BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
A lawsuit filed by residents opposing a commercial land development project along Route 202 in Haverstraw has successfully challenged a finding by the Town Planning Board. In Matter of Green Earth Farms Rockland, LLC v. Town of Haverstraw Planning Board, an appeals court in Brooklyn ruled that the Town of Haverstraw Planning Board failed to perform a proper environmental assessment of the commercial project’s effects on the environment.
In 2004, a developer, Davies Farm, LLC, applied for site plan approval and a zoning amendment in connection with proposed residential and commercial development of a 53.3-acre parcel of land located in the adjacent towns of Haverstraw and Ramapo. In April 2005, the Town of Haverstraw Planning Board, as the lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act “SEQRA” issued a positive declaration regarding the application for the proposed development plan and required the preparation of a draft environmental impact statement.
After the draft environmental impact statement was submitted in 2006, Davies Farm changed the proposed development plan by eliminating the proposed residential development in the Town of Haverstraw to avoid the need for a zoning amendment. In response, the Planning Board required a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement as to the supplemental proposed development plan. In November 2009, the Planning Board adopted a findings statement certifying that the approved supplemental proposed development plan minimized or avoided adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. The supplemental proposed development plan at that time consisted of proposed commercial development in the Town of Haverstraw and a mix of residential and commercial uses, including “a deli/coffee shop” in the Town of Ramapo.
In January 2012, the property’s new owner, Mt. Ivy Partners, LLC, applied to the Planning Board for preliminary and final site plan approval for the Haverstraw and Ramapo commercial phases of the project. This phase included a proposed Wal-Mart on the site located off Route 202. However, Mt. Ivy’s proposed Ramapo commercial phase was changed to include a deli/coffee shop with gas pumps in the Town of Ramapo, and the site plan depicted a 7,000-square-foot convenience store with 16 gas pumps. After soliciting comments from the public, consultants and other agencies, the Planning Board issued a resolution determining that a second environmental impact statement was not required. The Planning Board granted the requested preliminary and final site plan approval subject to certain conditions, requiring Mt. Ivy to obtain all required approvals from the Town of Ramapo and the Rockland County Department of Health. The resolution did not mention the proposed gas station.
The plaintiffs, most of whom are owners of properties near the site of the supplemental proposed development plan, commenced a lawsuit against the Planning Board, the developers, and the Town of Haverstraw Building Department. The lawsuit sought review of the Planning Board’s determination finding that the preparation of a second environmental impact statement was not warranted and granting the application for site plan approval.
The appeals court concluded that the Planning Board failed to comply with the substantive requirements of SEQRA in determining that a second study was not required prior to its approval of the site plan. The changes proposed for the project after the issuance of the 2009 findings statement included the construction of a large convenience store with 16 gas pumps. Although Mt. Ivy’s representatives asserted that the gas station did not necessitate a second environmental study because the developer would have to construct it in accordance with New York State requirements and would need to obtain permits from the Rockland County Department of Health during the building permit process, the Planning Board did not mention the gas station or petroleum storage in its resolution determining that a second study was needed.
Since the Town of Haverstraw Planning Board failed to comply with the requirements of SEQRA, the appellate court affirmed the decision to annul both the SEQRA determination and the site plan approval for the commercial development phase of the project. The project would now have to go back to the Planning Board, if pursued, so as to fully comply with the state environmental review process.