More than a dozen city and town of Newburgh residents spoke at the November 1 public hearing concerning the second phase of the Shoppes on Union Square development project.
Speakers included Anthony Grice, councilman for the city of Newburgh, a statement from county legislator Kevindaryan Lujan, and representatives of several different environmental organizations, all of whom opposed the project.
The Shoppes at Union project, located at the corner of Route 300 and Orr Ave, is comprised of three phases. The first has already been built, and includes the Vitamin Shop and other retail stores next to Cosimo’s Restaurant, as well as the site’s storm water management system. The second phase would develop approximately two acres of land behind these shops, adding two new retail buildings totaling 19,130 square feet, with potential clients including a fitness center, smoothie king, and other small businesses.
The primary concern discussed by residents at the planning board’s public hearing was the project’s potential impact on water quality. Multiple speakers expressed alarm over the Department of Conservation’s (DEC) decision to downgrade the stream on site, Patton Brook, from a Class A stream (drinking water) to Class C (non-contact use). They argued that the stream is clearly part of the City of Newburgh’s watershed, feeding into the Washington Lake reservoir via Murphy’s Ditch diversion structure.
“The Planning Board must ensure that its review of the amended site plan is based on the correct stream classifications,” stated Rebecca Martin, a representative of environmental group Riverkeeper, Inc. “The Shoppes at Union Square development proposal would put Patton Brook and Washington Lake at risk of further storm water pollution due to an increase of impervious surface area.”
In fact, city resident Ophra Wolf listed more than a dozen contaminants already present at medium to high levels in the Patton Brook watershed.
However, Jerame Secaras, senior project engineer with Langan Engineering, emphasized that they had already made adjustments to the plans in order to reduce its impact on the stream. He repeatedly emphasized that the site’s storm water system was designed to exceed the state and town’s standards for water quality requirements by 10%.
Planning board consultant Patrick Hines added that throughout the years-long planning process, the stream had been considered a Class A stream, and it was only recently that the DEC changed it. Therefore, much of the storm water management systems already in place considered Patton Brook as a tributary stream.
“The board has reviewed the project since its inception as a Class A stream,” stated Hines. “All previous environmental review documents and reviews by this board was based on that Class A drinking water standard designation.”
For many city residents, the concern over Washington Lake’s water quality is personal. In 2016, it was discovered that Washington Lake was contaminated with high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), among other toxic chemicals. As a result, many city inhabitants exhibited high levels of toxins in their blood, and have since experienced sickness and other negative effects from the poisoned water.
“This is about a general degradation [of our watershed],” said Tamsin Hollo, city of Newburgh resident. “Many of us in this room have friends who are sick… [or] who are wondering when they are going to get sick in the future.”
But as planning board attorney Michael Donnelly explained, there’s not much the planning board can do to prevent development on lands bordering the watershed that are zoned for such use.
“If a property owner has undeveloped land, and they bring a project before the planning board for a use that is permitted, the planning board would have to review that. And after appropriately mitigating any environmental issue, it would have to approve,” said Donnelly. He did add that residents have several options they could take on their own to protect the watershed: getting the state to impose watershed regulations outside of the city’s boundaries to limit control of development there, approaching the town board about zoning uses on adjacent properties, and purchasing land bordering the reservoir for the purpose of protection.
Councilman Grice added that the City of Newburgh is currently in litigation with the state over the protection of their watershed, and is open to buying adjacent properties at a “fair market rate.”
“The City of Newburgh has not given up on Washington Lake,” said Grice. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to collaborate together… to say, we are not going to build within 100 feet of Patton Brook or anywhere on our watershed.”