A seemingly narrow ruling by the Cortlandt Zoning Board of Appeals has pitted the town against itself and the residents against a developer over land use in the bucolic Greater Teatown area of Croton-on-Hudson.
In what is shaping up as a major land use battle, property owners are fighting over exclusivity.
Residents want to preserve the unique character of their neighborhood, named after the nearby Teatown Lake Reservation, near Croton Reservoir and Bald Mountain. Mansions with ample acreage are surrounded by lakes, woodlands, parks, private reserves and gorgeous views.
The developer wants to open a luxury hospital on Quaker Ridge Road for well-heeled people with alcohol and substance abuse disorders.
“This will be a state-of-the-art hospital,” Hudson Ridge Wellness Center Inc. of Briarcliff Manor stated in court papers. “There will be no patients from the penal system or government assistance programs. This will be a private pay operation with special accommodations for Cortlandt residents.”
Residents move to Teatown “to enjoy its picturesque rural surroundings,” according to eight neighbors who call themselves Citizens for Responsible Hudson Institute Site Development Inc. They want to “enjoy long walks and other outdoor recreational activities against a serene backdrop.”
High-end, specialty hospitals, Hudson Ridge stated, “depend on location, privacy, tranquility and security to provide a recovery buffer from the hustle and bustle of fast-paced, stressful everyday life.”
The narrow issue is whether Hudson Ridge needs an area variance or a more-stringent use variance to develop the property. The zoning board sided last March with the developer’s request for an area variance.
Residents sued the zoning board, the town and the developer in April in state Supreme Court in White Plains. They call the zoning board a rogue agency on their Facebook page and they want the court to annul the zoning board ruling.
Hudson Ridge responded last month, asking the court to dismiss the residents’ complaint as frivolous.
Seventy years ago, from the 1920s to about 1948, the Lamb Foundation used the property for the same type of hospital. Around 1957, the zoning board issued a special permit to IBM for a research facility. In 1967, the Hudson Institute got a permit to run a public policy think tank.
The site was abandoned around 1995.
Hudson Ridge bought the 21 acres in 2010, for a reported $1.15 million. It also owns 28 acres next to the site that it states will be used as a buffer.
The property was blighted. Seven buildings were covered with graffiti. Trespassers hunted and partied on the grounds.
The developer states it invested $1.5 million on landscaping and on bringing buildings up to code.
Two years ago Hudson Ridge applied for site plan approval and a special use permit. It proposed building a 92-bed facility, modeled on clinics run by the Betty Ford Center.
The developer would use the existing structures. The hospital would be staffed by 89 people, but on any given shift no more than 133 patients and staff would be there. IBM and Hudson Institute had been approved for 225 people.
The property is zoned residential and requires two acres per house. Cortlandt also requires hospitals to be on state roads to handle heavy traffic. Quaker Ridge is a narrow town road.
Two months after Hudson Ridge submitted its plans, the Cortlandt Town Board enacted a moratorium on land use approvals.
The town later adopted a comprehensive plan that envisions a district that would centralize medical services around NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, more than six miles from the Hudson Ridge site.
Hudson Ridge sued, but a state Supreme Court justice ruled that the moratorium was a legitimate stopgap measure while the town worked on the new master plan.
The developer also sued in federal court but agreed to dismiss the case a year ago when the moratorium expired.
The zoning board has not acted yet on Hudson Ridge’s application. It has merely ruled that an area variance is the right regulation to consider.
The residents’ group claims the zoning board has usurped the town’s authority to govern where hospitals may be located. The residents include Jill and Joel Greenstein, Lois and Charles Goldsmith, Thomas Secunda, Michael and Carolyn Shannon, and Karen Wells. They live from 200 feet to 1.4 miles from the Hudson Ridge property.
Hudson Ridge, which has been represented by Vice President Steven C. Laker, contends that the residents are trying to undermine the zoning board’s independence.
Even though the residents’ group sued Cortlandt, the town supports the residents and opposes the zoning board.
The zoning board has lowered the bar on nonresidential uses in residential districts, Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi said in an affidavit filed on July 14.
Hudson Ridge describes the residents’ case as a “quintessential NIMBY action,” in a recent motion to dismiss the complaint.