewards. But do we know that? No, we don’t. Their past record suggests that we’re taking a serious risk in allowing this development to happen here, under their stewardship.
4. The traffic safety issues at this busy corner are significant, and it does not feel as though they are being taken seriously. It is well-known that the traffic study submitted by the applicant was done in the off-season and when school was not in session?conditions likely to ensure that traffic was light. With Random Harvest now open and the site plan submitted to the DOT over a year old, it is clear that we need a new traffic/safety assessment study. This is well within the scope of a site plan review, and I would expect the Planning Board, rather than stating every meeting that “We’re waiting for the DOT decision,” to instead take the initiative and require a new traffic safety study conducted under current traffic conditions, while school is in session.
Finally, I am concerned about light pollution. The night skies here in Craryville are one of our natural treasures. Like the beautiful agricultural vistas, the unspoiled night sky is another reason why many of us choose to live in this place where we can observe the stars, the planets, even the International Space Station traveling overhead! We are so lucky to live in a place that still affords a (largely) unpolluted view of the night sky. The clarity is already somewhat diminished by the artificial light streaming from the Taconic Hills Central School complex, which was built before this concern was top of mind. Now we know better, and we should pay attention to the lighting plan for this large development in the heart of our hamlet.
Unnecessary light not only interferes with our ability to observe the stars and the planets, it has a disruptive effect on natural cycles. There is a growing body of scientific evidence (2) that links the brightening night sky directly to both:
* Measurable negative impacts on human health and immune function, and
* Adverse behavioral changes in insect and animal populations.
This is a big deal for an agricultural community like Craryville.
Our zoning code caps the brightness of lighting at 5 foot-candles for this type of business, but the GRJH Site Landscape and Lighting Plan appears to show intensity of up to 20 foot-candles. Assurances from the applicant that “our guys have done the very best they can with this lighting plan” are hollow. The attorneys for Save Craryville have made specific recommendations about the lighting plan in their latest letter, for example requiring canopies to contain the light to the ground directly below. The Planning Board should address these issues, and require an independent assessment of the lighting plan submitted for the site.
As I stated at the January Public Hearing, I am a member of the Save Craryville community coalition. We have worked hard with our attorneys to offer productive, actionable feedback that is designed to bring this project into reasonable scale for our community, and to be certain that environmental and safety considerations are being fully explored as part of the site plan review process. I urge you to take our feedback in the proactive spirit that it is given, and consider Save Craryville’s recommendations as you review the revised site plan.
In closing, I’d like to say that according to the Town of Copake Policy Manual: “The Town of Copake considers that the first purpose of government is to protect the people’s rights…. In addition, the Policy Manual emphasizes the Town’s several responsibilities for the safety and general welfare of its officers, employees, board members, committee members and citizens.” I know that you would like to get to the end of this site review process, but in fact we the people, the citizens of the Town of Copake and the Hamlet of Craryville, are relying on you to apply rigorous standards to this proposed development, and to require quantitative data and analysis that will protect us against a possible catastrophic outcome. The Planning Board has already taken a significant step on our behalf in writing the new 2018 Zoning Code, which recognizes the unique character of our hamlets. Now, I ask you to go a step further and rigorously enforce that code in the face of a highly questionable development plan.
Thank you for all the work that each member of the Planning Board does on behalf of all of us.
(1) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, plaintiff -v- FALCON PETROLEUM, LLC, RGLL, INC. and RGJH, INC., Defendants. Case 1.16-cv-01522-TJM-DJS. https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/pages/attachments/2017/04/28/env_enforcement-2657058-v1-filed_complaint_.pdf (accessed January 15, 2019).
(2) “Light pollution: What is it, and why is it important to know?” DarkSkiesAwareness.org. http://www.darkskiesawareness.org/faq-what-is-lp.php (accessed January 15, 2019).