Kent Manor townhouse plan stirs fears of pollution

(Original publication: July 25, 2005)

KENT ­ For 75 years, residents have been swimming, boating and fishing in Palmer Lake. While enjoying their 15-acre wooded lake on the east side of Route 52, many are keeping an eye on a 303-townhome project proposed for the other side of the road.

The decades-old project, known as Kent Manor, would sit off Nichols Street on a 113-acre parcel that drains into the lake. The proposal was approved by the Kent Planning Board in 1988, but it has since been stalled by litigation. Now, as lawyers and town officials talk about resurrecting the project, those around the lake want to make sure it doesn't suffer any ill effects.

"I'm kind of straddling the fence both ways," said resident Jack Covitz, a veterinarian. "There's no question any project, no matter what it is, is going to have a deleterious effect on our lake. On that hand, I'm not for it. On the other hand, progress moves on."

Construction began on Kent Manor soon after it was approved but stopped when the project's financing collapsed. In 1999, the undertaking became tangled in a lawsuit, which accused Kent and New York City of extortion for hindering construction of what would be the town's largest residential project by not approving its participation in a special sewage treatment plant program.

Harold Wolland of the Purchase-based Lexington Development Corp. wanted to buy the land from Kent Acres Development Co. of Brewster and continue development ­ but only if a sewage treatment plant could be built.

However, the town said it wouldn't give the needed recommendation allowing the project to be part of the city's program. The land, like much of Kent, sits in the city's watershed.

Settlement talks went nowhere, as did efforts to preserve the property as open space. In the spring of this year, Charles Martabano, a Mount Kisco lawyer, contacted the town on behalf of a group of investors who wanted to purchase the property and build the project as it was originally approved.

Since then, Martabano has corresponded with Town Attorney Tim Curtiss and Kent's special counsel, Dan Seymour, a White Plains-based attorney, and urged them to quickly settle the matter. A final report on the city's sewage treatment plant program must be prepared by January 2007, leaving little time to get a yet-to-be-built plant up and running correctly.

The program calls for the stringent removal of phosphorous from sewage effluent. Phosphorous, a byproduct of sewage treatment, spurs algae growth that discolors water and gives it a bad taste and smell.

The Hill & Dale Property Owners Board held a homeowners' meeting July 16 to discuss the project. On Thursday, lawyers updated the Town Board on the lawsuit during a closed-door session. On Friday, Kent Supervisor William Tulipane said another executive session would be held in early August and an informational meeting for the public probably would follow later in the month.

In addition to the Palmer Lake residents, some living on Nichols Street and elsewhere nearby are worried the townhomes would bring more traffic, pollute wells and crowd more children into the schools.

"I don't know yet what the outcome of this will be," Tulipane said. "We're all worried about the condition of Palmer Lake, which is why we're trying to work within the parameters we're given. We're trying to improve on everything we've inherited."

Kathy Fleming, president of the Hill & Dale board, said the board "was focused on its responsibility to work on behalf of the neighborhood of the 140 families to protect Palmer Lake."

"Residents of Hill & Dale would prefer not to see the construction of this or any other project that entails discharging treated effluent into a stream that feeds Palmer Lake," she said.

Martabano attended the July 16 meeting and was in Town Hall on Thursday afternoon, ready to answer the Town Board's questions.

"The tack we take with respect to this is, we're trying to work with the town, as opposed to the litigation route," said Martabano, echoing the same sentiment in regard to the Hill & Dale board.

Palmer Lake, residents said, is healthy and a recreational oasis. That should be kept in mind by those looking to work upstream, said Maureen Fleming. She is not related to the president of the property owners association.

"I take my kids swimming in it every day," she said. "I don't want to lose that."


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Monday, July 25, 2005