On Friday, Oct. 9, Judge Gretchen Walsh of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the Article 78 proceeding filed against the Lewisboro Planning Board, contesting the approval of a 42-unit affordable housing project in Goldens Bridge.
The 55-page court decision outlined the petitioner’s claims, arguments from both sides, and the history of the project and its litigation.
The lengthy decision offered succinct conclusion, with the court stating: “Having conducted this comprehensive review and confirming the Project’s compliance with all relevant provisions of the Town Code, the Planning Board arrived at a conclusion supported by the record — that site development plan approval, a stormwater permit and a wetland permit were warranted. The Court finds that there is a rational basis for the Planning Board’s decision, which is amply supported by the record, and will not be disturbed. For these reasons, Petitioners’ Petition shall be dismissed.”
Wilder Balter Partners proposed their plan for an affordable housing development on Route 22 in Goldens Bridge in October 2015. After a lengthy review process and at least nine public hearings, the Lewisboro Planning Board approved Wilder Balter’s proposal Feb. 26, 2019.
Shortly following the board’s approval of the project, a petition was filed March 27, 2019, by attorney Michael V. Caruso. The petition accused the planning board of multiple instances where it failed to follow its own procedural rules and to fully consider environmental and safety factors when approving the project.
In addition to seeking a repeal of the Planning Board’s approval of the project, the petitioners also wanted the board’s December 2016 Negative Declaration of Environmental Impact “vacated, annulled, and set aside.”
Several Goldens Bridge residents, who were outspoken critics of the planning board’s handling of the project, were originally named as petitioners.
In a lengthy decision dated Jan. 6, 2020, Judge Walsh dismissed portions of the Article 78 and ruled that other portions will continue to be considered. In that decision, five of the original seven petitioners were ruled to have no legal standing in the case, leaving residents Elizabeth Agostino and Michael Ottaviano as the sole petitioners.
The final court ruling noted that there was little evidence presented that supported claims made by the petitioners, with the exception of a single independent study titled the “Kiviat Report.”
“Petitioners fail to provide any evidence in support of their argument that the Planning Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously,” the ruling went on to state, “Petitioners fail to detail specifically how the Planning Board’s determination was without a sound basis and what specific objective facts the Planning Board did not consider or how it abused its discretion.”
Vice President of Wilder Balter Partners John Bainlardi, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“I think the decision reflects the strong work that the planning board did,” Mr. Bainlardi said.
Mr. Bainlardi pointed to a specific passage in the court’s decision, which he said proved the weakness of the petitioners’ own evidence.
“There is no evidence that the Planning Board failed to consider the materials submitted by Petitioners — which are largely comprised of their own statements unsupported by expert opinion or analysis,” the court’s decision stated.
Planning Board member Richard Sklarin expressed a similar sentiment, stating that the court’s decision was sound, and very good news for the town. Mr. Sklarin said with the conclusion of the litigation, the town is now in compliance with federal law on affordable housing. He maintained that the housing development will increase revenue for the town, also noting the ruling means the town will no longer have to spend money on its legal defense of the case.
The litigation against the Lewisboro Planning Board, Louis Dreyfus Company, Wilder Balter Partners, the Lewisboro Town Board and Town Assessor Lise Robertson cost the town $90,000 in court fees, according to Town Supervisor Peter Parsons.
“It is unfortunate because there are other things we could’ve done with that $90,000,” Mr. Parsons said.
Mr. Bainlardi said that now that the project is out of court, Wilder Balter is prepared to proceed with closing on purchasing the property and beginning construction. It has been a year and a half since the initial construction, which primarily entailed tree clearing and installation of erosion and settlement control measures, stopped due to the legal challenge over the project’s handling. He said he is unsure when construction will begin but estimated it could start in the next three to six months.
“The decision allows us to move forward as a community,” Mr. Sklarin said.