Shrub Oak International School
SBL: 26.05-1-4
Discussion Subdivision and Site Plan

Location: 3151 Stony Street (formerl Phoenix House)
Contact: David S. Steinmetz, Esq.


Planning Board, 6-26-2017

After making some modifications to a draft of an approving resolution, the board voted unanimously to approve the SEQRA negative declaration, stormwater plan, tree permit and site plan for the school’s special permit.  The resolution included a provision for the applicant to contribute $30,000 as its share for a traffic study of the East Main Street corridor.  The actual study will be undertaken by the town. (Note: as the text of the approving resolution was not read out loud, it was not clear if the applicant would also have to pay a portion of any future infrastructure improvements, such as the proposed traffic light.)

 

When the issue of the second resolution – the special permit for the helistop – was raised, Mr. Fon said that based on the discussion at the previous meeting, he wanted the postpone a vote on the helistop until the school took possession of the property and could arrange for the helicopter text.  Mr. LaScala disagreed and said that if the school wanted the helistop it should get it.  He saw no problem with the helistop.  A discussion followed with different board members and Mr. Steinmetz recalling their sense of the previous meeting’s discussion.  Councilman Diana advised the board that after Mr. Steinmetz had clarified the extent of the helistop’s use at the last meeting and he had conveyed the information to area residents, they no longer objected to the helistop.  Mr. Tegeder, however, noted that those comments were not part of the official record.  It was also pointed out that the negative declaration that the board had already adopted included the helistop.  In a 4-1 vote with Mr. Fon voting no, the board approved the special permit for the helistop. Mr. Fon stated he was not necessarily opposed to the helistop; he just wanted to wait for the test.


Town Board, 6-20-2107

Dan Strauss took exception to comments made by the school’s attorney at a recent Planning Board meeting to the effect that Yorktown residents who didn’t live in the immediate area of the school had no business commenting on the proposed helistop. In separate comments later in the meeting, Supervisor Grace took exception to a letter to the editor about the pilot agreement that lowered the school’s taxes for 5 years.


Planning Board, 6-12-2017

 

During courtesy of the floor at the beginning of the meeting, Councilman Diana, a resident of Stoney Street, read a statement advising the board  that his neighbors had contacted him with their concerns about the proposed helistop. He advised the board that while the residents applauded the school  use, they didn’t want to helistop and that emergency responders didn’t need one. He said the helistop would not provide any benefits to the town but only to the school and its parents.

 

During the work session discussion, Mr. Steinmetz advised the board that in a conversation with Diana after his statement, it became clear to him that the councilman did not know of an earlier letter from the applicant agreeing to limit the number of flights to 36 per year and the hours of operations and that both restrictions were still negotiable.  He also said that Phoenix  House had refused to allow the helicopter test that had been suggested at the previous meeting.  He said that each helicopter trip would total 6 minutes, landing and taking off – or 18 minutes /month total.

 

In the discussion on the proposed traffic light at East Main Street, the issue was the total cost of the project and the extent to which site improvements such as handicapped access could be accommodated in the existing right of way. After Mr. Fon suggested that the entire East Main Street corridor needed to be looked at, not just the Stoney Street intersection, Mr. LaScala said that only the current project which he said would have a miniscule impact on the traffic, should be looked at it would be unfair to place a burden on the applicant for future projects. Mr. Steinmetz said his client was willing to pay for a study but wanted a cap on the amount and some degree of certainly. He said the traffic consultant’s report indicated that most of the traffic to the site would come from the south, not the north.

 

Mr. Steinmetz indicated that the town had decided not to use the shared driveway as access to Granite Knolls but instead preferred its own access. The applicant is revising the driveway plan.

 

Mr. Steinmetz indicated that for financial reasons, including the county IDA, the applicant was seeking an approving resolution as soon as possible. Mr. Kincart suggested that there could be two resolutions: one for the site plan for which there was no opposition, and a second for the special permit for the helistop that could be postponed pending additional information. He said he was not against the helistop but that it would take longer to get support for it from the community. It was noted that when the school takes ownership of the property, it might then be feasible to arrange the helicopter test.

 

It was anticipated that an approving resolution might be on the board’s next agenda.


