YORKTOWN, N.Y. - During a public hearing held by the Planning Board on June 22, residents took issue with a proposal by Atlantic Appliance to build a warehouse on Maple Hill Street which would entail the removal of large number of trees. 

“We don’t have any business cutting down large swaths of trees, especially in our town,” one resident, Jennie Sunshine, said of the plan for the two-story building that would be located on about 5 acres at 2010 Maple Hill as well as work on an adjacent parcel to the east.

Atlantic Appliance is currently located in the Triangle Shopping Center but is seeking to build the warehouse to provide it with more office and retail space. 

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Steve Marino of Site Design Consultants spoke about the mitigation and stormwater plans at the meeting, saying the plans would include the removal of 125 trees on the main parcel. He said the applicant would plant 50 new native trees on the adjacent parcel and 45 on the main plot in addition to planting 122 new shrubs on both parcels.

The mitigation plans address additional runoff from the site, routing it to a treatment basin before being discharged into the Hallocks Mill Brook, Marino said.

Invasive species and dead trees on wetlands located on the site would be removed, along with such debris as shopping carts and lawn chairs that have polluted an overflow for the brook.

But residents spoke out against the removal of so many trees. 

“As you know, Yorktown’s tree law is a tree and woodland preservation law and the outstanding feature of the law is the recognition of woodlands as valuable ecosystems,” said resident Linda Miller, a member of Advocates for a Better Yorktown and a principal architect of the current tree law. “The disturbance includes any activity that alters the existing structure of protected woodlands, including all the layers of vegetation. Mr. Marino has talked about mitigation plans for trees and somewhat for the woodland in the wetland buffer but dismisses the rest of the woodland of being low quality. I would like to point out that the tree and woodland law doesn’t allow for any value determinations in regulation protection.”

She said that due to the site having many specimen trees, it qualifies it as a high-quality woodland site.

“As the approval authority, it’s the Planning Board’s responsibility to carry out the intent of the tree and woodland preservation law and that intent is to preserve both individual trees and woodlands while accommodating reasonable development. The key word here is ‘accommodating’,” Miller said.

Susan Siegel, a former town supervisor and another member of ABY, said that Atlantic’s application before the Planning Board was the first under which the new tree law applied, and as such, the application of the law was imperative as to how future applications will be considered.

“It’s important that the Planning Board discuss the square footage and review and consider the extent of the woodland disturbance,” Siegel said.

Resident Mark Lieberman suggested that instead of building on woodlands, the Planning Board should encourage business owners to open up shop in pre-existing buildings in town.

However, Director of Planning John Tegeder said that action could impede on owners’ rights.

“I think the Planning Board is always concerned with the built environment and the natural environment. When it comes to actual development applications under the New York state law and our laws, an applicant as a property owner has the right to come in and develop their property and if they can do it to meet all of the codes and all of the things that they need to rise to do under our laws, then they are able to do that,” Tegeder said. “I don’t think that you would be able to cause an application to be disapproved simply because they did not want to rent a store that happened to be empty, whether it’s nearby or across town.”

Lieberman spoke again, saying that he wasn’t suggesting the board obligate them, but it would help the applicant and town at the same time. He suggested the board help applicants find empty spaces in town.

Planning Board President Richard Fon, like Tegeder, pointed out that that was not the responsibility of the Planning Board. 

“We don’t go out and solicit applicants. We don’t promote any properties,” Fon said. “As applications come in, we review them on their merits and when we have these hearings, obviously, as you see, it’s open to the public and people have their ability to make any comments or questions towards the application, but we do not go out and solicit applicants for people to come and develop properties. That’s not what the Planning Board does.”

Planning Board attorney Jim Glatthaar echoed Tegeder’s sentiments about property owners’ rights.

“I think it’s best to understand that anyone who owns a piece of property, there comes with that property a bundle of rights and while the Planning Board can look at each application with an eye towards the overall impact on the town, you can’t do so in such a way to deny that person their bundle of rights to the property they have in mind,” Glatthaar said.

Resident Mara Ziedins defended the project, saying that the empty buildings in town are not suitable for the needs of Atlantic Appliance.

“I am fully, fully supporting this project development, commercial development, which will bring taxes into our community,” Ziedins said.

Councilman Ed Lachterman, who also sits on the Planning Board, said that the site is completely overgrown with thorny brush and marred by litter.

“I think the mitigation that is going to be done there on a couple of different levels, especially toward that back wetland area, is much needed to help get it cleaned up,” Lachterman said.

He added that it was “an amazing benefit for the town” for Atlantic Appliance to maintain the land.

Marino addressed those who had thought the removal of trees was on the 5 acres of both parcels.

“We’re about 4.6 acres total between the two parcels and the 3.1-acre parcel is not being disturbed at all except for mitigation and restoration. There are no trees being cut down on that parcel. One-point-five acres of trees will be cut down on the parcel where the building is supposed to go,” Marino said.

He said he submitted a letter to the Planning Board on Monday, May 11, which detailed the building plans as it pertained to the tree law.

He also added that in the past, developers have been asked not to disturb wetlands and buffers but are now being asked to not cut trees down, as well, which puts them in a difficult situation, particularly in commercial zones.

Joe Riina from Site Design Consultants said the developer is going “above and beyond” in terms of stormwater quality and flood attenuation, which both benefit the downstream properties and the Croton Reservoir.

The Planning Board will continue reviewing the application at its next meeting, scheduled for July 13.