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Bennett appeal without merit

MILLBROOK — A panel of four judges of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York affirmed the decision of the lower courts that the village of Millbrook’s Planning Board had acted within its authority when approving a special use permit that would allow the construction of 91 condo units on 27.6 acres on the site of the former Bennett College, preliminary site plans and a subdivision plat in November 2008. Allan Rappleyea, representing the Oakley L. Thorne Trust, the appellant, said after the decision, “We are going to exhaust every legal opportunity.” Opened as a luxury hotel in 1893 and converted to a girls school in 1907, Bennett College closed in 1977 and the buildings have stood empty for more than 30 years. Six years ago in 2005, the village created a new zoning district, the Bennett Campus District (BCD), to encourage development at the site, which under a special use permit provided for up to four single-family dwelling units per acre. In 2006 developer Blumenthal Brickman Associates submitted an application for site plan and subdivision approval. Three public hearings were held on the application in early 2007 with active local opposition. More than a year later, in October 2008, the developer submitted an expanded Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process and a revised application. The Planning Board held a public hearing and a series of workshops to assess the environmental impacts of the project. On Nov. 12, 2008, the Planning Board issued a negative SEQRA declaration, meaning that it did not foresee any adverse environmental impacts that could not be mitigated. It also granted a special use permit, preliminary site plan approval and sketch-plan subdivision plat approval. The Thorne Trust immediately started a legal action to set aside the Planning Board’s approval of the development. The Supreme Court of New York denied the petition in July 2009 and dismissed the proceeding, as did the appeals court and the most recent decision.A review of the recent opinion indicates that the four judges decided that the Planning Board was not “capricious” when looking at the environmental impact of the project and legally granted the special use permit and preliminary site plan approval. The court also rejected the argument that notice of public meetings was insufficient.Still pending a decision is the Dec. 15, 2010, petition by the Thorne Trust arguing that the Millbrook Planning Board’s decision to authorize a preliminary and final subdivision plat in November 2010 was not valid because no public meetings were held prior to the decision and the plat was not filed with the Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development. The documents further argue that the Planning Board’s “relaxation” of subdivision regulations was illegal and threatens public safety. Meanwhile, the developers of the site were ordered by the village’s Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Officer to demolish the buildings in January 2010. In late August 2010, a judge upheld the village’s decision to take down the decaying structures. After the developers failed to respond to requests for a demolition timetable the village gave the developers until Oct. 1, 2011, to comply.

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