SOMERS, N.Y. - A State Supreme Court justice has dismissed a last-ditch effort to block construction of 23 luxury homes only steps from the Amawalk Reservoir in Granite Springs.
Throwing out a legal challenge to Somers’ tentative approval last year of the controversial development, Justice Gretchen Walsh said the subdivision’s opponents had lacked the requisite legal standing when they sued the Planning Board and developer John Harkins.
While the challengers, largely Granite Springs residents, warned broadly of potential harm to an important water source, Walsh said they “failed to factually demonstrate a specific, actual and concrete injury from which standing would flow.” The Amawalk Reservoir provides drinking water for New York City and more than 11,000 homes in Somers and Yorktown.
Barring an appeal, which remains possible until at least late this month, Harkins must now decide whether to proceed with plans to build Granite Pointe or sell the site to another builder.
Either way, the developer of this 28.8-acre forest will have to address a long list of Planning Board concerns, including a major cleanup of lead contamination, before any homebuilding can begin. The lead in the soil, a toxic reminder of the site’s long-ago use as a rifle range, is scheduled to be remediated in a state-supervised Brownfield cleanup.
For Harkins, the court decision appears to end more than two decades of futility in trying to develop his forested promontory off Route 118.
First proposed as a housing site in 1987, years before Harkins acquired the land, the picturesque property has faced development hurdles almost from the start. The barriers have included environmental lawsuits in 1990 and last year, discovery in 2004 of the massive lead contamination and implacable opposition over the years by many of its Granite Springs neighbors.
But a year ago this month, following a summer-long series of contentious public hearings, the Planning Board gave Harkins that heavily conditioned final subdivision approval.
In November, Gwynne Drive residents Marc Houslanger, his wife, Diane, and fellow opponents sued the Planning Board under the Environmental and Community Advocates (ECA) banner. They petitioned in an Article 78 proceeding for a judicial review of the subdivision OK, maintaining that the board had green-lighted Granite Pointe without adequately considering the serious environmental threat it posed to the reservoir.
Marc Houslanger did not respond to an email request for additional comment.
For its part, the Planning Board had conditioned its approval on the completion of a laundry list of fixes, most of them environmental, including a state-supervised Brownfield cleanup of the lead contamination.
Before any homes can be built, the Planning Board made clear, the lead and a dozen pages of additional concerns must be addressed. Harkins’ Suelain Realty can either do that work itself or sell the property to a developer.
The critics’ challenge to the Planning Board’s conditional final approval of the subdivision last October came in a so-called “Article 78 proceeding.” A judicial review of an administrative action like the Planning Board’s, it’s named for the section of state law governing its application.
In her 21-page decision, Walsh said the project’s critics relied “on a number of different legal theories” to establish legal standing and support their contention that scrutiny under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) had been insufficiently rigorous.
“Specifically,” she said, “petitioners allege that the Planning Board: (1) unfairly and negligently granted the approval for the subdivision, lacking the due diligence required by SEQRA in not considering the negative impact on the densely forested peninsula of Amawalk Reservoir; (2) failed to consider the drinking water supply in the C-3 District; and (3) failed to take a ‘hard look’ in accordance with SEQRA’s requirements.”
The project’s critics also maintained that the subdivision’s approval “threatens to destroy the scenic vista enjoyed on a daily basis by all of us residing near Granite Pointe.”
In rejecting the Environmental and Community Advocates petition, Walsh ruled that “ECA has not demonstrated standing to maintain this proceeding.”