Dear Supervisor DeMayo and Board Members:
Re: Lake Hills Estates PUD Proposal
We are Town of Liberty taxpayers. We strongly oppose the Lake Hills Estates PUD proposal. We …
Dear Supervisor DeMayo and Board Members:
Re: Lake Hills Estates PUD Proposal
We are Town of Liberty taxpayers. We strongly oppose the Lake Hills Estates PUD proposal. We believe that this PUD application does not comply with the Liberty Town Code. We urge the Liberty Town Board to deny this application.
(1) Section 147-23(A) of the Town of Liberty Code provides as follows. Our questions about the Town Board’s consideration of the Lake Hills PUD application are set out below each quoted provision of the Code.
“The purpose of a planned unit development (PUD) district is to foster excellence in neighborhood design and further the goals and objectives of the Town of Liberty Comprehensive Plan.”
In what specific ways does the Lake Hills PUD proposal “foster excellence in neighborhood design and further the goals and objectives” of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan?
The Town of Liberty has never approved a PUD. It is incumbent on the Town Board to specifically state how this PUD proposal meets these requirements, particularly given that no PUD has ever been approved by the Town.
“The flexibility granted to projects in a PUD District comes with a commitment to include features beneficial to the entire community, features not normally required of traditional developments.”
What specific commitment is the Lake Hills developer making to include which specific features “beneficial to the entire community” that are “not normally required of traditional developments”? The “green space” supposedly provided under the proposal would be within the confines of a gated community, not accessible by the public.
And in any event, any green space would not be a feature “not normally required of traditional developments” that would meet this Town Code requirement.
“Achieving such objectives requires in-depth scrutiny by both the Town Board and Town Planning Board during the development of the PUD proposal. Therefore, more information is required about the project than would be required if development were being pursued under conventional zoning.”
What specific additional information is the Town Board requiring to be provided about the Lake Hills PUD proposal, as a condition to considering whether to approve or deny the PUD application? How specifically will that information assist the Town Board’s scrutiny of the PUD proposal?
“The discretion of the Town Board regarding density of use, or even as to whether to approve or deny a PUD application, shall be absolute.”
The Town Board has no legal obligation of any kind with respect to this PUD application, by the express terms of the Town Code. The Town Board should not approve this PUD application unless the benefits to the public are clear, substantial and verifiable, and clearly and substantially outweigh the adverse impacts. The Lake Hills developer should be required to legally commit to provide those agreed benefits, if they exist, before the Town Board were to consider whether to approve the PUD application.
In our view, the Town should require that any adverse impacts be minimal. We believe that this 180-unit development proposal as presented will have very substantial adverse impacts, without any significant public benefits.
(2) The Town’s legal review, filed with the agenda for the September 18, 2023 Town Board meeting states: “ln accordance with Town code 147-23A the Town Board has determined that the Applicants request for PUD designation complies with the intent of the code.”
On what specific basis did the Town Board make this determination? Was the determination made by the Town Board in an open public meeting, as required by law? Does the PUD application in fact comply with the Town Code, rather than just with its “intent”? If not, in what ways does it not comply?
In our view, the proposal quite clearly does not comply with either the letter or the intent of the Town Code.
(3) Section 147-23(D)(1) of the Town of Liberty Code provides as follows. Our questions about the Town Board’s consideration of the Lake Hills PUD application are set out below the quoted provision of the Town Code.
“The density of a proposed PUD development shall be set forth initially by the applicant as part of the PUD plan and application process and determined by the Planning Board and Town Board as part of the final approval process. Maximum density shall be based upon the degree to which the planned unit development preserves significant natural features and open space (i.e., wetlands, waterways and steep slopes) and provides recreational amenities (i.e., active and passive recreational facilities, including nature trails, bicycle paths, sitting areas, parks and playgrounds).”
The Town’s legal review asserts that “The applicant has stated that the proposed small-scale PUD will have 49% open space. The Town Board agrees and therefore the multiplier is set at 1.35.” On what specific basis did the Town Board make this determination? Was the determination made by the Town Board in an open public meeting, as required by law?
To be eligible for a multiplier, the proposed PUD is required to preserve “significant natural features and open space (i.e., wetlands, waterways and steep slopes)” and provide “recreational amenities (i.e., active and passive recreational facilities, including nature trails, bicycle paths, sitting areas, parks and playgrounds).” As a gated community not open to the public, the proposed PUD does not provide any of the required preservation space or recreational amenities, and is not entitled to any multiplier under the Town Code.
Accordingly, the maximum permitted units on the property is 25 for the 75.1 acres in the RD district, not the 60 suggested by the Town’s legal review. (We question whether the R1 district parcel can appropriately be aggregated with the RD district parcel as implied by the Town’s legal review.)
The Town’s legal review notes that an increase in permitted PUD units would theoretically be permitted by a financial contribution to the Town of $2,500 per additional unit pursuant to Section 147-23(D)(2) of the Town Code. The Town Board would be in breach of its fiduciary responsibility to the public to approve such a materially adverse deviation based on such a meager financial contribution. Supervisor DeMayo in fact has publicly stated that such an arrangement is not “on the table.”
The Lake Hills developer has publicly stated that the proposed 180-unit development remains their PUD proposal. The proposed number of units violates Town law, and the Town Board should deny the PUD application on this basis alone.
(4) Section 147-23(D)(3) of the Town of Liberty Code provides as follows. Our questions about the Town Board’s consideration of the Lake Hills PUD application are set out below the quoted provision of the Town Code.
“Creative integration of open space and recreational amenities into the PUD design is required [emphasis added]. Connections to surrounding parks and open space through a coordinated trail system shall be made to the maximum extent practicable [emphasis added].”
This provision further underlines that the so-called “open space” supposedly provided by the proposed PUD district does not comply in any way with the Town Code. A gated community, walled off from the public, is the antithesis of the open space and recreational amenities required by the Town Code.
With respect to this Town Code requirement, the Town’s legal review states: “The Town Board has offered an alternative contribution to the applicant that they are willing to consider. Since this development will have a direct impact on the residents of Swan Lake it is they that should primarily benefit. The applicant owns lot 40-1-5.2 which is 130.7 acres. The Town has requested that the applicant consider placing all or part of this property into a conservation easement therefore creating perpetual open space for the Swan Lake Community.”
The Town's suggested alternative, while perhaps of some public benefit, clearly does not comply with the Town Code's mandated integration of open space and recreational amenities for a PUD. In any event, it should be subject to public discussion and agreement with Swan Lake residents, who are stated to be the presumptive beneficiaries of such a contribution.
(5) The developer has suggested that, because the proposed development would be marketed to a particular ethnic community, there would be no impact on public school services. That suggestion should be ignored by the Town Board. First, it is illegal to discriminate in housing—anyone should be and will be able to apply to reside in the proposed PUD development. Second, there is no reason to think that the developed property, either now or in the future, would not be occupied by families needing public services, including children needing public schools. Housing is scarce in Sullivan County, and that is not likely to change for many years to come. The Town should evaluate the potential demand on Town services, including public schools, without regard to the suggested occupants of the PUD development.
David Brittenham and Carolyn Summers
David Brittenham and Carolyn Summers live in the Town of Liberty.
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