Planning Board, 5-22-2017

The applicant’s engineer showed the board plans for the southern driveway that would provide access to the Granite  Knolls fields and include a turn off for the school’s staff.  The applicant noted that the new road would save the town approximately $400,000 by eliminating the need for the town to build an entirely new access road into the site.   The road could include a gate to block off access to the fields when not in use (as per Legacy Fields); the applicant’s engineer advised against a gate on the turnoff road for staff.  The engineer advised the board that the only possible conflict between staff and park users would be in the afternoons between 3-5pm when there is a shift change. Additional work needs to be done on the access road.

 

The applicant is also working on the details of its stormwater plan and consultants are working with the fire commissioners on access and safety issues.

 

Regarding the possible traffic light at East Main Street, the applicant’s engineer gave the board a breakout of the percentage impact that different proposed new developments would have on the intersections, e.g., Lowe’s, so that the cost of any light installation could be apportioned among the different developers.  He added that in addition to the cost of the light, other changes to the intersection might be needed.

 

On the helistop issue, chairman Fon noted that he had reached out to some first responders and was advised that in emergencies they could land anywhere. He asked the applicant if they could arrange a test flight so that the board could assess the noise impact that was a concern to neighbors. Mr. Steinmetz said he would reach out to Phoenix House which still owns the site to see if that was possible. He said the applicant has no problem with the board setting conditions on the use of the helistop such as number of flights or hours of operation or that the special permit be for a limited time so that the town could assess its impact.

 

Mr. Steinmetz indicated that he would be responding to all the questions that were raised during the hearing and subsequent written comments.  He noted that some of the comments came from people who didn’t live in the immediate area surrounding the school.

 

Prior to the next meeting, Mr. Tegeder will draw up a list of possible conditions for an eventual approving resolution.


Planning Board, 5-8-2017

Presentations on various aspects of the plan were made by the applicant’s attorney, David Steinmetz, and other consultants. The only changes from the earlier plan include

a. relocating the helistop on the property so the flight path will not go over the soccer fields and in order to conform to the Zoning Code.

b. an addition onto the building for a swimming pool

c. modifications to the southern driveway that will include left and right turn lanes for entering and exiting. The attorney said that an easement agreement with the town allowing access to the Granite Knolls athletic fields needed to be worked out.

 

In general, while many residents raised issues, mostly about the helistop, no one opposed the project. Tony Grasso, speaking for the Chamber of Commerce, said the group supported the project. He attributed the comments raised by his fellow residents as political and related to this year’s election. One other person spoke in support of the project citing the jobs it would generate and the increase in home values.

 

The hearing was closed but a 14 day written comment period was left open.

 

Mr. Tegeder explained that the next steps would be the applicant responding to the questions raised during the hearing and working with town staff and the DEP on final details. The process, he said, could takes a month or longer.

 

Helistop: This was the major issue during the hearing with several residents questioning the school’s need for the facility, as opposed to potential use by first responders. Jay Kopstein said that first responders don’t need a permit to land and that they can land any place that’s safe. It was also noted that emergency helicopters would land where they were needed, e.g., on the Taconic.  Mr. Steinmetz said that the helistop was not essential for the application but that it was valuable, particularly for parents visiting their children.  He said it was not a deal breaker and that the town may have a greater need for the helistop than the school. In response to a question from the public, he said the owners did not use helicopters, except once on vacation.  The applicant’s helicopter expert said that the noise level from medium sized helicopters would not create problems for homeowners on Amelia Drive, the closest street. Other residents questioned the noise impact on the school’s residents as well as the animals. They also noted that the consultant’s noise level comparisons were not relevant to Yorktown’s suburban setting.  In response to questions about frequency of use and time of use, the applicant said the school anticipated 1-3 trips a month and that helicopters would not land at night. Also, in response to comments, the applicant said he would provide more details on the flight paths/s for the revised location.

 

Traffic: The consultant stated that other than the Stoney Street/East Main Street intersection, the school would not affect any other intersections. Regarding the possible traffic light at Stoney and East Main, he said that the traffic count had met one requirement for the light and that once the school opened, it would meet a second requirement. In general, he said the traffic light issue needed more study.

 

Stormwater: The plan for the site is still in its conceptual state. Only a portion of the site is in the Croton watershed and subject to DEP review.

 

Finance: The school is applying to the county Industrial Development Authority for financial assistance that could include breaks on mortgage and sales taxes as well as financing.  The applicant did not respond to a question from the public about the details of the recently approved PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Agreement between the town and school.

 

Staffing and certification: In response to a question from the public on staffing qualifications, Mr. Steinmetz said that they would be qualified, but he didn’t go into any details.  He did not answer a second question about what certification the school has/would have.

