Revised Suez Plan Gets Green Light From Clarkstown Planning Board

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Final Approvals Conditional On Vow Not To Propose Fuel Storage Tanks On Site Near Lake DeForest

By Tina Traster

The Town of Clarkstown Planning Board on Wednesday granted Suez Water New York preliminary site approval to move forward with plans to round out its relocation to 162 Old Mill Road in West Nyack after a two-year battle hinging on environmental issues. The site is adjacent to Lake DeForest Reservoir, the main source of the county’s drinking water.

However, the quest for approval was tempered by two conditional matters, including ambiguity over Suez’s future plans to locate fuel storage tanks on the site. The other issue involved lighting and its effect on neighboring properties.

Like water diverting in an eddy, Board Member Phillip J. DeGaetano disrupted the clear path to approval when he asked Suez to promise it would never revive its intention to locate fuel storage tanks on site.

Responding to public pressure, Suez in May 2019 reversed course and decided not to locate two above-ground fuel storage tanks for 8,000 gallons of gasoline and 2,000 gallons of diesel for their fleet of trucks and cars to fill up on site.

DeGaetano pressed for assurances from Suez that the company will never ask for storage tanks. Suez responded by carefully saying the “project at this time” does not include the tanks. That wasn’t good enough for DeGaetano who ultimately horse-traded a commitment to vote on preliminary site approval in exchange for a conditional promise that Suez would agree to a covenant prohibiting tanks in the future.

Eager to have the project greenlighted, Suez attorney Brian Quinn told the board it would make that promise, conditioned on agreement from Tilcon, which owns the site and leases it to Suez for its new headquarters. In response, the five Planning Board members present voted unanimously to give Suez preliminary site approval and to move it forward to the Architectural and Historic Review Board.

Board members also pinned down Suez on a promise to adjust lighting and tree planting if nearby neighbors were negatively affected by nighttime lights.

The hearing, the first for the scaled-down proposal, was supported by Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association, who said it was “good for Clarkstown, and good for the county.” Also endorsing the project was developer Bill Helmer, who reconstructed the existing Tilcon headquarters and is slated to build the proposed 11,040-square-foot accessory building. Steve Yassky of Rockland Realty also plugged the project. Yassky is the broker on Suez’s existing facility on 360 West Nyack Road. The sale of that building is conditioned on Suez relocating to the new facility.

Environmental activists and residents took a renewed stab at asking for further environmental study. While Suez characterized the application as “unlisted” under SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act), those who oppose the plan called for a positive SEQRA declaration and a thorough environmental review by independent experts.

The board, which decided the issue in less than two hours, did not focus its discussion on environmental issues; rather, it seemed satisfied with Suez’s revised plan, which the company characterized as more environmentally sound.

The plan relocates the proposed 11,040 square-foot accessory building roughly 100 feet farther east from the Lake DeForest Reservoir than the previous scheme. The new plan sustains a swath of trees and vegetation between the planned parking field and Old Mill Road. In the original plan, there was a 60,000 square-foot paved parking lot, which would have had a slightly smaller accessory building. The 60,000-square-foot storage yard would have been used to park its fleet of vehicles and store materials needed to maintain its water system including pipes, hydrants, valves, etc.

The new plan also adds parking spaces for emergency and utility vehicles but reduces the number of parking spaces on the north end of the lot closest to nearby residences on Trachtenberg Court.

Suez also committed to not use the facility to house excavation materials.

In the former plan, nearly seven acres, or 305,000 square-feet of land-disturbance, primarily paving and the building of the new structure mandated the installation of an extensive storm-water management system.

Moving forward, the new plan says it will only disturb 3.8 acres, which would mitigate SUEZ’s need to participate in a full environmental review.