A group of Old Bethpage residents are banding together to ensure their local environment gets a fair shake before developers break ground on a massive Plainview project.
Residents appeared in state Supreme Court last week to file a lawsuit challenging how the Town of Oyster Bay performed its environmental review of the Country Pointe project, which encompasses 750 housing units, a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse and 118,450-square-feet of retail space at Old Country Road and Round Swamp Round, to be built by Jericho-based Beechwood Organization.
The judge in the case scheduled a follow-up hearing for July 8 and obtained consent of all the parties—represented in court by five attorneys for the town and the developer—that no construction or environmental damage would occur before that time.
“This is a good example of how citizens can and should stand up for their communities and for the limited healthy environment that remains on Long Island, especially in Nassau County,” said Richard Brummel, an environmental activist from East Hills, who helped the Old Bethpage residents organize their court case. “It also documents that governments have favored development to the point of undermining environmental law.”
According to Brummel, the lawsuit focuses on four areas of environmental review the plaintiffs argue led to fatal flaws in the process. First, the lawsuit argues that the town unlawfully segmented the environmental review by separating its plans to construct new athletic fields on forest land, as well as deferring the review of the construction of several new traffic lanes at and nearby the site.
Second, the lawsuit argues that the town failed to take a required “hard look” at the environmental impact on the roughly 55 species of wildlife—including foxes, bats and pheasants—and 47 species of moths and butterflies. The plaintiffs point to a failure to actually count or estimate how many animals are on the site, and allege the town falsely down-played the value of the dense forests on the site as habitat for wildlife.
The lawsuit also alleges the town overstated the amount of wildlife habitat that would be preserved by the developers and understated the amount of habitat originally present at the site. Finally, the lawsuit argues the town’s approved 125-foot wooded buffer between the project and residents is woefully inadequate.
If the lawsuit is successful, it could result in a redesign better minimizing the environmental impact, as required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
“The town’s rezoning was based on an incomplete environmental review,” said Glenn Denton, a plaintiff in the case who lives across the street from the proposed project on Round Swamp Road. “If this had been addressed previously in a significant way, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Supervisor John Venditto said the town went well beyond what is required under the law in terms of providing opportunities for public participation during the review of the Country Pointe application. Included in these opportunities were a public scoping session on the outline of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, as well as a public hearing before the town board—both of which, Venditto noted, are optional under the governing regulations of the SEQRA.
“The length of time provided for written comments from the public was well in excess of the minimum requirements specified under SEQRA,” said Venditto, adding that the comment was allowed to comment on the record at board hearings prior to action on any resolution. “We are confident in the adequacy of the process which provided public input for the town board’s consideration in completing the review of the Country Pointe at Plainview application, and further, I am confident that a well-informed decision was made.”
Representatives for the developers could not be reached for comment as of press time.
The site of the proposed project is a 143-acre property sold off by Nassau County in 1998. It currently contains close to 60 acres of forest, various soccer fields in two areas and about a dozen abandoned buildings formerly used by the county as office buildings.
Last month the town voted unanimously to approve the project during a town hall meeting packed with residents and union workers in support of the project, many of whom do not live in the area that will be impacted by the development. Opponents of the project said this skews the perception that a majority of residents are in favor of the project as it currently stands.
“In 2006, developers proposed 600 units in a development and residents were greatly opposed to it,” said Bridget Denton, referring to a project proposed by former site owner Charles Wang. “This project calls for 750 units. How are residents willing to accept this project when it seems larger in scope?”
The town-approved plan would bring 750 homes consisting of 528 market-rate age-restricted homes, 90 Golden Age units and 132 market-rate homes that will not be age restricted. The project also encompasses more than 58 acres of open space, with 57 acres designated for recreational use like sports fields and walking trails.
In addition, the development calls for some office space, a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse and 118,450-square-feet of retail development featuring a 71,400 square-foot ShopRite, which will be relocated from its current location in the Morton Village Shopping Center.