Wilson Park – A Delicate Balancing Act

Driving toward the Tarrytown Lakes on County House Rd. (off Rt. 448) in Sleepy Hollow, one goes directly past a recent
development of eleven large homes built by major developer, WCI Spectrum Communities of Valhalla, N.Y.

When one drives further, the road becomes Tower Hill Road, where an even larger development of homes was proposed two years ago by the same builder. Reaction has been anything but quiet; in fact, major arguments and varying suggestions have been made continuously for the project. Indeed, it is one of the last pristine pieces of former Rockefeller land and reaches all the way from the corner of Tower Hill and Wilson Park Roads, down to Neperan Road and the Tarrytown Lakes themselves. Parts of the parcel were, at one point, a Catholic girls’ school named "Our Lady of Victory."

Nearly everyone has an opinion and legitimately so. The builder sees the 48 acres as a collection of various beautiful homes. The residents in the area see the end of a very private park. The Village is, of course,
concerned with additional revenues, but is, at the same time, worried about further lake impacts through increased "pollution loading." Environmentalists see "open space" being lost and certain wildlife being threatened.
Norman Sheer of Bank, Sheer, Seymour and Hashmall of White Plains, the legal representative of WCI Communities, spoke recently at several Tarrytown public meetings indicating that "too much time" had elapsed from the initial WCI proposal to the present and suggested that the Planning Board close the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) hearings. To that point, the issues are simply too complex to be settled quickly. For example, Mike McGarvey, the Tarrytown Village Engineer, indicated that Village Hall is right now waiting for the final results of an up-to-date study on the current condition of the lakes along with recommendations for keeping the lake in continuing excellence. Mayor Fixell is, at the moment, negotiating with the developer to lessen the proposed building of 17 homes to 14. To that point, a suggestion is now in place that the Village use some of its "open space revenues" for purchasing additional land within the proposed site. Here again, however, is another balance between spending money on Wilson Park now versus some key project further into the future.

At the moment, most of the land is zoned at "R80" which translates to 2-acre building lots. A recent proposal for a "cluster/building" concept has arisen and that would lessen the amount of acreage needed for construction of these new homes. Under this new proposal, the amount of "open space" to be returned to the Village could add up to at least 20 acres out of the 48 involved in the entire parcel. Several plans are in place that actually build the new homes around specimen trees in the area. The saved land would be returned to dog-walking, jogging, hiking and picnics.
For those that are lobbying that "no homes" be built, it is unlikely that WCI would surrender its right to get its own investment back. Under the law, they are entitled to develop the land with proposed homes. While they certainly must get local approval, they do have an avenue of relief in what is known as "Article 78 of NY State law," which deals with "unfair decisions by an approving body." In fact, any group, including a citizens group, could use this as an action to be adjudicated in the NY State Supreme Court in White Plains.

Whatever happens to a final decision, one person in authority estimated that the Wilson Park project could take another year of planning before any building begins. Nevertheless, much is at stake, including storm run-off, recreation areas, tree locations, home and lot sizes and site plan approvals. Taking care and paying attention to detail at this juncture is critical.

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt