G’town Planning Board accepts store project ‘infomercial’

GERMANTOWN—The Planning Board held a special meeting Saturday, February10, as scheduled, to review the Findings Statement submitted by Primax Properties for the proposed Dollar General retail store on Route 9G.

The Findings Statement is the last stage of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. It is a distillation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). At its January 25 regular meeting, the Planning Board approved, 4 to 3, the FEIS written by Primax. The clock started on January 30, with 10 days to write a Findings Statement and 30 days after that for approval of the statement.

Primax wrote the Findings Statement, as permitted by state law, and submitted it to the Planning Board. After Saturday’s review meeting, which ran for three-and-a-half hours, board chairman Stephen Reynolds said Monday that he expected the board to approve the Statement at its February 22 regular meeting, well within deadline.

“Our decision is contingent on changes that the board wanted” on Saturday, he said. “There was general agreement about additions and deletions.” What remained was to check the town’s zoning law and get some additional information from Primax.

Planning Board member Tim Otty agreed to make the changes in the actual document, and circulate it.

Present Saturday were town attorney Tal Rappleyea, all planners except Rao Gaddipati and about a dozen people in the audience.

The Columbia Paper attended the first hour of the meeting. Thirty-five minutes of that hour were spent discussing the current invoice from J. Theodore Fink, who has consulted on the project since December 2015, and whether Mr. Fink should have submitted vouchers (which must be signed by a responsible agency before payment) or invoices during his two years, and whether or not he should have attended the January 25 meeting, whether or not there was money in the escrow account established by Primax to pay him.

Also discussed was that escrow account and whether or not it was $15,000 in arrears in December, or had a balance of $238 or a balance of $7,200, as was discovered in January.

“There was a lot of confusion over the last couple of years about whose responsibility the escrow was, the bookkeeper or the town attorney, or was it a shared responsibility,” Mr. Reynolds said Monday. “Every time we would request information, it became harder and harder to learn who was responsible for it. There was no process.”

As for Mr. Fink’s presence or absence, Mr. Reynolds said Saturday that Mr. Fink “has never had a situation where there’s been such delay and confusion with an escrow account. And should he ignore the hostility he was experiencing from the board? He had no evidence that he would be paid or retained further.”

Mr. Fink is the proprietor of Greenplan, Inc. in Rhinebeck. Greenplan’s client list on its website includes the Towns of Taghkanic and Copake. Mr. Fink holds degrees in environmental design and in urban planning and policy, and has 32 years of planning experience.

Planning Board member George Sharpe Sr. called Mr. Fink an “environmental hit man” in an email to the board, and Mr. Otty later repeated the characterization in an email to the board, said Mr. Reynolds.

Eventually the board agreed to table Mr. Fink’s invoice and forward it to Primax Properties, which needed to review it before payment in any case. Then Mr. Rappleyea and the planners agreed to read out loud the Findings Statement, each of them taking a couple of pages in rotation, and ask any questions or make comments as it was read.

Within a few pages, Mr. Otty noted that the statement sounded like “an ad for Dollar General.”

Monday Mr. Reynolds called it an “infomercial. That goes back to my point that if the Planning Board doesn’t take the opportunity to make the FEIS and the Findings its own,” then the language will be that of the applicant. “If you don’t put your own language in the FEIS, it’s hard to put it in Findings, which is a summary of the FEIS.”

When all is said and done, does Mr. Reynolds think Primax has mitigated all the environmental impacts in the Dollar General project?

“No,” he said Monday, “not even to ‘the greatest extent possible,’ which is what the state requires. That’s why I voted the way I did” on January 25, against accepting the FEIS as written.

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