The Village of Thomaston has set a date for the first of what will likely be several hearings on a proposal for a five-story apartment building that has met with strong opposition from the public.
During a Board of Trustees meeting last Wednesday, Mayor Steven Weinberg scheduled the hearing for Nov. 15, to be held through a Zoom webinar as of now. The decision to hold a virtual meeting met with ire from dozens of residents in attendance.
After the meeting, Weinberg told Blank Slate Media the village intends to have multiple hearings, with at least one in-person meeting, and said he values residents’ input.
“I absolutely value the input of all the residents of Thomaston, and that is why we want to hear their input in a formal public hearing to get everyone’s opinions on the record,” Weinberg said.
The village was forced to reschedule an initial meeting to discuss the application in mid-August due to an excess amount of people in attendance at Thomaston’s Village Hall. Most of the people in attendance opposed the proposed five-story structure at 124 S. Middle Neck Road.
The project’s applicant, 124 Middle Neck Realty LLC, acquired the property, formerly the site of Tower Ford, on July 19, 2017, according to village documents. During a July 12 meeting, village trustees unanimously approved a new local zoning law “for property located in certain adjoining zoning districts,” according to village minutes.
The minutes showed that one member of the public was present during the public hearing on the law, which the trustees then adopted.
The law allows the Board of Trustees to have “sole and unfettered discretion” on what conditions and incentive use permit may be granted to certain applicants. The new law applies to applicants that have a property located partially in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, a total area of at least 0.75 acres but not exceeding one acre, a depth at its greatest point of at least 200 feet and street frontage on Middle Neck Road of at least 230 feet.
The property at 124 S. Middle Neck Road lies partly in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, has a total area of 0.96 acres, and has a depth of 234 feet, according to village documents.
During the Wednesday meeting, Weinberg and Trustees To-On Pang and Burton Weston, the only officials in attendance, unanimously voted to retain the engineering consulting firm of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC for the tentative project. The motion included a $25,000 deposit by the developer that will be held in escrow.
Members of the public said they were confused and upset as to why the village needed to retain a consultant for a project that has not had a formal public hearing. Weinberg said the consultant is needed to determine the project’s SEQRA classification to determine how in-depth the process needs to be.
Residents have claimed that Weinberg had conversations with the project’s developer before the application was submitted to the village. Weinberg rebutted those claims during Wednesday’s meeting.
A flurry of signs were also presented at the meeting with messages inquiring about alleged payoffs from the developer and calling for Weinberg to resign.
Though the agenda item of discussing the consultants for the tentative project was not listed as a public hearing, residents ensured that their voices were heard.
“The problem that we have here is that we believe that you passed a law which changes the zoning law in order to have this developer,” one resident said. “We feel that our rights were violated … for purposes of furthering the interests of the developer.”
“Don’t you want to hear from the community first before retaining an engineering firm and first hear what the concerns are so that maybe we can address them?” another resident asked.
“Why can’t you just listen to us now?” another resident asked. “You’re ruining all of our lives, you should resign. The amount of energy and money it has taken to fight the village … it’s ridiculous.”
Weinberg insisted that residents make their voices heard on the record and said he and the village will make a decision that best benefits the community. After the motion to retain the firm was made, chants of “shame on you” flooded the meeting.
Though the meeting had not concluded, a handful of residents approached Weinberg and the trustees, claiming their input has not been valued. Residents also accused the village of not properly notifying the public about the July 12 meeting, where the local zoning law was amended.
Weinberg, in an earlier email to Blank Slate Media, said, “The Village gave all required legal notices, and complied with all applicable procedural requirements.”
Village resident Weibin Jiang said previously that though the village did not violate any law, residents should have been made more aware of what was going to be discussed at the July meeting.
“We are concerned with how the village government communicated the project with residents and how the law was passed,” Jiang said. “I understand the village complied with all the laws. But this is an important project for every local resident.”
According to the application, the project would provide an incentive payment of $75,000 to the village, a public seating area along Brompton Road, and 12 additional parking spaces for the residents of 37 Brompton Road, a smaller apartment building.
Residents said the funds, park benches and additional parking were not a sufficient incentive, claiming they were part of alleged payoffs Weinberg or the village received from the developer.
Efforts to reach the developer for comment were unavailing.
Weinberg said it is “unfortunate” that the residents are under the impression that payoffs or illegal activity relating to the project took place, but reiterated that he wants to gather as much public input as possible during hearings.
Some residents also feel the Tower Ford deserves consideration for landmark status, though the village did not provide any update on that during the meeting.