WPCNR COMMON COUNCIL CHRONICLE-EXAMINER.September 16, 2013:
As predicted earlier today by WPCNR, the Common Council tonight accepted the Draft Final Environmental Impact Statement filed by the French American School of New York as part of the SEQR process on their plan to build a 7 building school campus on the former Ridgeway Country Club property they bought in 2010.
After two years of review tonight, Mayor Tom Roach, Council President Beth Smayda, Councilman Benjamin Boykin, Councilman John Martin, Councilman John Kirkpatrick voted to approve the French American School of New York Draft Final Environmental Impact Statement, while Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona and Councilman Dennis Krolian voted against approval of completeness. The Resolution to accept as complete and accurate sets the stage for the council to make findings at a later date.
All five councilpersons voting to approve the project stressed their vote was not an approval of the project but a step in the SEQR process to move ahead with the review process. Though each had reservations about statements and analyses in the Draft Final Environmental Impact Statement, each said there was a lot more that had to be examined before the project could be approved.
Council President Beth Smayda also noted that the suggested alternative entrance was actually suggested in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, indicating it was not a new wrinkle as the Gedney Farms Association has maintained. Smayda also had this definition of “complete and accurate,”:
:”Accepting the DFEIS as complete is not a vote for everything in the FEIS. Parts 1 & 2 of the FEIS clearly state they reflect the beliefs of FASNY. Accepting as complete is saying that all comments have been addressed in an adequate and accurate manner. I may not agree with what the applicant (FASNY) believes on a certain point but the fact that they believe it is accurate.”
“The findings which come later reflect the council as lead agency’s views, changes and comments, many of which I would expect will reflect the input we have received from the residents during the entire process.”
“Yes, there are changes that have been made between the Draft EIS and the Draft FEIS. I view this as a normal part of the process where the applicant is responding to comments and issues raised during the review process. One purported change, the North Street entrance was included in the DEIS and the picture of it is very similar to what we see in the FEIS. There is a drawing of it in there. The expanded discussion of this alternative in the FEIS is a natural progression under SEQR in response to public comment.”
No residents were allowed to speak. Each councilperson made a brief statement before the vote was taken.
Previously opponents of the project had requested the council to schedule more hearings to discuss in more detail the two new entrance possibilities proposed in the DFEIS on North Street and on Bryant Avenue; as well as the busing plan and the effects of new proposals on the conservation area of the site.
These requests for scheduling more hearings were ignored by the evening’s vote.
Now the Council must evaluate the FEIS and make “Findings,” within 30 days. Should the council decide the project can proceed, then site plan has to be prepared.
Based on Comments of the six councilpersons and the Mayor, there is a long way to go in the process.
What will the Council Findings Statement have to do according to SEQR?
According to the SEQR handbook,
A findings statement is a written document, prepared following acceptance of a final EIS, which declares that all SEQR requirements for making decisions on an action have been met.
The findings statement identifies the social and economic, as well as environmental, considerations that have been weighed in making a decision to approve or disapprove an action.
A positive findings statement means that, after consideration of the final EIS, the project or action can be approved, and the action chosen is the one that minimizes or avoids environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. For an action which can be approved, an agency’s findings statement must articulate that agency’s balancing of adverse environmental impacts against the needs for and benefits of the action.
If the action cannot be approved based on analyses in the final EIS, a negative findings statement must be prepared, documenting the reasons for the denial.
Each involved agency, not only the lead agency, must prepare its own SEQR findings following acceptance of a final EIS. Findings provide “the teeth” in the SEQR process because they articulate the basis for substantive aspects of each agency’s decision, including supporting any conditions to be imposed by the agency. Whether findings support approval or denial of an action, the agency’s reasoning must be stated in the form of facts and conclusions that are derived from the final EIS.