BY CHERYL SLAVIN
About 50 Clarkstown residents, primarily from the S. Little Tor neighborhood, turned out for an initial meeting last Thursday night to learn more about the proposed construction of a three story, 160 unit senior residential building on New Valley Road in New City.
The 12-acre undeveloped lot is located just behind the small strip mall at the corner of New Valley Road and S. Little Tor Road and is owned at present by Davies Farm, Inc. The rest of the neighborhood is entirely single family homes on variously sized lots. New Valley Road is a narrow, curving, sidewalk-less local road that runs at an incline for a half a mile between S. Little Tor Road and Burda Lane. The property sits at the lowest point of the street; it is partially covered by a wetlands and a small stream runs through it. Currently the land is zoned for single family homes on half acre lots, and is also subject to a restrictive covenant.
Davies Farm has brought in Bright View Senior Living as possible developer for the lot. Michael Glynn, Development Director for Bright View, opened the meeting by asserting that there is a need for senior housing in Rockland County and that Bright View has a proven track record of building quality independent and assisted living residences. He also presented two diagrams of the property, the first showing what it might look like with 14 single family homes and the second with the proposed senior residential building, including the 100 space parking lot. He pointed out that Bright View’s proposal allowed for a reduced developed footprint and a greater amount of green space than would be had with individual homes. He acknowledged that the proposal would bring increased traffic to the area, but claimed that otherwise the residence would have very little negative impact while still contributing to the Clarkstown tax base. Scott Milich, owner and president of Davies Farm, Inc., was present but did not speak.
The residents of the immediate neighborhood uniformly opposed the project. Cora Bodkin of the South Little Tor Civic Association recited the history of the property, noting that since 1993 Davies Farm has tried to build apartment buildings, townhouses or senior housing—all non-conforming multiple dwellings—on this particular piece of land and that each time has met intense neighborhood resistance to the proposals. Most recently in 2005, the civic association agreed to support Milich’s proposal to expand the current strip mall in exchange for a restrictive covenant on the rest of the property. Although the new shopping center was never built, the restrictive covenant remains, holding the property owner to building within the current single family zoning.
Other neighbors voiced concerns about increased traffic, safety, storm water management and flooding, increased burden on public utilities, cooking odors and other noisome pollution and the impact on their property values. Over and over various residents stated that they did not support the property owner maximizing the value of his property at the cost of lowering the value of theirs. Even Bright View’s spokesman, Glynn, could not deny that there might be a negative impact on property values once the housing was built.
Cora Bodkin also questioned the underlying premise that senior housing was truly needed; her research showed that currently many vacancies exist in senior residences throughout the county and in northern New Jersey. Further, there are at least three other sites in Clarkstown better suited for such a project and which would not require the legal gymnastics that this property would.
Only one person—a builder by trade who lived about a mile from the property—spoke in favor of the project, claiming that it would bring in ratables for Clarkstown. One other person, a Congers resident who claimed to be “heavily involved in the schools” suggested that homeowners at least consider the project. But, as several other more impacted homeowners noted, even the construction of single family homes would bring in tax income for Clarkstown.
Bright View has not yet taken any steps towards actualizing the project, as they are still in preliminary negotiations with Davies Farm for the purchase of the property. Glynn was unable to present any engineer’s report or architect’s rendering. He also acknowledged that several legal procedures would be needed to acquire the variances necessary to build as proposed, and that Bright View has not yet taken any of those steps. Neighboring homeowners of the proposed development left the meeting as determined as ever to oppose a project so completely out of character with their neighborhood that would diminish their hard-earned property values.