YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Shrub Oak International School and its contentious helicopter permit were both approved last week by the Yorktown Planning Board.
The school’s site plan was unanimously approved and the helicopter permit was approved by a 4 to 1 vote. The only dissenting vote was from planning board Chair Richard Fon, who said he wanted more time to consider the application, according to Town Planner Robyn Steinberg. The helistop will be used for visitations and emergencies, and will be accessible to local first responders.
At the May public hearing, the proposed helistop was criticized by a half-dozen residents who said that helicopters are loud, distracting and unnecessary. Councilman Tom Diana, a nearby resident of the school on Stoney Street, said many neighbors initially expressed concern to him about the helistop. After seeing conditions enforced upon the helistop, however, many neighbors were satisfied.
“I voiced my constituents’ concerns and they were satisfied on the results,” Diana said.
According to Steinberg, conditions of the permit allow for a maximum of three non-emergency flights per month; requires helicopters to ascend to at least 1,500 feet above sea level before heading toward its destination; requests pilots fly in a quiet and respectful way; limits non-emergency flights to occupants or visitors of the facility; and prohibits non-emergency flights outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Shrub Oak International School must also submit an annual report of its flight activity to the town.
The helistop permit expires two years from the date it becomes fully operational. At that point, the school must request a renewal so the board can re-evaluate the effects it has had at that point, if any, Steinberg said.
“The Shrub Oak International School and our entire development team were quite pleased that after an awful lot of hard work by everyone involved, the planning board approved the site plan and special permit resolutions,” said David S. Steinmetz, an attorney representing Shrub Oak International School. “We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with town staff and the community to bring this important and laudable school use to Yorktown.”
Steinmetz added that the school is slated to open in the fall of 2018, “if all goes well.” The Shrub Oak International School, a private day school and boarding program for people with autism, has a projected enrollment of 300 students, ranging from adolescents to students in their mid-20s. The helistop will be located on the southern portion of the 127-acre property at 3151 Stoney St., the site of the former Phoenix House Academy, a teen drug rehab center that closed in 2015.
Traffic was also discussed thoroughly throughout the planning process. Ron Hill, a traffic engineer with H2M Architects, had 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 Stoney Street and East Main Street an area of concern.
At last Monday’s planning board meeting, the school resolved to contribute $30,000 toward a traffic study of the East Main Street corridor. This money will not be paid immediately, Steinberg said, but when the town hires a consultant to carry out the study.
At the meeting, the board also approved a “negative declaration” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, meaning there is no substantial evidence the project will have significant effects on the environment.
The annual tuition rate for the school will be $145,000 for its day-school program and $300,000 for its boarding program, according to its website.
Shrub Oak International School is affiliated with K3 Learning, a Manhattan-based education company that owns a network of more than 60 for-profit schools in New York, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, according to its website.
Calling its mission “success for life,” the school will focus on independent living and job placement in community settings. The school will have an area for animals, such as sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits, which help those with autism.
The campus was built in 1954 as the site of Loyola Seminary, which was owned by the Archdiocese of New York. The Phoenix House Academy opened at the property in 1983 and closed in June 2015. The academic and residential facilities include a courtyard, an auditorium and gym, a kitchen and dining facility, common rooms, classrooms and dormitories. The school also plans on building an indoor pool, agriculture facilities and an open space for robotic development and learning.