Upzoning overturned: where was the DEP?

From Westchester Environment, May-June, 1997

by Mickie Grover

In 1994 the Town of Yorktown upzoned, from 2 to 4 acres, approximately 3,000 acres. On March 19, 1997 Supreme Court Justice James R. Cowhey overturned the upzoning.

The Huntersville area is located in the southern end of Yorktown and lies entirely within the Croton Watershed. Justice Cowhey ruled that the Town neglected to conduct a complete environmental review under the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) regulations. The Town Board argued that because the "rezoning was consistent with an adopted master plan and in conformity with the well known natural environmental constraints of the area protected, expensive environmental reviews were not necessary." The Court found this reasoning inadequate.

The most disturbing feature of this ruling is the part played by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) -- an agency charged with the protection of the Croton Watershed. In his decision Justice Cowhey cited a letter from Dale L. Borchert, Environmental Planner for the DEP. Mr. Borchert wrote that "upzoning from 2-acre lots to 4-acre lots may actually result in more development in the Hunterbrook area." His argument was based on the peculiar idea that lots not acceptable for development as 2-acre plots would be if the zoning was changed to 4 acres.

The DEP was invited by the Yorktown Land Trust to testify during the hearings on the upzoning before the Town Board. They declined to send a representative although at that time Commissioner Appleton wrote a letter supporting the upzoning. Brochert's letter was sent later. One office does not seem to know what the other is doing. Nor does there seem to be a consistent policy.

The DEP claims to be actively studying and seeking alternatives to filtration for the Croton System. (See "Coalition seeks filtration avoidance" previous issue, for a discussion of the issue.) A policy of supporting the upzoning of sensitive land within the Watershed, including providing funds for the required Environmental Impact Statements, would protect a much larger acreage than merely buying land as provided for in the recently signed Watershed Agreement. That Agreement allocates $250,000,000 for Land Acquisition west of the Hudson in the Catskill-Delaware Watershed and only $10,000,000 for west of the Hudson in the Croton Watershed.

Upzoning is being considered in Yorktown (Hunterbrook again and Croton Heights), in Somers, in Bedford and in other Watershed communities. The DEP should support, not undermine, efforts to protect the water residents of both New York City and Westchester County drink. At the least, they should have a consistent policy.

Mickie Grover is a member of the Friends of the Croton Watershed. See our website, www.townlink.net/ny/yorktown/watershed for more information on the Watershed including links to other sites.

Return to The Friend's Home Page.