Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Brook Street: Construction Resumes, Contention Continues

Contention over the construction of a large one-family house at 609 Brook Street in Rye Neck carried over to the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees' July 9 meeting, from its June 25 session. At the prior meeting, the board had declined to review the village assessor's designation of an adjoining lot, purchased by the builder, Benmar Properties, from a neighbor at 307 Beach Ave., to make its project zoning compliant without a variance. (Scroll down to "Staredown at the Village Courtroom".)

Nine residents of the Brook Street/Beach Avenue neighborhood had previously prevailed in an Article 78 that resulted in the annulment of a variance for the project that had been approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. At the June 25 meeting, one of those residents, Nora Lucas, asserted that, because the house at 617 Brook Street, next door to 609 Brook, had recently been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a new building permit for 609 Brook could not be issued until a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process had been completed. She requested that the BOT designate itself the lead agency for that process.

On June 26, however, Building Inspector Richard Carroll did issue a permit and work on the house resumed. At the July 9 BOT meeting, Lucas repeated her objection, asked that the trustees direct that the permit be rescinded and again requested that they assume the role of lead agency in a SEQRA process. The board, however, demurred, accepting the counsel of Assistant Village Attorney Joseph Messina that SEQRA would come into play only if the structure being built next to an historic site exceeded a one-to-three family private dwelling.

Lucas stated that, as an architectural historian, she does "SEQRA compliance" for "a living." "I do SEQRA in many communities," she said, and "I believe this is an action that requires SEQRA." She then asked Messina, "Are you saying it's the Zoning Board of Appeals" that "would be . . .the lead agency in this community?"

"The zoning board," Messina answered "has to make a determination as to whether your interpretation is correct. ..."

"Under SEQRA regulations," Lucas followed up, if a municipality fails to comply with SEQRA, "the remedy is an Article 78."

"That," Messina said, "is correct."

In a written informational Q & A she provided to the trustees, Lucas raised the further question of whether "the project sponsors" can "avoid SEQRA by segmenting this action into smaller parts."

Segmentation, she wrote, "is defined as the division of the environmental review of an action so that various activities or stages are addressed as though they were independent, unrelated activities needing individual determinations of significance. Except in special circumstances, considering only a part, or segment, of an overall action, is contrary to the intent of SEQRA.

"In this case, the Board of Trustees must be alert that small individual actions are being taken to mask the ultimate goal. For example, a swatch of land has been sold, the assessor has divided the assessment roll between the new owners, the zoning official has said that the resulting lots meet zoning, but these are only pieces of the whole action-–the creation of a new building lot next to a house listed on the National Register. These individual actions might be Type II [thus, not triggering SEQRA], but the overall action has SEQRA significance.

"SEQRA," Lucas concluded, "cannot be evaded by piecemeal approvals."

Brook Street resident Jeffrey Falk and Beach Avenue resident Stuart Tiekert, on behalf of themselves, Lucas and other neighbors, filed an appeal with the zoning board on June 21, challenging Carroll's determination that, after the transfer of land from 307 Beach to 609 Brook, the former remained zoning compliant and the latter became zoning compliant.



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