 

Animals: There will be 6 horses and 30 sheep and two barns.  In response to a question from the public about how manure would be handled, the applicant said it would be removed on a daily basis and tht more details would be forthcoming.  Another person raised the issue of whether the noise from helicopters would disturb the animals.

 

Institutional vs community based care. In response to a question from a retired social worker about the trend towards community care as opposed to large institutional like facilities, the applicant said that the school would provide services to autistic youth in areas where community based services were not available.


Town Board, 4-28-2017

In an item not on the agenda, and after the board took a break so that Councilman Patel could read the agreement which he said he hadn’t received earlier, the board voted 4-1 with Council Patel voting no, to authorize the supervisor to sign a six year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the school.  (A resolution to authorize the PILOT was pulled from the April 18, 2016 agenda without any discussion.)

 

The agreement is based on the town assessor’s judgement that the market value for the school, when compared to three other schools, would be $12 million. The agreement affects both town and Lakeland School District taxes.   Supervisor Grace explained that the school’s owners needed the PILOT agreement as part of their application to the county IDA (Industrial Development Authority) and that the agreement had to be in place by May 1st, the town’s “taxable status date.”  The agreement sets the property’s assessed value for taxing purposes for six years and avoids any legal challenges, i.e., tax certiorari lawsuits.

 

Supervisor Grace said that the property needs an enormous amount of money for upgrading the building. He said the agreement had nothing to do with discussions the town is having with the school’s owner about using the southern driveway that the owner plans to enlarge as the entrance to the town’s planned Granite Knolls Sports Complex.

 

Note: While the details of the agreement were not discussed during the meeting, after the meeting, the CIY observer obtained a copy of the agreement and learned the following:

The property went on the tax rolls in 2016 once it was no longer in use by Phoenix House. For taxing purposes (as distinguished from a market price value) the property is currently assessed at $280,000. According to the agreement, the property will be assessed at $61,100 beginning with the 2017 assessment roll and increase 20% a year until the full assessed value of $305,600 is reached in 2023.

 

In April, 2017, the property paid $44,948 in town taxes. Assuming the same tax rate for April, 2018, the tax bill will be $9,794.  The September, 2017 Lakeland School District tax will be based on the current assessed value of $280,400; in September,2018, the property’s school taxes will be based on the $61,100 assessed value.

 


Town Board, 4-18-2017

A resolution that would have authorized the supervisor to sign a PILOT agreement was withdrawn. Supervisor Grace said it would be discussed at the next work session.


Planning Board, 4-17-2017

(The CIY observer was not able to attend this meeting. See official Planning Board minutes on town web site)

 


Planning Board, 2-13-2017

Representatives of the applicant made a presentation of the plan, providing some additional details to earlier presentations. (See below.)   The applicant is requesting two separate special permits: one to operate the private school and one for the helistop. 

 

Most of the changes to the building will be for energy efficiency, code compliance, HVAC issues, and reconfigured bathrooms. The number of parking spaces, currently 90, will be increased to 344.  Animal therapy areas will be used for horses and sheep.  The applicant explained that he had been working with the supervisor on the southern driveway that is currently being used to access the Granite Knolls fields. Based on those discussions, the applicant indicated that the plan was to widen the current driveway to provide left and right turns out and a left turn in from Stony St.  The southern access would be used for school staff and deliveries. Traffic studies will be done for several intersections, in addition to a traffic light warrant study for the intersection of East Main Street and Stony St.

 

Three potential helicopter approaches were outlined; two come over either the eastern or western portions of Granite Knolls parkland. The applicant’s helicopter expert explained that the FAA, DOT and a national fire review agency will review safety issues and flight plans.  The helistop pad will be 46 x 46.  The expert talked about the benefits of the helistop for the town’s first responders; he did not talk about the school’s use.

 

The applicant has been in touch with the Lakeland School District about programming for its students; a similar discussion will be held with Yorktown School District officials.

