By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
DURHAM — With a lawsuit making its way through the court system over the proposed Bosque housing development, the town of Durham on Dec. 11 held the second of two public hearings about the project.
The lawsuit was filed by the group Cornwallville Residents for Rural Preservation to overturn the town board’s finding that the project would have no negative environmental impact on the community. The town board’s declaration was issued in October following a lengthy review that spanned two meetings in August and again in October.
The case will next be heard in the state Supreme Court of Greene County in January.
On Dec. 11, the town board held the second of two public hearings about the project, which would bring 12 single-family homes and a farm lot with a barn to the vicinity of Strong and Cornwallville roads.
“The purpose of the public hearing is to give all of you a chance to be heard,” Town Supervisor Shawn Marriott told the audience to open the hearing at the former Durham Elementary School. “You can speak to the board about your concerns, both for or against. The board, attorneys, engineers and all other parties will listen and take notes. There will be no comments or answers from the board. We are here to listen to you.”
Taylor Palmer, the attorney representing developer Preston Jones, presented the project.
“[The developer] is proposing to build two existing lots into private premises and a farming operation and residential subdivision of the property,” Palmer said.
The project would be on 95 acres in the historic district, and each lot would consist of between three and 10 acres, Palmer said. The homes would ensure a “rural aesthetic” and utilize sustainable building materials, the attorney added.
Engineer Scott Ouimet from Kaaterskill Associates said the firm has done soil testing and has met testing requirements of the state Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The developer plans to preserve a majority of the acreage as wooded, he added.
“We have gone to great lengths to try to minimize any disturbance to the woods and we are conserving over 75% of the woods,” Ouimet said.
The Bosque housing development proposal was first presented to the town board in November 2020 and has drawn broad opposition from many in the community with concerns over issues such as the rural character of the area, traffic, water supply, and the impact on the Cornwallville Historic District, among others.
Marriott read a letter from resident Grace Biegel, who said the project would be inconsistent with the rural character of the neighborhood.
“This new proposed Bosque development is in stark contrast to earlier but steady growth and will encourage further development of this sort,” Biegel wrote. “Please do not succumb to pressure to open the door to suburban subdivisions and lookalike houses, and be faithful stewards of this land.”
Property owner Lisa Trafton has concerns about the impact on water in the area should the 12 houses and barn be built.
“Is something going to leech into the principal aquifer? Is there going to be runoff going downstream into wetlands that can’t hold any more water and flood the road?” Trafton asked. “These are issues that can be looked at and addressed now before there is a problem and it will safeguard everybody — the neighbors, the town, even Bosque will know they are doing it right.”
Resident Margaret Doherty was also concerned about the water supply and area wells.
“There are serious water issues in the hamlet,” Doherty said. “If we have too many wells, with too much use and extended dry conditions, it will have more than a significant impact on the aquifer and on all of our homes, including the Bosque homes. We will all suffer the consequences.”
Ellen Fried said she has tried to keep an open mind about the proposed development, but has come to the conclusion that the effects on the community would be negative.
“I have reached the conclusion that this project will have a very large, negative impact on the community and that it will damage what is truly valuable and unique about this rural, beautiful place we live in and will open it up for future development,” Fried said. “Basically, it is a terrible fit for us that could be prevented by proper planning.”
Fried said she opposed the developer’s plan to construct two styles of homes, and predicted the homeowners would not have a sense of connection to the community.
“Even the second homeowners in Cornwallville, they contribute to the community, they are part of the community,” she said. “In contrast, Bosque is basically a gated subdivision without the gates. It is designed for people who can pay vastly more than anyone here could afford for a second home. They are not going to become a part of us.”
The home prices are expected to be above $1 million apiece.
Homeowner Thomas Winslow said he is not averse to change, and in fact moved to Cornwallville from Texas himself decades ago.
“We know we can’t stop change or progress or growth, and we don’t want to,” Winslow said. “We simply want existing processes and structures and agencies adequately represented.”
The town board has not complied with the required review process, Winslow contended.
Dan Clifton, a leading opponent of the project, said the town board has not given the project the “hard look” required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
“Under SEQRA, it is the responsibility of the lead agency, in this case the town board, to take a hard look at the impacts of the proposed action. It is their responsibility to take a hard look,” Clifton said. “For the last 12 months, many residents have expressed serious concerns about the project, about the well water — properties around the proposed subdivision have experienced lack of water, muddy water — and Bosque only did computer modeling to say there is not a problem. That is not a hard look.”
Property owner John Shawl predicted the project could create long-term problems for the community.
“I am not against progress if done smartly and wisely,” Shawl said. “Aside from the immediate noise that the project would create, my ultimate concern would be environmental and the natural resources that we all depend on for our long-term survival. It seems to me that the developer’s objectives are to make a profit and leave. And leave the problem on our backs — they have no long-term stakes in the community.”
A couple of letters submitted to the town board and read by Marriott showed support for the project.
“I am in support of the subdivision,” Jerry Cunningham wrote. “One, since it is to be a private road, the town will not incur the expense of building or maintaining it. Two, because of its location, it will have very little impact on the viewshed for most of the town. Three, and the most important reason to me, will be the long-range impact on all property owners in our town if you don’t grant approval. Property rights and the right for every landowner who pays taxes and maintains his property to control the destination of that property without being controlled by opposition groups, should be protected.”
Resident Bernard Rivers also threw his support behind the project.
“It’s all too easy for residents, both long established and newly arrived, to say stop, no more progress, but if there is no progress, the community will not stay the same. It will change for the worse because even more young adults and their small children will leave, accelerating the decline of Durham,” Rivers said, adding the project would bring tax dollars into the community.
The next meeting of the Durham Town Board will be Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m.