January 18, 2017 -- Advising representatives from New York American Water to go back and meet with community members to show them their plans and listen to concerns, the Town of Oyster Bay Zoning Board of Appeals at a public hearning held on January 12 put on reserve an application for a special use permit to demolish the water tower built in 1935 and to construct a new one at its current location in the center of Glen Head.
The for-profit corporation that serves the Sea Cliff Water District has proposed demolishing the current 82 year-old tower and 500,000 gallon tank and replacing it with a more modern structure with a cylindrical concrete pedestal that rises skyward to support a shiny steel tank. The height and location of the tank will remain the same - at 6 Dumond Place. The water company has said that it is expected to cost more than $5 million with the residents of the water district incurring much, if not all, of the expense.
Attorney Harold Meyer, speaking on behalf of New York American Water said that corrosion on the current tank and support tower has made the replacement work necessary and that the new structure “would not adversely affect the character of the area,” nor would it “interfere with the development of other properties in the area.”
“It’s time to build a new tank and tower,” he declared. “The time is now.”
Phil Sachs of D&B Engineers and Architects of Woodbury said that the company had considered three other options - refurbishing the existing tank, replacing the current tank with a ground level tank, and putting the facility in another location,. He explained that each of those had significant drawbacks, and thus believed that replacing the existing tank at the current site was the best approach. A different location would require ripping up roads and installing new piping, and a ground level tank would require electrical pumps and generators that could be noisy. As for refurbishing the current tank, he said the process would take at least a year, and that the tank could not be off-line during the summer. The proposed tank and tower he said could be in place within a seven month time frame, with demolition beginning in October 2017 and the new tank completed in April 2018. That window would enable the work to be done without interfering with peak water usage times.
Several Glen Head residents then addressed the six member Board.
“The company has acted dishonestly and is bullying the community,” said George Pombar, President of the Glen Head Glenwood Business Association. He continued that he had reached out to the company to hold community meetings, but had been turned down, and had only received documents outlining the project late that afternoon.
"Our complaint is that they won’t talk to us. This is the first time the community has seen this," he said. "We need respect from these people to show us what we’re buying. All we want is for you to refuse the request for approval until they meet with us. We want them to come speak with the community. We don’t think that's unreasonable especially when they are passing the bill on to us.”
Mr. Pombar also expressed concerns about the impact of demolition and construction on those who live of Dumond Place, and about the removal of cell phone antennas from the tank, which he said would have to go somewhere else in Glen Head.
Carol LoMastro, who launched a petition drive that garnered several hundred signatures to block the current proposal also expressed concerns about American Water’s community outreach asserting that only residents within 100 feet of the property were notified and invited to a meeting with the company’s representatives.
Additionally she questioned the aesthetics of the chosen design. “A water tower with a thick cement cylinder does not fit the style of the Gold Coast,” Ms. Dimastro said. “It will decrease the value of homes in its proximity and destroy the quaint character of our town."
Her husband, Anthony LoMastro, then presented the Board with documents showing other design examples that he said would cost under $4 million, including a steel tank and tower similar to the existing one. He continued that he had spoken to residents and officials in the Greenlawn Water District and that they reported to him that the electric pumps for their ground level tank were quiet and not disruptive to neighbors.
A few residents criticized the company for poor customer service and for rates that they said are significantly higher than those in neighboring water districts with one community member citing a $600 bill when the company was bought from Aqua as well as the $82 surcharge all water district residents are now paying quarterly.
Planning Board Member Lewis Yevoli, then addressed the company's representatives.
“This company has a history of being unresponsive and having extraordinarily high rates,” he said. “You guys need to get your act together somewhere along the line and stop taking advantage of residents.”
Mr. Meyer once again addressed the board. He said that the company had reached out to residents, and then presented ZBA Chairwoman Arlene Van Loan with sign-in sheets from two meetings they had held - one on October 3 and a second on November 28.
As for American Water's rates relative to municipal water districts, Mr. Meyer said that those districts do not pay taxes on their properties, and thus do not have that added expense. Additionally he said the demolition of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant caused a shift in the tax burden to other class 4 utility properties, which in turn have been passed onto customers with the surcharge.
The attorney continued that the Company’s proposal was recommended by an engineer who had studied the issue, and that while he appreciated the residents' input, they were not experts in the field. He said that what the company was requesting is allowed under town code and the law.
Mr. Meyer added that he spoke to company officials during the hearing and that they said they would meet with residents if the ZBA granted the special use permits.
The offer was greeted with a chorus of groans from a skeptical audience.
“How about we do that in reverse,” responded Mr. Yevoli. “Meet with the residents and get some feedback first.”
“I am very underwhelmed with this list - there are three people on it,” said Chairwoman Van Loan.
Pointing to the audience, she added, “they’ll show up to the meeting. They sat through 17 other hearings to get to this. There’s no way that these people were ever notified of anything.”
She recommended to the board that the application be put on reserve and advised the Company to organize a meeting with community members.
On January 24, Mr. Pombar announced in an email to area residents that New York American Water had invited representatives of the Glen Head Glenwood Civics Associations to a meeting with company executives and that the company also agreed to a host a forum for the community.
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