 

Comments from the public touched on the following issues:

 

Helistop: Jay Kopstein stated that first responders didn’t need a special permit to land a helicopter, that helicopters flying over the Taconic Parkway or Route 202 would be a distraction, and that games at Granite Knolls fields would have to be suspended when helicopters were flying overhead. He also asked how many trips were anticipated.   In response, David Steinmetz, the applicant’s attorney stated that the helistop would be useful but wasn’t essential and that although town code allowed for the helistop, the applicant would abide by the town’s wishes. He stressed the benefits for first responders but did not discuss the use of the helistop by the school. In response to the comment that  first responders didn’t need a special permit to land,  the applicant’s helicopter expert said that an approved helistop site like the one being proposed, was safer because it had been reviewed by state and national agencies. A resident from Amelia Drive to the rear of the school told the board that when a helicopter brought Nancy Reagan to Phoenix House several years ago for a visit, things shook in his house. Mr. Kincart stated that in the event a special permit was granted, it could always be revoked if it created a nuisance.

 

Animals: two residents questioned the presence of animals saying that when they bought their houses, they didn’t expect to be living next to a farm.   In response, Mr. Steinmetz said the applicant would review the animal issue.

 

Southern Access road: Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary asked if the widening of the existing driveway was being considered as a permanent or temporary access for the town fields. In response, Mr. Steinmetz said that based on current discussions with the supervisor, it appears that the driveway would become a municipal road and would be the permanent entrance to the park as well as for the school. He said that discussions with the supervisor were still ongoing and that the applicant waned to work with the town.

 

The board closed the informational hearing and voted to declare itself lead agency for SEQRA purposes so that the environmental re view process could begin.


Planning Board, 1-23-2017

The project engineer reviewed some of the interior changes to the building. The traffic consultant showed which intersections have been studied but did not go over traffic counts.  The consultant will do a second count at the Stoney St/East Main Street intersection of total traffic to see if the volume justifies a traffic light. There was no mention of what the financial impact of the project would be.

 

The Public Informational Hearing will be held on February 13th.


Planning Board, 1-9-2017

 

The applicant’s development team, led by attorney David Steinmetz, presented plans for a for-profit residential school, Shrub Oak International School, at the former Phoenix House on Stoney Street.  Once fully operational, the school will serve 300 youth, ages 14 to 30.  The applicant currently operates other facilities for autistic youth, mostly in Manhattan.

 

The applicant needs a special permit to operate a private school and site plan approval, both of which fall within the Planning Board's jurisdiction.

 

The plan includes a helistop that will be made available to local first responders. At the town’s request, the applicant will also discuss working with the two local school districts.

 

A Public Informational Hearing about the plan MAY be held in February or March; the date will likely be determined at the January 23rd Planning Board meeting.

 

The school will be staffed 24 hours a day, with approximately 60 people on duty at night and 150 during the day.  Two staff members will live on the premises. One of the existing buildings may also be used where visiting family members can stay overnight.  Because the residents are expected to come from all over, the applicant could not estimate the likely number of visitors.

 

The current building will basically remain unchanged but will be upgraded to meet all current building codes with added security for its residents.  Some additional parking is planned.  The renovation will take place in two phases.

 

The Planning Board was enthusiastic about the plan, adding that its primary concern was the traffic that the school would generate.  The applicant is in the process of completing a traffic study and has done a traffic study at a similar, albeit larger, residential facility, that can be used as a model.  The facility will likely supply a jitney service to carry staff to and from nearby train stations.

 

The applicant will work with the town assessor to determine what the property would likely be assessed at once it is put back on the tax roll and generates revenue for the town.

 

Under a previous agreement with Phoenix House, the town has been using the site’s southern driveway to access the town playing fields.  (The driveway is the dividing line between the two parcels.) The applicant said he plans to expand the driveway, on his side of the property, so that the driveway could be used as the access point for staff and deliveries. The applicant will work with the town to continue to grant access to the fields until the town develops its own access on Stoney Street to the future sports complex being planned for the site.  (The driveway is the demarcation line between the Croton watershed to the south and the Peekskill watershed to the north. By upgrading the driveway on the Peekskill side, the applicant will avoid the need for DEP stormwater review.)

 

While the entire site is 127 acres, the applicant said he has no current plans for the undeveloped portion of the property, including about 12 acres on the other side of Stoney Street. He added, however, that for financing reasons, he may submit a subdivision plan at a future date that would separate the school portion of the site from the portion that would remain undeveloped, adding that he’s not a residential developer.  The site is currently sewered.

The applicant is hoping that the special permit and site plan can be approved over a 4-6 month period. Construction on phase one is expected to take about one year and a September, 2018 opening is the target date. The applicant may be able to start work on interior upgrades while the project is being reviewed.

 

(Note:  the school has a web site, www.shruboak.org.)