The Irvington Planning Board is considering an application to subdivide a 4-acre parcel on Castle Road, in view of Halsey Pond, to create three single-family home lots.
The proposed subdivision lies east of the Village-owned Halsey Pond Park and is currently lightly wooded and undeveloped. A public pathway runs between the property and the pond.
The applicant is Mar-Vera Corp., owned by Ray Gheduzzi. His family has a history of development in the Halsey Pond. They subdivided some of their property in 1979, intending to build 27 single-family homes and 14 attached townhouses on a 37-acre parcel. The Village granted the application on the condition that Mar-Vera dedicate 12 acres to the Village for use as a park. The developer built the single-family houses, but not the townhouses. By the time, in 2000, that Mar-Vera applied for a permit to build the townhouses, Irvington had passed new zoning ordinances and the building permit was denied because the developer’s plans were not in compliance. Mar-Vera sued the Village, lost in 2010, appealed the case to the State Supreme Court, and lost the appeal in 2011.
Mar-Vera submitted the Castle Road application in May 2020, and a month later the planning board determined that the site could accommodate up to three lots. But further progress on it was delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, and the application didn’t advance until this past July, when the developer’s team returned to a planning board meeting with preliminary site plans. Residents who viewed that meeting came away with some alarming preconceptions, based largely on a tree inventory, created by Cahilly’s Horticultural Services for Mar-Vera, that assessed the health, structure, and overall desirability of each tree on the property. Some observers were stunned by how many trees it suggested should be removed.
At a public hearing on Sept. 1, attorney Kasey Brenner of Mar-Vera’s law firm, Zarin & Steinmetz, said they had received a letter from the Greater Irvington Land Trust (GILT) as well as other letters from neighbors concerned about the project. “The applicant [Mar-Vera] certainly recognizes that the area near Halsey Pond is a truly peaceful and special natural area, and has continued to keep that in mind in refining these plans,” Brenner said. “In fact, Mr. Gheduzzi’s father previously owned and donated this beautiful park and lake to the Village as part of the original subdivision.”
Brenner said that while GILT’s goals were “laudable,” she debated a statement in their letter that over 125 trees would be cut down. “These recommendations by the independent tree consultant who prepared that report were not ultimately incorporated into our client’s proposal,” she said. “At this time, I believe we are only proposing to remove about 23 trees.”
Jim Annicchiarico of Cronin Engineering reviewed the conceptual site plans for the subdivision on behalf of the developer. “The plan does propose the removal of 23 trees, but obviously we should all keep in mind that this [application] is for limited site plan approval, and specific site plan approval will really dictate what happens with the tree removals.”
Mar-Vera signed an easement agreement with the Village of Irvington last year, allowing the Village to run a sewer line through the proposed subdivision. The final site plans for each of the three lots would have to include a way for vacuum trucks to access the sewer manholes. Seven of the 23 trees slated for removal stand within the proposed sewer easement. Annicchiarico said 11 more of the trees are located where the houses’ driveways would be placed, and five are within the footprints of the proposed houses. He stressed that the building locations were preliminary, so the number of trees to be removed could change.
The final site plan approval stage will also involve other specific details, such as runoff from the site, especially as it might affect the pond.
“The ecology of Halsey Pond is so delicate,” commented resident Stephen Harty, who lives in the area. “About 10 years ago it was like a dead pond. We had not just algal bloom on the top of it, but dead fish floating on the surface. And a lot of hard work and cooperation went into addressing that situation, and all of us can walk around it without that horrible smell of decay.” He said that at the time, the pond’s problems were attributed to runoff from the Legend Hollow development, and from fertilizers used at the nearby golf course. “This proposal, of course, introduces more hardscape near the pond... I’m concerned about drainage that could damage the pond and the wildlife in it.”
Another commenter, resident Jen Blair, called in to the meeting as a representative of GILT, suggesting that there should be a conservation easement placed along the path around Halsey Pond, to keep houses from being built too close to the pond. Resident Leola Specht, a member of the steering committee for the Village’s Green Policy Task Force, also called in to express concern about the environmental impact and to ask for strict limitations on development.
Another public hearing will be scheduled for next month.