By Holly Crocco
A private property owner has been granted an easement by the Kent Town Board, allowing the corporation to access a piece of landlocked property behind Town Hal, using an access road utilized by the Kent Recycling Center. Doing so will make the property more appealing to potential developers.
During the Aug. 17 town board meeting, the town attorney explained that in 2018, an easement was approved for the former property owner. Now, the new owner, Sunberry Properties LLC, is seeking the same agreement.
“This is not for actual development at this time,” said town counsel. “This is just for granting the easement so that the property owner can do what they need in order to find a developer for the property, advertise it, and come up with a plan for development of the property that would need to be consistent with our zoning code. They would have to then get all the approvals of the development of the property.”
The easement would grant potential access to the property to achieve that.
While the property is zoned residential, Sunberry Properties has allegedly agreed that it will never be developed for residential purposes.
Resident George Baum expressed concern over how development of the property would impact the Kent Recycling Center, which is only able to use the access road – which goes over a culvert and wetlands – because the New York State Department of Environmental Protection granted it.
“It seems to me that DEP needs to be involved at the very least, to let them know that there is going to be a change in the use of that particular access road,” he said.
Town counsel countered that DEP and Department of Environmental Conservation concerns, as well as traffic, timing and other matters, will be addressed if and when a proposal for development comes before the town.
“The granting of this easement doesn’t mean trucks and vehicles are going to be going over that drive,” she said. “That will be a whole process. That will be public hearings before the planning board, likely public hearings before the town board… Where hours of operation, traffic, additions and improvements to that drive are proposed, and all of those things would be at the expense of the developer.”
Further, town counsel explained, “The easement specifically says they cannot interfere with the operations of the recycle center.”
Resident Cliff Narbey also expressed concerns about issuing an easement that will make the property more desirable to developers.
“By conferring this easement to the current owner of the property, you’re going to raise the value of that property considerably,” he said. “At the moment, it’s landlocked; it can’t be developed, so its value is impaired. But if you grant them this easement, that will significantly increase the value.”
Resident Julie Boyd said the onus should be on any potential developer to obtain an easement based on what they are going to bring to the town.
“If you buy a landlocked piece of property… you go negotiate with DEP and DEC on how to make your own access road,” she said. “As a business owner, it worries me when government gets involved in benefitting a business over another business… Are you representing the town, or are you representing Sunberry? I’m not questioning your ethics, but it’s a little mucky.”
Resident John Neff agreed.
“Don’t interrupt the operation of the recycle center to accommodate a land owner,” he said. “Let the land owner go through the permit process and build his own driveway, because you can’t just widen that area without interrupting the wetland.”
Jennifer Gray of Keane & Bean P.C. of White Plains, representing Sunberry Properties, said granting the easement will help attract a developer to the property, which will increase tax revenue, provide economic development and create jobs.
“We see this as an opportunity to improve operations at the recycling center,” he said.
This includes improving access to the recycle center either by adding another queue lane or area of ingress and egress, and providing landscape screening. “Those three points are specifically laid out in the easement agreement as factors that must be considered if and when a development proposal comes before the Kent Planning Board,” said Gray.
Councilmember Ann Campbell, who has been a volunteer with the Kent Recycling Center since it opened, was involved in the granting of the 2018 easement to make sure it had protections in place for the recycling center. She recognized that the easement could potentially provide for improvements to traffic flow on the access road as part of the agreement, but also noted that traffic is already congested at peak times for the center.
“I’ve found that being there close to closing time gets pretty wild, with the looping through and people not always going the right way, and so forth, so there may be potential to address some of those issues if and when a development project does go through,” she said.
Campbell asked her colleagues on the board to consider postponing vote, which was only supported by Councilman Shaun Boyd.
Councilman Christopher Ruthven said the board has always been concerned about how an easement would impact the recycling center, while also balancing what’s good for the town based on tax base and future growth.
Richard O’Rourke, also with Keane & Bean, said that granting the property easement simply allows the opportunity to bring a developer to the table to propose a project.
“We want to get there; I think you want to get there,” he said. “You’ll have that opportunity, and the last thing in the world that any developer is going to do is negatively impact the recycle center.”
The motion to approve the easement was passed by a vote of 3-2, with Councilmembers Jorma Tompuri and Ruthven, as well as Supervisor Jaime McGlasson voting “yes.” Campell and Boyd voted “no.”