Please help me here. I want to thank you for publishing lawyer Zamelis’ letter in the March 16 edition of “The Freeman’s Journal,” but I also want to understand why that news, if it is true, was buried on page 8.
It appears Zamelis’ story is the most important local news found in that edition of “The Freeman’s Journal.”
Why is there no mention of the story on page 1? Will “The Freeman’s Journal” investigate Zamelis’ claims? Why was there no comment in the editorial pages? Will an editorial be forthcoming? Do we need to wait for this summer’s hazardous algae blooms to focus our attention on this story, which casts negative light on local government, institutions, and entities? Please help me understand newspaper’s role in this story. Thank you.
After submitting a “Partial Observer” commentary to “The Freeman’s Journal” and “Hometown Oneonta” last week regarding concerns about work being done on the Templeton Foundation’s Averill Road property, environmental lawyer Douglas H. Zamelis has filed a second lawsuit against the Village of Cooperstown Board of Trustees, the Village of Cooperstown zoning enforcement officer and Templeton Foundation itself.
On January 18, Zamelis had filed a petition in the Madison County Supreme Court on behalf of clients Michael Swatling and Carolyn O’Brien, in which they alleged that the Cooperstown Board of Trustees applied an incorrect standard when analyzing the proposed Bassett Hospital housing project’s environmental impact in light of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. Upon review and realizing that these allegations had merit, attorneys for all parties agreed that the suit should be discontinued but with the full right of Templeton to reapply.
It’s common knowledge Templeton Foundation seeks to build a large housing development on its property on Averill Road in the Village of Cooperstown. The village zoning law requires a special permit prior to construction and state law requires that prior to granting approval, the Board of Trustees must assess and mitigate the project’s environmental impacts.
Because the project is in an historic district and would alter more than 2.5 acres, it’s presumed to have a significant impact and require an Environmental Impact Statement. The village zoning law does allow a certain amount of tree removal, but state law (6 NYCRR 617.3) logically prohibits a project sponsor from “segmenting” a project into smaller stages to fly under the regulatory radar, or from commencing any physical alteration until environmental impacts have been identified, reviewed, and mitigated.
In January, the Board of Trustees identified several significant impacts but granted the special permit without requiring an EIS. My clients, owners of the residence across Averill Road, were forced to challenge the approval in court. Because they had no defense, Templeton and the village promptly capitulated and agreed the special permit was null and void. But a week or so ago, heavy equipment arrived at the project site and the project’s footprint was quickly cleared. Not a single hay bale or silt fence was deployed to keep the exposed sediment from making its way to Otsego Lake. No new special permit had been granted and the village’s website confirms Templeton hasn’t even resubmitted an application. After our urgent inquiry, the village claimed Templeton was only doing some limited tree removal for the purpose of ascertaining depth to groundwater and suitability for geothermal. Knowing such can be done with a small rig towed behind an ATV, we remained skeptical.
Two days later, our aerial photography confirmed Templeton had cleared the project’s entire footprint, including the road to the proposed water tower, without a proper environmental review or special permit. Templeton violated state and local law with the village’s knowledge and that’s bad enough. But that there’s brand new, multi-acre, clear cut on top of Irish Hill without a single hay bale, silt fence, or other stormwater control to prevent the sediment and nutrients from getting into the lake is environmentally reckless and socially unconscionable. Controlling the harmful algae bloom in our lake will require a multi-pronged approach, but denuding a lakeside hilltop and irresponsibly allowing the disturbed soil and nutrients into our lake is surely not one of them.
That this was done with the village’s knowledge and consent shocks my conscience, and should shock the conscience of anyone who relies on or appreciates Otsego Lake.
Don’t take it from me–look at the site plan and our aerial photography, take a walk or ride up Averill Road and see it for yourself, and then contact village officials and let them know what you think.