Developer Louis Cappelli wants to stop the development of a parking garage next to Westchester County Airport, where he owns exclusive parking rights.
Cappelli’s Airport Parking Associates LLC sued the town of North Castle and its planning board last month in Westchester Supreme Court to block the proposed Park Place at Westchester Airport garage.
He casts his case primarily in environmental terms, citing the risks a garage would pose to the purity of drinking water in Kensico Reservoir. He has support from environmentalists, in the form of a nearly identical lawsuit filed a few days after his by the Sierra Club.
“Their right to a clean and potable water supply,” Sierra Club says of its 50,000 members in New York, “will be adversely effected due to the pollution that this project will cause to the reservoir.”
The town and the developer both used top notch professionals to prepare reports and findings, said North Castle’s general counsel, Roland A. Baroni Jr.
“At first blush, I don’t think the allegations have merit.”
The immediate concern of Cappelli and the Sierra Club is a zoning law adopted by the town board on June 28 that allows parking garages to be built, by special permit, in an industrial zone near the airport.
Park Place garage is proposed for a 3.3-acre site at 11 New King St., north of the airport, just beyond runway 16/34, and about 600 feet from the Connecticut border.
The property is in a watershed designated by the state as a critical environmental area. It is about 700 feet from Kensico Reservoir, a source of drinking water for 9 million people in the New York metropolitan area.
The developer is 11 New King Street LLC, owned by Jeffrey M. Brown, founder of a general contracting and construction management firm in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
Brown owns most of the site, 2.9 acres, including a vacant, 9,700-square-foot office building.
His proposal includes part of a wooded lot owned by JAM Airport LLC, an affiliate of Frobar Investment Co. Mitchell I. Benerofe of Benerofe Properties is the general partner.
King Street and JAM are also named as defendants in the lawsuits.
Benerofe declined to comment and Brown did not respond to requests for comment.
The proposed garage would be fully automated, allowing cars to be stacked in the 53-foot-high structure. Customers would drop off cars in loading bays, to be placed on pallets and hoisted by conveyors to positions in the stacks. Customers would be shuttled to the airport by bus.
Brown originally proposed a garage for 1,450 cars, in 2011. Plans have been scaled back to 850 cars. The developer has not yet applied for a special permit under the new zoning or submitted a site plan for approval.
The justification for allowing a garage at that location, according to the zoning amendment, is to alleviate insufficient parking at the airport.
Cappelli’s company has a ground lease and exclusive rights to operate parking at the airport. He spent about $20 million to build a 3-level garage for 1,051 cars, according to his lawsuit, and an overflow lot has another 150 spaces.
North Castle says there is demand for at least twice as many parking spaces, according to the town board’s findings based on a study done for the developer.
Nearly twice as many travelers are dropped off and picked up, the study says, than at comparable airports, suggesting that travelers are uncertain about the availability of parking.
Cappelli and Sierra Club dispute the need for more parking, citing letters from airport and county officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The existing parking garage located at the airport property has more than enough capacity,” the county planning board concluded in reviewing the zoning amendment before it was approved by the town. “In fact, the current airport garage is significantly under capacity with daily vacancy rates near 50 percent.”
Neither lawsuit mentions the airport’s proposed master plan that states the garage reaches capacity during peak demand periods, “forcing patrons to use other on-site and off-site parking lots.”
The draft master plan recommends construction of two more parking garages and parking areas, from 2020 to 2027, costing nearly $60 million.
The county planners recommended in June that North Castle reject the zoning amendment.
“It is our opinion,” the planning board advised North Castle, “that the demand for parking at this location is not substantial enough to offset the risks to the public that this project may pose with both airplane operations and maintaining the quality of the regional water supply.”
The lawsuits echo that position.
“The suitability of the project site,” both argue, “goes to the heart of environmental concerns.”
The lawsuits contend that North Castle did not sufficiently consider the impact of the structure on the sensitive environment or the risks it poses to the reservoir. They say that the planning board, designated as the lead agency for overseeing the environmental reviews, had no legal authority to do so.
They also questioned the safety of building a large structure near the end of a runway. The FAA concluded that the garage would not be hazardous to air navigation, the lawsuits state, but the agency noted that the site is in a runway protection zone where structures should be discouraged.
The lawsuits also cite the impact of traffic and noise, claim that the JAM property was illegally subdivided, accuse the town of spot zoning and question the aesthetics of building a large garage near homes across the border in Connecticut.
The lawsuits accuse the town of violating the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Cappelli is asking the court to annul the zoning amendment for failure to comply with environmental review requirements and to declare the site ineligible for a parking garage.
Sierra Club is asking to stop the project until the town has fully complied with state laws.
“We will vigorously defend both of them,” Baroni said.