More required from applicant to excavate Boston Corner farm
BOSTON CORNER — Despite excavator and project applicant Fred Schneeberger lessening the impact of his excavation plans for Langdon Hurst Farm and resubmitting his Site Plan Review and Special Use Permit (SUP) to the Ancram Planning Board on Thursday, Sept. 2, bringing the amount of soil and gravel to be removed from the site down from 25,000-cubic yards to 20,000-cubic yards, some of those opposing the project are far from satisfied.
Less, but still too much
“It’s still a lot, still more than is necessary,” said Carol Falcetti, who has lived next to Langdon Hurst Farm with her husband, Norman Osofsky, a former farmer himself, for decades. “Basically, it still flattens the land, and when that happens you look at the other hills there and say, ‘Well if it must be flattened there’s the possibility they’ll come back and ask that the other hills be flattened.’ This way they’re just taking it down to the ground. To me it appears to be more of a mining operation than an agricultural need… which is why we’re so active in opposing it.”
“It’s not a mine, and it’s sad that the town, not the town but some individuals in the town, are confusing it with such,” said the farm’s owner, Anthony Palumbo Jr., who leases it to John Langdon. “The DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] said it’s not a mine; it’s not classified as a mine; and I’m not going in with the intention of it being an active mine.”
“You can’t just go in with a bulldozer and take the knoll and grade it down, mixing soil with gravel; you can’t take a bulldozer and level the property off,” explained Planning Board Chairman John Ingram. “Once you remove a foot or two of topsoil, then you have gravel going on top of the soil.”
Excavation or mining?
Falcetti has organized a large group of area residents who like her, don’t want the knoll at the farm to be disturbed by excavators, or worse, what she fears, mined by Palumbo.
The Palumbo family has owned the Boston Corner farm in Ancram for the last 20 years.
They also own Palumbo Block Co. Inc., in Dover Plains, which produces gravel and concrete block. That muddies the issue, as it makes it appear to Falcetti and her group fighting the project to be Palumbo’s primary reason for owning the farm. Palumbo says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s really sad our primary business is being dragged into the picture. I’m very passionate about agriculture,” he said. “This is not only making it safer for John, but it’s improving the drainage on the property and the farm as a whole. If the knoll is flatter, the drainage is better and the crops will get more even distribution of rainfall. We’re doing it because of safety, but the secondary benefit is the whole farm will be improved; the next farmer benefits, too.”
Falcetti’s group doesn’t see it that way. They’ve petitioned the Ancram Planning Board numerous times since Schneeberger first submitted his application on May 5 on behalf of farmer John Langdon. Their argument is that the excavation would destroy Ancram’s Scenic Overlay District (SOD) and is not permitted in that sensitive zone. Typically, they would be right, as gravel cannot be quarried in the SOD — except occasionally. Agricultural uses is one of the rare exceptions.
Schneeberger said the excavation is needed because the knoll in question is “steep enough you would have trouble getting [machinery] up and down.” He described Langdon’s farm equipment as “state-of-the-art,” and said it can handle rugged terrain.
He seconded that there are no plans to “mine” the farm, adding that when he first asked for permission to excavate, he was given it. He called last week’s Sept. 2 Planning Board meeting “uneventful.”
“Basically, we’re sitting on our hands; there’s no earth shaking news,” said Schneeberger. “We have a meeting the first Thursday of October; theoretically the board should vote on it at that meeting.”
Not an agricultural use
Larry Stockl is a member of Falcetti’s group opposing the project. He has also owned a horse farm with his wife in Ancramdale for the past 28 years and considers himself heavily invested in the town’s future.
“I think the simplest thing is, this is not farming,” said Stockl. “Ronny Osofsky from Ronnybrook Dairy is my neighbor; Barry Chase from Chaseholm Farm is my neighbor; and I am a farmer. From the first four sentences from John Ingram’s mouth, when he said, ‘This is a special ag exemption, we have to approve this — I am not a farmer and I don’t want to get sued.’ Oh, I smelled a rat the minute those first four sentences came out of his mouth.”
Ingram, for his part, stressed prior to the Aug. 5 public hearing the application was not for a gravel mine. At that time he explained the application was for “an agricultural use to level out the land to make it more suitable for farming.”
After the public hearing closed on Aug. 5, the Planning Board continued dealing with the Schneeberger application.
More needed for EAF
On Sept. 2, Ingram explained the board realized it had “a couple of issues it wanted the applicant to address on the Environmental Assessment Form [EAF] that were missing,” which it asked the applicant to rectify.
The EAF is part of the required State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process.
Those issues included adding the wetlands at the back of the 111-acre Langdon Hurst Farm previously left off of the EAF onto the form, “even though they would not be working near them,” according to Ingram.
Additionally, the board wanted the long-eared bat, which the farm is a special habitat for, to be included in the EAF, said the chairman. He added the bats are “more likely to be found on west side of Route 22 than the east side… and no trees are coming down they’re nesting in, so it’s not going to affect the plan.” However, Schneeberger was asked to include the species in the application “so it’s complete,” said Ingram.
The board also asked for a stormwater prevention permit for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), “even though it’s not required by the DEC because of the type of project that it is, however… it’s close enough to the wetlands that if there’s any runoff [the board] wants it addressed,” said Ingram.
“If there was heavy rain, during this process there’s not going to be any vegetation on the soil, so that heavy rain could have a washout and mud could runoff on the land and you have to have fencing or other methods to control the runoff,” he explained. “Regular commercial projects with an area over 1 acre typically require it. There was no requirement on the DEC’s part for this, we just felt it may be good to do it anyway.”
Is the public being heard?
Some of those who attended the numerous public hearings and meetings in the hopes that the Planning Board would dismiss the application said they feared their concerns weren’t heard.
“We have no idea where they stand on any of our comments,” said Falcetti, adding she seldom saw the board members discuss matters among themselves.
“The whole purpose of the public hearing, the board understand the zoning, what’s permitted and what’s not,” said Ingram, adding they’re not allowed to enter executive session. “The purpose of the public hearing is to get input, each individual member makes their own determination based on what they hear. There’s no discussion in private session; and there have been a number of questions raised by board members on various things… I think the board’s dealt with everything in an open matter.”
Did you say Bog turtle?
There promise to be more issues raised at the October meeting, including the possibility that endangered species might be on the grounds of the farm, like the elusive Bog turtle.
According to Stockl, some in Falcetti’s group know experts who may be willing to go on the record that “apparently the Bog turtle” has a habitat at the Langdon Hurst Farm, which is a speedy way to put the brakes on any project in New York State.