After losing its court case challenging the approval of the proposed development at the former GM site, Tarrytown is now considering a costly appeal. It has also asked the judge to review his decision. These moves have already cost our villages over $165,000 in legal fees. In explaining these moves, Mayor Drew Fixell has stated his concerns are about traffic mitigation measures and how and when Tarrytown will be compensated for them.
A brief refresher: 10 years ago, GM proposed a development of 1,500+ residential units, with retail space, and a hotel. After a comprehensive review of the proposal Sleepy Hollow reduced the project to 1,177 residential units and limited the size of the retail space and hotel. These decisions are codified in a series of officially adopted documents: a Final Environmental Impact statement (FEIS) (2005), a Findings Statement (2007), an Amended Findings Statement (2010), and a Special Permit (2010).
As a matter of law, Sleepy Hollow was required to take a “hard look” at the effect the development of the GM site would have on traffic in Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown and local NY State roads. Notwithstanding Tarrytown’s contention to the contrary, the Court found in both 2010 and 2012 that the traffic studies were extensive and that Sleepy Hollow did its due diligence and took the “hard look.”
It is important to mention that the traffic studies noted that certain intersections in Tarrytown were already in need of mitigation – even if the GM site was never developed. It is equally as important to mention that the Court stated emphatically that Tarrytown has failed to implement traffic mitigation measures which were identified for its own Hudson Harbor project.
In any event, if Tarrytown determines to accept the traffic mitigation measures outlined for Lighthouse Landing the developer is required to pay its fair share for the measures.
Which leads us to a critical point: neither Sleepy Hollow nor the GM developer can force Tarrytown to implement any traffic mitigation measures; this power resides solely with Tarrytown. Payment will come if, and only when, the mitigation measures are completed. In recent correspondence from Tarrytown to Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown seemed to be demanding payment in advance, an impossibility because it hasn’t even agreed to any of the mitigation measures at this point.
The GM property has been off the tax rolls for decades. Further litigation by Tarrytown will keep it off the tax rolls. While Tarrytown may not care when Sleepy Hollow receives tax relief, one would think that Tarrytown officials would care about increasing revenue to our school district. Conservative estimates show that after the project is built and occupied the net benefit to our school district will be over $1 million per year. Of course, the district will begin to receive tax revenue while the project is under construction and well before a single child from the new development attends our schools. It’s time to stop the expensive and fruitless legal wrangling and bring much needed tax dollars to our schools.
One can sum up the current dispute between Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow regarding GM with just three words: Traffic, Traffic, Traffic. But to truly understand our differences, it’s necessary to appreciate the project’s size.
It’s hardly controversial to characterize the GM development as enormous: As approved in the 2007 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), the project contains 1,177 housing units which, to put into perspective, would increase Sleepy Hollow’s population by 25%. Compared with Tarrytown’s Hudson Harbor development, the unit count is almost five times as great; if the densities were equal, GM would have fewer than 850 units.
Even more important is GM’s retail/commercial space, which generates far more traffic than housing. At over 300,000 square feet (including a 140-room hotel), it dwarfs that at Hudson Harbor. The retail space alone, exclusive of the hotel, is almost seven times the 20,000 square feet in Hudson Harbor, and nearly twice as dense. Adding in the hotel doubles those calculations.
What does this mean? Well, by all reasonable measures, the GM project will generate unacceptable traffic in Tarrytown. Significantly, Sleepy Hollow’s FEIS recognized this and, as required, proposed “mitigation” measures. However, those proposals had 2 major shortcomings: 1) the primary measure was to remove 35 parking spaces on Broadway in Tarrytown, an action undermining our entire downtown strategy; and 2) even if the measures were implemented, expert analysis showed them to be entirely insufficient. Consequently, in the months leading up to approval, Tarrytown repeatedly stated that the measures were unacceptable and inadequate, and asked Sleepy Hollow to consider alternatives that, by bringing down the project’s density to levels similar to Hudson Harbor’s or through other means, would cut traffic by about one-third. We also made clear that we sought to neither stop nor slow the project; rather we only wished to have true traffic mitigation considered.
Notably, Tarrytown was not alone in finding the project too big – among others, then trustee-candidate Ken Wray’s mayoral running mate, Tom Caposella, told this newspaper in March 2007 that the project would overwhelm the village with traffic and needed “to be scaled down,” and ironically, in July 2007, Trustee Wray actually voted against the resolution approving the FEIS.
Unfortunately, the FEIS was approved as described, no other traffic-reducing changes have been made since, and Tarrytown was left with no means to protect its residents but to take legal action.
So where are we now? Though we don’t agree with his conclusions, a lower court judge rejected Tarrytown’s claim that Sleepy Hollow should take a “hard look” at lower-traffic alternatives. The judge, however, indicated that Sleepy Hollow should fulfill the 2007 FEIS commitments to pay its “fair share” of the mitigation measures, and while we remain unconvinced those measures will be adequate (and in some cases, desirable), we have asked that Sleepy Hollow clarify how it will follow through on those commitments. Meanwhile, since we would have quickly lost the ability to take any actions to protect Tarrytown, we did file papers preserving our right to appeal. Nonetheless, we remain hopeful that Sleepy Hollow will provide some real assurances that traffic will be at least reduced and that our differences can be resolved out of court.