Suffern residents assail housing plan

By James Walsh
The Journal News
(Original Publication: March 6, 2007)

SUFFERN - It wasn't a public hearing, but that didn't stop the public from being heard last night on its environmental concerns regarding a proposed housing development.

Flooding topped the list of worries of a dozen people who spoke against a 25-house project off Memorial Drive, followed by traffic on neighborhood streets and the current assault of fumes from the New York State Thruway.

The village board last night scheduled a public hearing for May 7 on whether to authorize the Planning Board to consider a "clustered" development.

In a description of the plan submitted to the village Feb. 21, Brooker Engineering of Suffern said that average or clustered development would place 25 houses on 8,500-square-foot lots.

A standard plan, which would conform to the 10,000-square-foot lots required by the area's zoning, was also submitted to the village.

The main difference is that the clustering plan would provide additional open space along Memorial Drive as well as more green space overall.

Trustee Dagan LaCorte told the audience, which included about 30 people who appeared to be attending because of the plan, that a standard development would have houses facing Memorial Drive, while clustering would provide a buffer along the roadway.

Village Attorney Terry Rice, who suggested that speakers save their comments for the public hearing, said the builder, Wales Corley Roseland Corp., had a right under the zoning to construct a standard development.

George Murillo, a resident of the neighborhood, said the board also had an obligation.

"You have the right to demand more than just the average development," Murillo said.

The 8-acre site is viewed by some residents as environmentally sensitive because of the nearby Mahwah River.

The river has long been a source of flooding on Memorial Drive, which sits in a flood plain, and especially downstream in the Squire's Gate area.

A Squire's Gate resident, Gerald Levitus, acknowledged that both the county and town had passed on buying the property to preserve it as open space.

Levitus wondered whether those entities, as well as the village and federal government, could join forces to save the property.

The nonhearing also brought out several former officials.

Thom Velto, a former village trustee, said the municipal boards had a responsibility "to ensure that if this is done, it's done properly."

Like Levitus, Velto lives in the flood-prone Squire's Gate.

Former County Legislator Alden Wolfe urged his Suffern neighbors to emphasize the importance of the site in letters to the County Executive's Office.

James Giannettino, a former mayor who lives on Memorial Drive, said the development "will cause an increase in storm-water runoff in areas of the village that already flood - Memorial Drive and Squire's Gate."

Giannettino noted that a Little League field, the village pool and a playground are near the proposed development. "The increase in traffic will put our children in grave danger," he said.