Community group files legal challenge to proposed Harrison senior living facility

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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A Maryland developer’s plan to build 160 units of senior housing on a former rock quarry in Harrison is being challenged in state court.

A group of at least 300 town residents called Save Harrison filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in White Plains challenging the project. Specifically, it questions the validity of a May decision by the Harrison Town Board that approved a zoning change necessary for the project.

The group said the project, planned for the Lake Street Granite Quarry Inc. site at 600 Lake St., represents a threat to the lifestyle of the neighborhoods near Silver Lake in the town. In its lawsuit, the group states the facility would bring increased traffic, noise and potential flooding, plus possibly disrupt the ecological balance of a nearby wetland.

“We are talking about a project the size of two Home Depots going into a R-1 (residential) zone,” said Michael Levesque, a member of the Save Harrison group.

The 169,000-square-foot development is planned by Brightview Senior Living LLC, a subsidiary of The Shelter Group, based in Baltimore. Brightview manages a 95-apartment senior living facility in Tarrytown and 35 other similar facilities in eight states on the East Coast. The developer has entered into a contract with the owner of the granite quarry, Lawrence Barrego, to buy the 7.3-acre property.

The building would be four stories and contain 160 units. The units would include 84 for independent living, 50 for assisted living and 26 for memory care, according to a presentation the developer gave the town board.

The proposal for the quarry site has been met with heavy opposition from town residents since it was first proposed. The unanimous vote to approve the zoning change received boos and angry chants at the town board meeting on May 19. The zoning change allows for a special-use exemption for senior living facilities to be built on properties six acres or larger in residential zoned districts.

The Save Harrison group started a crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring.com in April to hire legal representation to challenge the development. The group has raised more than $57,000 since. Save Harrison also has a petition against the project that it said gathered more than 700 signatures.

Save Harrison attorney Albert J. Pirro Jr. of The Pirro Group filed the lawsuit on June 16.

“We think the town board and the planning board acted improperly in the way they pushed this through,” Levesque said. “We feel that this our only recourse.”

The lawsuit challenges the project beyond is the traffic and noise concerns, questioning the thoroughness of its environmental review and the uniformity of the new zoning law.

The lawsuit claims the development was pushed through by concessions from a legal settlement between the Harrison Town Board and the quarry.

In the 2014 settlement, the town agreed to no longer pursue $825,000 it was owed in fines, dropped its pursuit of alleged code violations and agreed to “fast track” an application for a senior living facility. In exchange, the quarry agreed to sell existing inventory, not further its operations and end all litigation against the town. This deal, according to the Save Harrison lawsuit, was reached without public input.

“They basically gave away their legislative power to rezone before any public hearings or SEQR proceedings. They said, go ahead and apply for a senior housing facility, and if that is turned down, the town and you, the quarry, will agree on the change of use,” Pirro told the Business Journal. “How they possibly can do that is beyond me, but that is going to be certainly part of the litigation.”

The settlement stemmed from legal proceedings dating back to 2009, when the town filed criminal and civil charges against the quarry for alleged violations of town code and issued stop-work orders, according to the lawsuit. Those were continually challenged in state courts until the two sides came to the 2014 settlement.

Attempts to build a commercial garden center in the early 1990s and a shopping center in 2014 at the quarry property were both rejected by the town.

The lawsuit also argues that the zoning change is not in accordance with the town’s 2013 Master Plan, which calls for senior housing to be developed in the “teardrop” region of the town between Interstate 684, I-287 and the Hutchinson River Parkway, and is instead improperly zoning a specific site. The Save Harrison group has said repeatedly that the zoning change represents illegal spot zoning — the zoning of a piece of land for the benefit of one owner.

The Harrison Planning Board gave the project a negative declaration for environmental impact, meaning the action will not have a significant impact on the environment, though that decision has also been challenged in the lawsuit.

Brightview Senior Living did not return requests for comment. It is being represented on the development by David Steinmetz of Zarin & Steinmetz in White Plains.

At a presentation before the Harrison Town Board in January, Steinmetz described the project as a low-intensity use that could meet a need for senior housing in the town.

David Cooper, a partner at Zarin & Steinmetz, told the Business Journal that the Brightview project received a rigorous review from both the planning and town boards.

“The record shows not only did the town board and planning board take a hard look at these issues, but the record supports this decision,” he said.

Cooper said it’s not unusual for senior housing developments to receive opposition in communities, but he believes ultimately residents come to support them. He said for the quarry site, an industrial facility would be replaced by a very “mundane” use.

“I think there’s always a perception that these types of uses are going to create more traffic and noise,” Cooper said. “And then if you ask those same opponents that now are living next to a senior living facility, they turn around and realize these are the perfect neighbors.”

Town Supervisor Ron Belmont said he could not comment on pending litigation.

With its zoning amendment approved, the project is now in the site-planning phase with the planning board. There is a public hearing scheduled Sept. 27.

Levesque said Save Harrison will continue fundraising and is considering funding an independent traffic study of the project.

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.
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