Development. It’s inevitable, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We need housing, we need amenities, and, let’s face it, we live in a capitalist society where if there’s money to be made, someone will try to make it.
The question is, then, how to control development so that neighborhoods, communities and the environment are not destroyed. Obviously there are zoning laws and building departments and review processes in place, but it is an imperfect system.
Now, it’s remained quiet at 87 Hawkes Avenue for the last few weeks – doubtless the cold and snow have held things up. And while it’s too late to do anything about 87 Hawkes Avenue – it went through the process, got all the zoning changes and approvals it needed and is happening – I thought it might be useful to take a look at a project that is in the midst of this process and see how things get done and what we, as citizens and neighbors, can do about them.
So get comfortable because this is a long story . . .
One of the most contentious and active projects in the New Castle/Ossining area is the proposed expansion of the Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehabilitation Center. Located at 15 Spring Valley Road in New Castle, Sunshine Home wants to enlarge its existing building footprints from 19,000 to 147,000 square feet on its 33-acre property.
Here’s a link to the Town of New Castle Planning Board website that details all aspects of the proposal.
On the surface, why would anyone be against a children’s hospital expanding to help more sick children? How selfish can one be? The children here suffer from some extraordinary physical challenges – look at this link for details. The photos and descriptions will break your heart.
The thing is, right now this is a very small facility with 54 beds. They rely on septic systems and well water. The nearest firehouse is several miles away and I understand that there are no fire hydrants that service this location. While it is a wonderfully bucolic site for these children, it may not be the safest or best place for them in terms of access to emergency services.
Anyway, in order to expand, one thing Sunshine needs to do is dig more wells for the additional water that they would need. (Actually, they probably need to dig new wells anyway because I understand that in 2016 radium levels three times the acceptable standard for drinking water was found in one of their three wells, and that the Westchester County Department of Health issued a citation against them. Please tell me that they weren’t giving that radium water to those poor sick kids!)
Here’s a link to an Examiner News article from May 2016 documenting this radium water situation.
The water issue is a big one, because everyone else in the neighborhood also relies on well water. There is much concern about Sunshine increasing their water usage so dramatically – already, local residents have issues with wells going dry in the summer. The other issue is that much of the Sunshine property sits atop an old, abandoned silver mine – check out my blog post about that here.
If you made it through my silver mine post, you can see that there is little known about these silver mines. We don’t even know if it WAS silver that was mined here, nor how deep or vast the mines are. But we do know that SOMETHING was mined here and that there are deep and treacherous mine shafts. Any drilling here could destabilize land that is already rather Swiss cheesy.
So it seems reasonable to me that the residents who neighbor the Sunshine Home are concerned about what this proposed expansion could do to their wells and homes. They’ve been paying careful attention to what the New Castle Planning Board is doing: attending meetings, writing letters, and pressing their case that the Sunshine Home expansion is not right for the neighborhood or right for the sick children currently being served.
Up until recently, this was all being played out in the New Castle Planning Board room. But around Thanksgiving, neighbors noticed drilling and hydrofracking going on despite the fact that no permits for such work had been requested or granted. And, according to those who are paying closer attention to this than I am, the place that was being drilled was never reviewed by the Zoning or Planning Boards, and never showed up on any Sunshine Home Expansion Site Plan.
Here’s a photo from November 2017 showing this unpermitted work in progress:
As I was writing up this blog post, this very issue came in front of the New Castle Planning Board at the January 16, 2018 meeting. There, the public learned that the Sunshine Home was applying for permits for the work that they did over Thanksgiving and the Town retroactively approved these permits without any penalty or consequence to the Sunshine Home for breaking the law.
What outraged so many about this was that roughly thirty minutes earlier, in the very same meeting, when reviewing a different applicant who had also illegally done work without permits, a Planning Board member stated that “If they don’t draw the line somewhere then they can never draw the line.” The Planning Board then decided that they were going to privately confer to determine penalties for this applicant and questioned whether they should even allow the application to proceed (watch the video here and fast forward to about 1:17.)
Certainly seems like there was a fancy flip flop there by the Planning Board — apparently the Town of New Castle only enforces its code sometimes…
There’s a lot more to this story, so follow this link if you want to get even further into the weeds on this.
And if you still haven’t had enough, here’s a recently-posted video discussing the whole Sunshine Home situation.
Long story short, the Sunshine Home saga highlights the whole reason for this blog — as citizens, we need to pay attention. It’s been pretty easy to watch all this unfold on the New Castle website. But just set a Google Alert for yourself, talk to your neighbors, sign up for newsletters, check social media – it’s all out there. Never before has it been easier to find out information, reams of it in fact. (One of the letters I came across is over 30 pages long!) But if you have time for Facebook and Netflix, you certainly have time to troll the local Building Department proposals, right? Inform yourself. Don’t rely on me or anyone else. Go to the websites, get yourself on the emails, keep tabs on everything going on in your neighborhood. Do it!