WINGDALE — Six years after the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center was purchased from the state, the Dover Town Board will begin final steps in the environmental review process Wednesday.
Supervisor Ryan Courtien said the board would review the final environmental impact study created for the Knolls of Dover project, a proposal to build a transit-oriented development with homes, stores, offices and recreational facilities on the 931-acre site in Wingdale.
Metro-North Railroad has a stop at Wheeler Road and Route 22.
"We will be going through the FEIS (final environmental impact statement) page by page and give our comments on what we would like to see stay and change," Courtien said.
Approval of the FEIS is the penultimate step in the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, process during which the lead agency gathered information and comments about the application made by the Benjamin Companies, a Long Island developer.
When the board approves the document, all involved agencies will provide statements on it and the state Department of Environmental Conservation will make a determination the review is complete.
After that, the Town Board can amend zoning regulations and proceed with a site-plan review.
"My hope is that the completion of the SEQRA process will take place this winter or in the early spring," Courtien said, "and that the applicant will then be able to start some site work in the spring or summer of next year."
Denise Coyle, Benjamin's CEO and general counsel, gave Courtien and the Town Board a lot of credit for getting the project this far.
"They stepped up to the plate and were responsible in moving the project forward," she said. "The evidence of where we are now shouldn't be lost on anyone."
The road to a completed environmental review process has been less than smooth.
In December 2006, the then-all-Republican Town Board, led by Supervisor Jill Way, seemed to have reached a consensus on a revised plan proposal, working with new urban planner Torti Gallas.
At the time, Roger Akeley, Dutchess County's planning commissioner, said he believed the project was ready to start the environmental review process.
In July 2007, the Town Board voted to hire another planning consultant. Benjamin officials said this was done without the firm having been advised.
The development company held a news conference announcing the intention to "mothball" the buildings and grounds, and suspend work on the project indefinitely until the developer thought it could work with the town to develop the property.
Courtien, a Democrat, made an issue of the impasse during his campaign for supervisor. He and two other Democratic board members were elected to office in November 2007.
The state purchased the site in 1912 and it was originally intended to be a prison annex.
It eventually became part of a statewide system of mental-health treatment centers.
Most of the buildings of the former medical facility were constructed during the 1920s and 1930s.
The site had 83 buildings, totaling about 2.15 million square feet of floor space.
At the center's operational peak in the 1950s, it had 5,800 patients and about 1,800 employees.
The state downsized the facility in the 1970s and eventually closed it in 1994.
The parcel was put on the market in 1997, with potential buyers appearing and then disappearing.
The Benjamin Companies purchased the 848-acre site from the state for $3.95 million in October 2003.
In 2007, the company bought an adjacent 83-acre portion of Dykeman farm, bringing the overall transaction to $9 million.
The developer wants to build 1,376 housing units, along with approximately 238,500 square feet of commercial space and 99,450 square feet of community or recreation space.
The administration building, two I-shaped buildings along Route 22, the U-shaped building near the running track, the power plant, storehouse, Our Lady of Solace Church and Smith Hall are being considered for adaptive reuse.
The former director's residence was restored by the developer and is now called the Manor House.
All other structures are scheduled for demolition.The proposed housing stock will include single-family houses, townhomes, two-story apartments, loft conversions and apartments above retail stores.
They will be clustered in three "neighborhoods": 342 in the west side of the site, 345 in the east side and 689 in the mixed-use town center, situated closest to the railroad station.
The number of age-restricted housing units, limited to those 55 and up, is proposed to be 276. Age-targeted housing units, for which there is no deed restriction, number 684.
Impact on schools
The environmental study predicts a full build out will bring 429 school-age children.
Dover Schools Superintendent Craig Onofry wrote in a comment on the FEIS that district student population has been declining from a peak of 1,872 in 2001-02.
With a 2009-10 head count of slightly more than 1,500, and a capacity of 2,200, the district will be able to accommodate the predicted increase.
"Our issue related to space is more about the age of some of our facilities rather than size as Dover Elementary is over 100 years old," Onofry said.
A running track on the east side, which is in a wetland, will be removed. Plans include a network of hiking and nature trails.
The most noticeable change in the FEIS from previous proposals is the shifting of 105 homes from the west side to other neighborhoods.
Russell Mohr, Benjamin's vice president for real estate development, sales and marketing, said the change was precipitated, in large part, by updated Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps, which mandated the elimination of buildings on either side of the Swamp River.
"The flood plain, which has been expanded, really impacted what we were able to do on the west side," Mohr said.
Many DEC-designated wetlands on the site also forced the relocation of proposed structures.
A planned parking lot behind the storehouse has been scrapped because it was within a DEC wetland that was significantly degraded by past use, Mohr said.
He said the developer decided not to seek a permit for filling in the wetland and will, instead, restore the area as part of a wetland mitigation program.
Golf course redesign
Three holes of the nine-hole golf course will be moved north across Wheeler Road. The entire course will be redesigned.
Mohr said at least $25 million will be spent on demolition and remediation to bring the site up to a buildable condition.
There is thought to be hundreds of acres degraded due to conditions in which the state left the property, he said, including lead paint, asbestos, underground oil tanks and dumping.
"There are 47 acres of impervious surfaces that will take significant remediation," Mohr said.
The town was able to secure a $2.5 million Restore New York grant from the state that will be used to take down two buildings — part of the juvenile detention center on the east side — as soon as the environmental reviews are completed.
"That will be bringing jobs and income to businesses in the town," Courtien said.
Mohr said the developer will provide on-site training of asbestos abatement for residents that will enable them to apply for a state certification.
So far, about 100 people are on a waiting list for the training, he said.
The commercial space includes the power plant and storehouse, the Main Street retail and a 40,000-square-foot supermarket.
Unlike initial plans, the latest iteration for the development has commercial space being built in the first phase of construction along with housing units.
That is a welcome change to Carolyn Handler, president of the Coalition for the Responsible Growth of Dover, an organization dedicated to responsible and sustainable development.