GERMANTOWN—The town Planning Board heard from its new consultant, J. Theodore Fink of Greenplan, Inc., in public for the first time during a special workshop meeting February 11 called to continue the review of the proposal for a new Dollar General store.
The consultant advised the Planning Board that the town has more work to do before it can make a decision on the application.
Last month Mr. Fink sent Planning Board Chairman Stephen Reynolds a memo on the application of Primax Properties, LLC for a Dollar General retail store on Route 9G just north of the intersection with county Route 8/Main Street and updated that memo this month after Primax sent new information.
The February 8 memo runs 19 pages, much of it in a checklist format. In it, Mr. Fink lists questions about the applicant’s state Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) and looks at the issue of how the town will determine whether the application complies with Germantown’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning and subdivision regulations.
The memo is available on the town website, germantownny.org.
The workshop meeting drew a fullhouse and lasted over two hours. Absent were Adam F. Sellner, project director from Primax, who has attended past sessions, and engineers from Mercurio-Norton-Tarolli-Marshall who had worked on the application.
Asked this week what he found most valuable about Mr. Fink’s discussion, Mr. Reynolds said the consultant had made the procedure for reviewing the application “very clear.” He also said he appreciated Mr. Fink’s urging that the board take a “hard look” at the project, even if it took more time.
Specifically, Mr. Fink said, “Every board has the responsibility to identify areas of concern and then identify mitigation or alternatives that would reduce or eliminate those concerns.
“You are not ready to make a decision on the application,” Mr. Fink said.
Last December the Planning Board declared itself lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). As required, the board notified other agencies, such as the town Zoning Board of Appeals, of its intent, but it neglected to ask the Columbia County Department of Health whether the department wanted to serve as lead agency in the review. Mr. Fink said the Health Department was unlikely to want lead agency status, but should be asked. That exchange will add time to the review.
At the discussion last week Mr. Fink turned to the substantive issues, which he described as the project’s impacts on the town and their importance. “That gets to the heart of the SEQR regulations. SEQR acts as an umbrella over all the other laws,” he explained. “It takes precedence. The applicant must complywith it before the application can be deemed complete.”
To complete the SEQR process, said Mr. Fink, the board has three alternatives
•Conclude on the basis of the EAF and additional answers from the applicant that the project has no adverse impacts on the town, and declare a “negative declaration,” concluding the SEQR process
•Issue a “conditioned negative declaration,” imposing conditions on the application after a 30-day waiting for involved parties to challenge that ruling
•Issue a “positive declaration,” which he said would result in a meaningful document that has addressed the issues.
At this point the board must determine the “significance” of various environmental issues, using the EAF and the town’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations. Primax, the applicant, fills out Part 1 of that form and then the Planning board completes Part 2, which he said is “a little more involved,” requiring the board to figure out whether the project would have an impact, not only on water and wildlife, for example, but also on community character.
The big question, he said, was whether the EAF would provide sufficient information, or whether additional studies are needed to provide a more robust environmental review process.
On the topic of viewshed, Mr. Fink had looked into recent history. The state created a Mid-Hudson Shorelands Scenic District in 1980, he said. While the parcel that Primax wants to subdivide from the D’Sousa property for the Dollar General store is not in the Shorelands District the south end of the D’Sousa property does fall within the district’s boundaries.
Hudson Valley Greenway once worked with Germantown on the question of whether Route 9G in thetown should be designated a scenic byway, said Mr. Fink. Nothing ever came of that, but “it sets the tone for how you treat these important resources.”
The whole Hudson Valley, from Saratoga Springs to New York City, was designated the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area in 1996.
“There’s a long history here,” said Mr. Fink. “Yes, you have three gas stations and a bank” on Route 9G, “but otherwise there is a cohesive uniqueness to the town’s architecture that the Comprehensive Plan talks about retaining.”