By Edie Johnson

After nearly 20 years of alternate proposals for the former Lake Anne/Clovewood 708-acre site on Clove Road in the Village of South Blooming Grove, and with a dozen or so different proposals that have  included a Country Club, a corporate retreat, a Chinese Theme Park, an International Trade Center, a Mobile home Center , now the public’s draft review of  a 600-home (with possible accessory appartments) high density cluster develepment ( that to date has primarly been pre-marketed to the hasidic community) is done. In 2004, owner Marvin Green said he hoped it would be developed for a commercial use, to limit the land use and traffic implications. But Green was murdered, and since then an investor group, Keen Equities has struggled to stay out of bankruptcy and design a workable plan that would be acceptable to the community, when their plans effectively would double its population and the builders estimate they could make over $50 M. on the project.

At the last of public hearings about the proposed project’s DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement), held via ZOOM, with about 100 residents and organizations with interest in its outcome, many again made passionate statements, to table the plan until something more realistic can be designed. Their reasons have been heard before, but now with greater urgency and backed by regional experts backing the likelihood of serious negative impacts (whereas the DEIS says it expects no significant impacts would be caused by doubling the village population and water use.  Interested parties who stated their objections included the Moodna Watershed Council, Orange County Land Trust, Gonzaga Park Group Admin with the primary objection being that there simply is not water for a project of this magnitude. They are  backed by a group of the world’s top aquifer experts who have said that the main aquifer serving the municipalities of the Town and Village is not recharging.  Guy Jones, owner of Blooming Hill Farm which is about 2 miles downhill from the site, explained that in the many years his family has farmed the area they have grown to understand the “Mercurial Nature” of the Satterly Creek (which is proposed for sewage effluent discharge).  The Satterly Creek, he said is intermittent, often dry or nearly dry in Summer, but when it rains it gushes.”  It may flood areas but the water is mostly near the surface and does not generally soak into the groundwater.

Schunnemunk Area Hillside Granite Ledges Create Water Runoff

Granite and shale ledges further complicate it’s flow and cause surface and beneath the surface flows that feed several farms and eventually go to the Round Hill Marsh and on to the Moodna Creek, but limit absorption into the major aquifer. Alternative plans have suggested either building an offsite sewage plant and piping the effluent  to it, as well as the potential to drill through Schunnemunk Mt. to connect to water from Kiryas Joel .

But 4 of the 100 residents present at the Zoom Meeting argued for the growing need for affordable housing in the area, and claimed that roadblocks placed in front of the project were in essence bias based against the hasidic community.  Two legal experts, however, have claimed the opposite, that the project breaks Fair Housing laws by not offering breaks for other societal groups and especially not offering to the black and hispanic communities.

Other significant objections include the timing of the reviews.  Many residents are older individuals who do not have access to computers or know how to “Zoom” and are therefore disenfranchised from the review process. 

Johanna Kiernan, who previously had detailed the Moodna Watershed Council and Conservation Advisory Committee’s objections summed up that it would be a very significant impact on quality of life, and that she wondered why, if people didn’t like the rural character of the area, then why would they want to move here.

Traffic is another main concern, with Route 208 already being the main commuter route from both New York City and other local towns.  Accidents are all too frequent between Monroe, through Blooming Grove and to Washingtonville. A secondary access to the site was also objected to by locals. Traffic studies as well as many building codes have changed and many said several studies need to be redone to be congruent with current regulations.

While many of the 708 acres are dedicated to parkland, there is controversy over what of that parkland is available to anyone but its residents, and there is increasing pressure to count backyards and side yards as parkland in order to qualify for a density bonus.

Much as Timber Rattlesnakes are not usually a favorite species, they are a critically endangered species and strongly protected, and this is one of the increasingly dwindling sites for them in the whole region. There are currently 13 dens on the SE slope on and adjacent to the site that are estimated to have been prime breeding areas for 7,000 years.  The dens include 120 Timber Rattlesnakes, 43 of which are on the property and 35 on adjacent land.  With construction activities many, if not all, would be driven from the area.

“A Pristine View is no longer a Pristine View
if it looks down on a high density development”

Michael Kileen, Admin. of the Gonzaga Park group pointed to the impacts on visual imagery.  He pointed to the increasing numbers of hikers coming to Schunnemunk and their impact on tourism  at this end of the county. He said  “Any development must adhere to sustainable, and if it is destroyed it can never be recovered.”  He pleaded “Please Save Schunnemunk”

Further, residents have asked what the plans are or what cleanup there has or has not been of the toxic landfill on the site.

Dawn Salka pointed to the cost of the huge cost burden there would be on existing residents for busing and shuttling both students and adults in addition to school expansions that would be necessary for the large increase in children.

Village of South Blooming Grove Fire Chief, John Salka detailed the already existing limits on water that is needed to fight fires.  He said “All you have to do is look at the notice on the Front Door of Village Hall. It lists water restrictions.  And the water right next door at the Firehouse looks like chocolate milk.  It’s been like that for 30 years.” 

Salka also told the group that this was the second VSBG Zoom meeting in which he has been impersonated (someone else logging in with his name). He and the Village officials plan to trace the IP address of the impersonator with the help of the Blooming Grove Police Department.

A land use attorney pointed out illegalities that she said have incurred during the process and emphasized that the decision whether to approve this project or not will lie in the hands of the Planning Board, and not the Village Board. She also submitted a 17-page report describing what she believes are the projects issues.

Blooming Grove Town Supervisor, Rob Jeroloman has stated numerous times that “Water does not know municipal boundaries” and that as Supervisor of the adjacent municipality he has serious concerns about  impact on the shared aquifer. Residents on adjacent properties have contacted him and complained that impacts on their wells were not tested, yet they noticed a difference during the site water tests.

The public’s comments will now be reviewed by project and village consultants/experts  and there will be a response to each item in a new FEIS (FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT).

Letters and questions from the public will be accepted for 10 days from the meeting date which was 1/5/2021.

Village Mayor George Kalaj thanked the participants of the Zoom meeting and the Village Board voted as did the Planning Board to end this series of Public Hearings that seemed to many to be endless.

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