To the Editor of River Journal
Westchester River Journal readers should be appalled at the recent public statement by developer Zappico Real Estate that the broad, overwhelming opposition to its potential evisceration of the Pocantico Lake Watershed is simply a a case of Not in My Backyard “NIMBYism.” (See, Not in My Backyard: Pocantico Lake Project Faces Fierce Opposition—April 2022).
The developer actually went even further, concluding that among the almost one thousand opposition petition-signers who do not fall into the NIMBY category, the rest are simply “misinformed” and don’t realize that the company’s intention to clear-cut one million square feet of forest abutting one of the most pristine and environmentally sensitive areas remaining in lower New York State to build a 31-house cluster subdivision will paradoxically “benefit the community by permanently preserving and protecting” the land. Readers of a certain age may recognize the “we burned the village in order to save it” metaphor is still actively at work in 2022.
The fact is that the developer in this case bought the parcel in question at the height of the pandemic for $2.4 million, a price that was likely seven to ten times less in market value than it would have paid had either the buyer or seller had serious expectations that the land could be extensively developed. The public park on the Pocantico River and Lake immediately adjacent to the property was decades ago designated as a protected wildlife area by the county and the state for its “exceptional and unique” environmental qualities, and remains a beloved county resource teeming with wildlife and flora. Photographic evidence presented to the local planning board shows bald eagles, otters, egrets, herons, ospreys and myriad other protected and endangered species on or within feet of the purchased parcel itself. Yet the developer’s initial report to that same board, prepared after what it claims followed a full year of study, speciously noted that “deer” were the only relevant species present. Thus, it concluded, paving over the forest will cause no foreseeable injury to the health and character of the surrounding land and its many natural inhabitants.
If as the develop insists, opponents of the project (which include some of the region’s most respected and impartial environmental organizations) can be single-mindedly divided into just two categories, it follows we can assume the freedom to conclude the same of developers. There are those who operate with honesty and integrity –in cooperation with the local community they purport to serve– to preserve the quality of life and the local environment in pursuit of reasonable, sustainable profit. And then there are those who prize obscene profit over all else, no matter how their actions may degrade the land and the lives that comprise “their” community. We will soon find out into which of these two vastly different categories this developer falls.
Building a small number of houses on the parcel at the farthest end from the Pocantico Lake sanctuary will likely not be opposed by most Westchester county and local Pocantico and Briarcliff residents. On the other hand, a revised proposal that still seriously threatens the health and beauty of one of Westchester’s remaining environmental gems will continue to be fought with the full weight of community support. In sum, this is not a case of NIMBY. This is the case of an entire county regarding a resource this important to its character as being part of a collective backyard that belongs to everyone.
Charles J. Sanders
Pocantico Lake (Town of Mount Pleasant), NY