Zoning board approves Leeds Pond proposal, residents say this isn’t the end of preservation fight

Zoning board approves Leeds Pond proposal, residents say this isn’t the end of preservation fight
Protestors rallied at Village of Plandome Manor to demand removal of dirt plateau at 1362 Plandome Road and the wetlands be protected. (Photo by Karina Kovac)

The Village of Plandome Manor zoning board unanimously approved a proposal to place 350 cubic yards of site fill in the backyard of a residential property bordering Leeds Pond at a packed meeting.

The board’s decision was made without comment following an executive session. The board, which did not disclose the reason for the executive session, had earlier told the attendees there would be no public comments.

Neighbor Lou Grassi protested the close of public comment, saying he missed the public comments at the last meeting because of a flight delay.

He said he didn’t want to “be a wise guy” but when he called the village office after missing the last meeting, he was told to come to the July 20 meeting.

“I was told to come to this hearing,” Grassi told the board, “which I came to this hearing tonight. The amount of mud that’s on my property is beyond abysmal. And you should all come, the whole committee should come when it rains, and see how much silt and debris is on my property from this, which you’re approving, which you don’t really have a clue as to what you’re approving.”

“It’s not neighborly,” Grassi said.

He said he already pays thousands of dollars to restore his yard after weather events or development work.

“We have a responsibility to each other, and we all pay taxes, we should all be heard,” Grassi said.

At the previous meeting, on June 22, the board heard comments, many of them in opposition, until midnight.

Grassi said he would consider taking the case to court. Or, he suggested, the village could require a retaining wall be installed.

“I’m having mud consistently on my property,” he said.

Residents following the meeting noted efforts by the neighboring Science Museum of Long Island to remove invasive species from the pond and ongoing plans to restore the forest area surrounding the pond, which would be undermined by the site fill.

The fill itself was proposed to be 500 cubic yards, but the board lowered the amount in an alternative proposal to 350 cubic yards. Village code allows up to 50 cubic yards of site fill.

In April, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a notice of violation to the owner, for failing to comply with the grading requirements of the permit and for clearcutting vegetation within a wetland without authorization.

Leeds Pond, part of Nassau County’s 35-acre Leeds Pond Preserve, overlooks Manhasset Bay and covers approximately 21.4 acres with a tributary watershed area of around 2.275 acres.

At a previous zoning meeting on June 15, three environmental experts told zoning board members the dirt plateau on the residential property is already causing harm to the ecosystem with each rainfall and resulting runoff, pollutants from the dirt plateau enter Leeds Pond.

“There were experts, scientists are members of the community,” said Scott McDonald from Our Children’s Earth Foundation following the meeting “and they just were not prepared to receive or understand the testimony that was presented to them by their own admission, and, you know, he explained it tonight. They’re not environmental adjudicators.”

McDonald said one of his main concerns is harmful algal blooms, which can become toxic to humans and animals.

“The DEC was brought in, and they came up with a compromise about planting and whatnot,” he said. “Anybody who knows anything about healthy water knows that fill is like toxic poisons. It’s filled with phosphorus. It’s filled with nitrogen. And it’s what causes algae blooms.”

Zoning board member Peter Kulka defended the approval.

“We all appreciate it as much as you do if not more because we live here,” he said. “And of course, using this one property is a good way to cultivate community. It’s a wakeup call, but we’re still guided by state law and the fact that this is just an individual small property.”

Zoning Board Chair Mario Harris told Grassi following the meeting that the zoning board was placed in a difficult position by other government agencies.

Save Leeds Pond, a grassroots organization that represents the environment as a stakeholder, has recently established the Save Leeds Pond Legal Defense Fund.

A previous version of this article was published. It has since been updated. 

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