Attorney for Shrub Oak School Questions Motives of Critical Residents

A rendering of the main building and entrance of Shrub Oak International School, designed by H2M Architects

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A representative of Shrub Oak International School is pushing back against public criticism over the school’s proposed helistop, questioning the legitimacy of concerns brought forth by residents who don’t live near the Stoney Street property.

At the May 8 public hearing, about a half-dozen Yorktown residents questioned the necessity of the helistop, calling helicopters noisy and distracting. Residents demanded to know who would be using the helistop, how often it would be used, and what hours it would be allowed to operate.

Attorney David S. Steinmetz, who represents the proposed private school for autistic people, said it was “interesting” that some of the helistop critics did not live directly near the school.

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He went on to question the speakers’ motives, including an unnamed resident who argued that first responders do not need helistops because they can land a helicopter anywhere if necessary.

“That individual probably lives about five miles as the crow flies from the site,” Steinmetz said. “So, one wonders whether there are really, legitimate, empirical concerns being raised, or purely concerns being raised for reasons I don’t want to attribute.”

Yorktown News sent a follow-up email to Steinmetz and asked him to elaborate on his comment.

“We fully understand neighbors of Phoenix House being concerned about the issues surrounding the helistop, but there is simply no impact (noise or otherwise) on Yorktown residents living five miles from the site,” he wrote. “We remain confident that the planning board will review our client’s entire application on the merits of the data and studies, and not based upon generalized community opposition. This is a rare and very special application. I hope that Yorktown gets the benefits of it.”

Steinmetz said the helistop would be used about one to three times a month for visitations. First responders would also have access.

At the meeting, Planning Board Chair Richard Fon said he “didn’t disagree” with Steinmetz’s assessment of the speakers, but said it’s the planning board’s responsibility to oversee “responsible development.” To that end, he requested Shrub Oak International School perform a flight test at the Stoney Street property.

“It answers a lot of questions and it might calm a lot of concerns,” Fon said.

Steinmetz said the Koffler family, owners of the school, do not yet own the property, but said it could be arranged if that’s what the planning board desires.

All written and spoken questions asked during the public comment period, he said, will be answered. Steinmetz, however, did reiterate that his client would be willing to accept conditions regulating uses, frequency and hours of operation of the helistop.

“We’re fully aware you’re likely to do that,” Steinmetz said. “We have no problem with that.”

Much of the May 22 work session revolved around the school’s stormwater plan, fire department access and an entrance road to neighboring Granite Knolls Park. While these plans are not settled, the planning board and planning staff were encouraged by what they saw.

Also unsettled is traffic mitigation efforts made by Shrub Oak International School, which is expected to have about 300 students and 350 employees. The school offers both boarding and day programs.

Ron Hill, a traffic engineer with H2M Architects, said the school would add significant traffic to the surrounding roads in the peak morning and evening hours. Much of this traffic would be coming from and going to the Taconic State Parkway, thus making the Stoney Street/East Main Street intersection an area of concern.

Steinmetz said the intersection has existing issues, and the burden of fixing it should not be totally on the school. He said the school and town need to work on an “allocation concept.”

“While our clients are willing to help participate in East Main Street/Stoney Street intersection, by no means do they think the existing conditions that the town and others may want to deal with should fall in their lap,” he said.

Fon, in regard to the projected traffic increase, said “the numbers are high,” and a solution involves more than “just throwing a light up” at the intersection. Two months ago, the town board approved a light for the intersection, though it has not been installed.

Hill said a traffic light would also require ancillary things, such as a pedestrian push signal and curb cuts on the sidewalks to accommodate wheelchairs.

He said left- and right-only turn lanes on Stoney Street “would improve the condition quite a bit.”

Shrub Oak International School is scheduled to return at the June 12 planning board meeting. Planning Director John Tegeder said there could be draft resolutions ready that day to approve aspects of the school plans.

The planning board must vote on the site plan, the stormwater plan, a special-use permit to allow a private school in a residential zone and a special-use permit for the helistop.

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