ROTTERDAM -- Site preparation work for the Whispering Pines senior citizen housing project on Helderberg Avenue is on hold pending resolution of site stabilization issues raised by the town Building Department and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Meanwhile, the town is moving forward with an eminent domain proceeding that could let it take the needed easements for a sewer line to serve the property. Eminent domain is government's right to take private property -- with compensation to the owner -- when it is in the greater public interest.
However, opponents are awaiting an appeals court decision they hope will reverse the project's town approvals.
The Rotterdam Town Board approved a rezoning for the project in a 3-2 vote in July 2018, after nearly 18 months of various reviews. The project would develop the golf course on Helderberg Avenue into a 496-unit senior housing complex, valued by the developer at about $55 million. Clearing of the 90-acre site, where the Whispering Pines golf course was previously located, began late last summer.
Since last September, however, there has been repeated back-and-forth between the town and developer Lou Lecce over whether Lecce was in compliance with a stormwater pollution prevention plan. The plan requires that soil disturbed during construction be stabilized to prevent erosion and runoff. The town issued stop-work orders in September and again on Nov. 26, forbidding work other than what was needed to stabilize the property. A town building inspector said the order was violated.
In early January, a complaint from a project opponent brought the state Department of Environmental Conservation into the matter, and it re-iterated the stormwater runoff concerns and noted the department hasn't yet received applications for approval of either the public water supply or the proposed sewer line extension.
Once temporary stabilization work is finished, "no further activity will be permitted on the site until the stormwater management and other issues (e.g. water supply and sewer extension request) are resolved to the Department's satisfaction," DEC regional water division engineer Jamie Malcolm wrote in a Jan. 14 email to one project opponent.
A Lecce spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Whispering Pines opponents continue to hope they can block the project in court. A state Supreme Court judge last year dismissed the lawsuit brought by more than 30 neighbors, but the neighbors have appealed, and the mid-level Appellate Division heard arguments last month, with a decision expected this spring.
The sewer-related eminent domain hearing scheduled for the Town Board meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall would, if approved by he board, clear the way for the town to begin imposing the rights of way needed to construct the Carmen Road sewer extension. The extension would bring sewer service to the Whispering Pines site. The Town Board is not scheduled to act on the eminent domain application the night of the hearing.