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Lincoln Equities Gets Greenlight For Valley Cottage Warehouse From Town Planning Board

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Planning Board Commends Applicant For Its Flexibility; Gives Lincoln Equities Preliminary Site Plan Approval

By Tina Traster

Despite a torrent of opposition from Valley Cottage residents, business owners, and the Valley Cottage Library, the Clarkstown Planning Board on Wednesday greenlighted a proposal for a 220,000 square-foot warehouse on 20 acres in Executive Park along Route 303.

“The code tells them they can do this 24/7,” said Guardaro. “We follow the code. We can’t change that.”

The board, which voted unanimously in favor of advancing the project, said applicant Lincoln Equities Group of Rutherford, NJ had been responsive to the town’s concerns, which addressed traffic, screening, and “knock-out” doors, building height, and limits on the use of the structure.

“I never saw an applicant agree to things like you guys,” said Board Chairman Gil Heim. “I commend you.”

The board granted the applicant a negative declaration on SEQRA and preliminary site plan approval.

Lincoln Equities earlier this month came up with an amended plan after twice being told by the Planning Board that the project was problematic in terms of traffic and scale. Changes included lowering the height of the building to 40 feet, a four-foot reduction that erased the need for a zoning variance. The applicant also added green screening, promised an investment in improvements to traffic flow at the Five Corners on Lake Road in Valley Cottage, and said it would donate about three acres lying at the northern section of their land to the town.

In a surprise turn of events at Wednesday’s board meeting, which once again brought out scores of angry and upset residents, Lincoln Equities agreed to limit its project to being a “warehouse,” foreclosing on the possibility of using the facility as a package hub or a fulfillment center. This compromise arose out of a comment made by Valley Cottage resident Rick Tannenbaum, who had pointed out all along that the traffic study undertaken by the applicant was based on a “warehouse” use, and not more traffic intensive uses.

“I’ve spoken with AKRF (the town’s traffic consultant) and it (Lincoln Equities) has said it agreed not to use it as a parcel hub or fulfillment center,” said Tannenbaum. “A map note needs to be included to limit the use in accordance with the traffic study it presented.”

Following this comment, Heim asked the applicant if they would agree to include a map note to memorialize this condition; the applicant said yes.

Lincoln Equities has never revealed who the tenant might be; initially it said it had a tenant. At the second of three hearings, it said it didn’t have a tenant. It remains unclear as to whether it has a committed tenant. However, its willingness to agree to use the structure for a warehouse only suggests the prospective tenant will not be an entity that runs trucks from the warehouse to residential homes. Rather, it is more likely to be a wholesaling/distribution warehouse for a store like Target to stock its own retail outlets.

No issue had been more contentious than the spilling of additional truck traffic onto Route 303, despite the applicant’s representation that its traffic report said there would be no “significant” impact. At earlier hearings, board members themselves showed skepticism over the traffic report results, some of which were collected during the pandemic in 2021. The applicant said adjustments were made to reflect 2019 traffic volumes; however truck traffic universally has exploded since the pandemic.

To address the issue, Lincoln Equites has agreed to work with the DOT to improve traffic flow with updated signalization and by adding right hand turn signals off Route 303 onto Lake Road in both directions. During the course of the hearing, the applicant also agreed to add a second signal improvement at a second intersection to be determined.

“Since the last public hearing, we looked at the concerns raised by the board and the public,” said Tony Veneziano, the attorney representing Lincoln Equities. “We’ve modified and significantly improved it.”

In what seemed like a last-ditch effort, residents came out for the third time to oppose the warehouse, begging the board to deny the applicant. Most residents expressed deep concern over the addition of more trucks on the narrow state road that is already sometimes bumper-to-bumper packed with trucks. Residents talked about long-term impacts of noise and air pollution affecting people’s mental and physical health. In the end, residents were hoping that the board would require the applicant to study the potential impacts by asking the members to give the project a “positive dec,” which means the proposal would have been subjected to deeper environmental study.

The board members said they were satisfied with the town’s experts, who said the plan will not have a negative environmental impact.

Board Member Edward Guardaro, who was once vocally critical of the plan, and who lives adjacent to the corporate park on Emerald Drive, gave a heart-felt roundup before the board voted.

He noted that “if anybody had something to lose,” it was him. But he pointed out that the applicant has a legal right to build, that the proposal aligns with the town code, that issues concerning screening and traffic had been addressed.

“The code tells them they can do this 24/7,” said Guardaro. “We follow the code. We can’t change that.”

The developer satisfied the board by reducing the number of dock doors from 54 to 34, and to eliminate the 21 knock-out doors. At the previous Planning Board hearing, the applicant told the board it was planning knock-out doors, which would allow for carving out doors to expand the distribution center’s loading docks in the future. Knock-out doors are framed outlines set in nine-inch-thick walls of concrete that are a map for future cutouts in the building if more truck berths are needed.

Finally, the applicant agreed to post-construction occupancy study, which will revisit the impact on traffic once a tenant is utilizing the warehouse.