Developers of Grasslands at Briarcliffa subdivision project of 31 houses along Pocantico Lake Park which met with significant community rejection, are finalizing the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) requested by the Mount Pleasant Planning Board. Brian Zappi of Zappico Real Estate Development LLC, said it hopes to submit it by the end of April.
Zappi said his group, which bought the property in 2020 for $2.4 million, was interested in the plot for its unique development potential which they believe could be built without environmental impact. “We studied all aspects of the proposed development for over a year before submitting an application to the city,” he said. river log by email.
In June 2021, Zappi and his brother Brandon Zappi presented their proposal to the planning board pre-loaded with their own traffic and bird studies. The plot, located at 715 Sleepy Hollow Roadcurrently has two structures (a six-bedroom house plus a caretaker’s house) on its vast acreage, and the plan would add another 29 four-bedroom houses on a 15-acre clustered development.
Community members were prepared for the meeting and came armed with questions. Although the park has already built houses alongside it, they have raised concerns about such a large development of the forest estate. The new homes will be perched on a steep slope above the lake, which was once a reservoir, and is a backup water source as well as a tributary of the Hudson River.
The lake and wetlands surrounding the Sleepy Hollow Road property encompass a 164-acre county park that has an interesting history. In the late 1980s, a 43-home development along the side of Briarcliff Manor faced similar community protest and was eventually crushed. The county purchased the land, which has been designated a critical environmental area in 1990 for its “exceptional or unique character”, a stamp that gives it strict protections.
Now the residents have skillfully organized the flood planning board meetings once again. They cited the removal of one million square feet of trees as a significant concern and collected nearly 900 signatures in a petition requiring the full environmental impact study.
local resident bosak midge said the lake has seen an increase in hikers, birders and dog walkers taking advantage of the trails during the pandemic. She fears that the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers into the lake from the proposed development will destroy it. “I think whenever they cover that much ground, there’s no way to stop the chemicals and the floods from pouring into the lake. It’s just impossible,” she said.
steven bosakthe son of Midge Bosak, who participated in the initial struggle to preserve the land as president of the Pocantico Lake Civic Association, is disappointed to see the same fight taking place 30 years later. “I wish there had been more value placed on protecting the natural beauty of this area, as it’s one of the things that draws people to Briarcliff and Westchester,” he said. “And appreciating that natural history, I think that’s important.”
Zappi said the opposition did not surprise him. “Those who oppose the project fall into two categories,” he said. “The NIMBYs (not in my yard) who are the noisiest and currently live on the lake with backyards to the edge of the lake. The others seem to be misinformed and do not understand that this development will benefit the community by permanently preserving and protecting approximately 20 acres or 60% of the property.
Outside groups also weighed in. After touring the area and reviewing the plans, a nonprofit environmental organization Scenic Hudson Valley determined that the proposed 31-house clustered subdivision could potentially endanger the watershed, and more was needed to know about the impact the loss of trees would have on wildlife and habitat connectivity in the area to through river towns.
“It is important that these open spaces are not cut off so that at some point in the future we will look at a series of disconnected ecological patches,” Jeffrey Anvezinodirector of land use advocacy for Scenic Hudson, said, noting that having interwoven trails and parks also benefits the community’s ability to “recharge its batteries” in nature.
Zappi believes their review of the land took into account concerns about the visual and ecological impact of the park. “Most of the community is preoccupied with the lake, but the proposed development is over 400 feet away and heavily isolated from the surrounding community by the 20 acres of protected land,” he said.
DEIS framing document includes further investigation of the trees, water resources, and flora and fauna of the area. Once submitted, the planning board will begin reviewing it and any proposed alternative plans included in the document.
All photos by Gina Carey.