Church plan riles residents

Trinity plans to add 6,800 square-feet to this existing 19,200-square-foot Tudor home for additional service space, classrooms and more. The size and location has led to discontent among nearby neighbors. Photos/Phil Nobile

Trinity plans to add 6,800 square-feet to this existing 19,200-square-foot Tudor home for additional service space, classrooms and more. The size and location has led to discontent among nearby neighbors. Photos/Phil Nobile

By PHIL NOBILE
A local gated community is expressing strong disapproval of a proposed new church along Anderson Hill Road in Purchase with many members of the community worried about what they say is a host of potential problems that could be added to the already busy road.

Trinity Presbyterian Church announced plans in December
2013 to construct a 26,000-square-foot facility for worship services and more after making significant expansions on its existing property. After the town’s Planning Board held a public hearing at its Jan. 28 meeting, opposition to the plan has grown as the church continues the process needed for ultimate approval by the town.

Although no public hearing or input was scheduled at the most recent Planning Board meeting, 10 to 15 residents of the private community across the street, called Morningside, showed up to the Feb. 25 Planning Board meeting to display disapproval in numbers. Residents like Alan Liebowitz, the president of the board of directors for the Morningside Homeowner’s Association, have expressed vehement criticism of the plan, calling the location “inappropriate.”

“I am firmly against the proposal,” Liebowitz, a 27-year Morningside resident said. “We are extremely concerned about the impact on our neighborhood, on traffic, environment and noise.”

The private, gated community Morningside in Purchase has mounted opposition to Trinity Presbyterian Church, which plans to build a 26,000-square-foot facility across the street.

The private, gated community Morningside in Purchase has mounted opposition to Trinity Presbyterian Church, which plans to build a 26,000-square-foot facility across the street.

As the project stands, 6,800 square-feet will be added onto an existing 19,200-square-foot Tudor home, which sits on a 6.5-acre site occupied by the church. Instead of demolishing the home and starting anew, the church plans to build onto it and modify a new facility around it, adding 6,800-square-feet. The plan
also calls for the creation of 130 parking spaces, a new driveway built to the east of the property and aesthetic modifications to the Tudor home.

Spokesperson for Trinity Presbyterian Church Geoff Thompson described his client’s project as fair and added they expect the process in the upcoming months to demonstrate fairness.

“The church is confident the proposal we’ve made is reasonable and that we’ll be able to demonstrate the plan put forth can be safely and properly accommodated,” Thompson said. “The church wouldn’t be investing money if we didn’t think it was; the site is a viable and workable site for the church.”

At the latest meeting, planning board members approved a scoping document that specifies a list of issues that Trinity Presbyterian must address. According to the document, the goal of the months-long process until the church can go before the Planning Board again is to guide the draft environmental impact statement that the church must submit to the board to be aware of “potentially adverse impacts,” and have the church clearly study traffic concerns, potential environmental impacts and more.

The impact statement must be produced in a manner that complies with State Environmental Quality Review requirements, such as listing consultants or sponsors involved, specific studies conducted and relevant materials to the review process.

The approved encompassing scoping document delves into deep detail about what the church must provide within the upcoming months. Project history, all involved agencies, existing and potential environmental and traffic issues, utilities and resources in the area, air quality and noise increases all must be studied and specified throughout the church’s submitted impact statement.

Abutting neighbors, however, are unsatisfied with the board continuing the process at all.

“It is safe to say further study is not required to conclude that this proposal is inappropriate for this location,” Liebowitz said. “It is hard to believe that the church members spent 10 years searching for a home, and this is the best they could find.”

Liebowitz argues that the additional facility in an already crowded Purchase area could be detrimental to quality of life for Morningside and its residents. Although the church must provide environmental and traffic related studies, Liebowitz and the residents want further evaluations on property values and potential impacts that may be a result of the new church.

According to Liebowitz, the requirements and studies the church must undergo are only part of the potential problems.

“There is no survey to determine the effect of this proposed facility on a semi-rural, residential neighborhood,” he said. “There is no survey or study to determine the impact of this proposed facility on property values which, in turn, affect the tax base thus affecting all of Harrison not just Purchase.”

During the most recent Planning Board meeting, talk of a scaled-down project and possible sharing of parking with the neighboring Purchase Elementary School was mentioned by planning board members. When asked whether or not the church would consider a scaled-back version of their project to alleviate concerns, Thompson declined any specific comment.

“Let’s not get the cart before the horse,” he said. “We’re just beginning this process, and we’re not going to prejudge or predict an outcome.”

Also disputed by Liebowitz and fellow Morningside residents are the amount of usage the facility will bear. According to the church, potential traffic issues will not be affected, and the congregation of 200 parishioners that go to Trinity Presbyterian only for Sunday services would mean “light” use of the church during the week.

“The church…has significantly downplayed the activities which occur daily, leaving the impression they only hold services on Sundays,” Liebowitz said. He added the church’s plans call for 11 classrooms and a function room to back his claims that there would be activity on site well outside the parameters of Sunday services.

Thompson countered the claims about facility usage, reiterating the church’s point that Sundays would be primary usage, and that no daily programming was planned for weekdays.

“It’s not heavy use at any other time,” the spokesperson said. “I can tell you that the main use of the church will be on Sundays, and the usage of the property during the week will be light. There will be a small number of staff using the offices on weekdays.”

According to Planning Board chairman Thomas Heaslip, further public comment and involvement will be brought into play once the impact statement has been submitted to the board. In an attempt to further quell the Morningside resident’s woes, Planning Board Consultant Pat Cleary, at the last Planning Board meeting, clarified traffic will be assessed as if PepsiCo and SUNY Purchase—both neighbors along Anderson
Hill Road—are at full or
prime capacity.

A decade-long search for a new home was conducted by the church after holding their services at the School of the Holy Child for more than 17 years. Initially, the church purchased property at 530 Anderson Hill Road, only to realize the space wasn’t sufficient. When the adjacent property of 526 Anderson Hill Road became available for purchase, the church jumped on the opportunity and began planning a new facility on both properties together.

Both Heaslip and Cleary were unavailable as of press time. To view the approved scoping document and DEIS guidelines, visit the Planning Board’s website at harrison-ny.gov. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for March 25.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com

 
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About Phil Nobile

Phil Nobile is a Staff Writer for Hometown Media, mainly writing for the Harrison Review and the Mamaroneck Review. Before joining the Review, Nobile held a web internship at the Hartford Courant performing multiple journalism tasks. A graduate of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., Nobile wrote for the school’s newspaper, the Quinnipiac Chronicle, and held other leadership positions in organizations on campus. Nobile is a lifelong Westchester County resident. You can reach him at 914-653-1000 x17 or phil@hometwn.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @harrisonreview.