In November 2010, Edgemont resident Gertrude Rothschild died. A world-renowned materials science and engineering professor at Columbia University, Rothschild was a physicist who researched and developed light-emitting diodes used in many modern day technologies like cellphones and television screens. Rothschild lived with her husband Henry on Old Colony Road. Besides owning the mid-century modern home on the corner of Midvale Court, Rothschild also owned three parcels of land across the street.
In her will, she bequeathed the three parcels of land to the Nature Conservancy, a charitable organization focused on conserving land and waterways, with explicit instructions that the land not be developed during her husband’s lifetime. Henry Rothschild died in 2012 at age 92 and the Nature Conservancy put the three plots of land up for sale. Hawthorne-based real estate developer Zappico Construction, LLC bought the land in February 2017 for $500,000.
After obtaining approval in September 2017 from the Greenburgh Planning Board to build a house at 100 Old Colony Road, Zappico is back, with plans to build four houses on the Old Colony Road parcels. Residents in the area are concerned about the possible development’s effect on traffic and water runoff associated with winter icing conditions on Pipeline Road, a major thoroughfare for Edgemont residents that connects the hamlet to the Hartsdale train station.
“There’s always been some water pooling on Pipeline [Road] … however it’s significantly changed since this house has gone in,” said Eliana Weissman, vice president of the Greenburgh Neighborhood Association. “Our neighborhood is not against development, we just want to make sure it’s carefully done, with independent studies, so our neighborhood isn’t impacted by it.”
The slope of the land originally owned by the Rothschild family has various grades with some excessively steep areas, which makes erosion and the subsequent water pooling onto Pipeline Road a major concern for Edgemont residents.
“We’re concerned because we really want to make sure this is done right,” said Weissman, who also lives on Old Colony Road. “If we can’t use Pipeline Road, that’s really severing our community right in half.”
In January 2018, Zappico Construction brought multiple development concepts to the planning board, detailing a plan for 10 houses to be built on the 2.6 acre site. There was variability among the conceptual designs, with some showing 10 houses all to be built on Old Colony Road and other drawings with five homes on Old Colony and five homes with driveways on Pipeline Road.
One year later, the Hawthorne developer revised the concept to just four houses, all on Old Colony Road, and submitted a formal application to the planning board. On April 17, Brian Zappi, consulting vice president of Zappico Construction, met with the Greenburgh Planning Board to discuss plans for four homes.
The board raised multiple concerns about the proposal, including water drainage and runoff, traffic sightlines and tree removal.
“I drive that Pipeline every morning and I notice there is significant runoff from that property now onto Pipeline when we have a hard rain,” Hugh Schwartz, vice chairman of the planning board, said at the meeting. “I’m just concerned to make sure we’re not adding to an existing problem there.”
Zappico responded with a plan to capture the water and keep the area drained by means of a stormwater infiltrator. The developer further assured the board there would be no increase in runoff onto Pipeline Road from the proposed project. Zappi told the board the planned water runoff piping systems would feed into an existing drainage pipe on Pipeline Road.
The Inquirer tried multiple times to reach Zappi but did not succeed.
There are currently three drainage culverts and one 18-inch pipe on Pipeline Road, with the first culvert roughly 200 feet south of Midvale Court. The culverts and pipe have been there since at least the 1960s.
The 18-inch drainage pipe, which runs parallel to Pipeline Road, begins 60 feet north of Midvale Road and connects into two manholes. The capacity and the last time the pipe was cleaned is unknown, according to Carol Murray, a junior civil engineer for the town of Greenburgh. Murray said she would need to make a field inspection of the pipe in order to verify there are no issues with its condition.
The pipe currently leads into a 3-by-3-foot culvert that spills out into an open ditch along the Metro-North railroad tracks. Roughly 100 feet south of that drain is a 3-by-4-foot culvert, which serves a stream under Old Colony Road and Brook Lane East. Roughly 125 feet south of that drain is a 2-by-3-foot culvert, which lets out into the Bronx River and is designated as a collector of surface water, according to a Greenburgh map. The map, which outlines the culverts, was created in the early 1960s and was the earliest and most updated map that could be provided by the Department of Public Works.
The pipe services a stream, which begins north of Midvale Road and goes under Old Colony Road, according to the map.
Besides regular road maintenance and filling potholes, no other expansive roadwork had been done on Pipeline Road in recent years, according to Murray.
Originally, Zappico planned for each of the four homes on Old Colony Road to have a combined water runoff piping system, which would then feed into the 18-inch drainage pipe on Pipeline Road. They recommended the creation of a homeowners association to manage and maintain the system.
“That raises concerns for me too,” said Weissman about the possibility of a homeowners association. “If these homeowners are made to join their own little mini homeowners association and then take on the risk and responsibility of the flooding … on the Pipeline or any safety issues that we’re going to have … I just don’t know how that’s going to work.”
At the April 17 planning board meeting, Zappico said it would withdraw the proposal for a homeowners association and instead would outfit each of the lots with its own underground stormwater drainage system, which would be the individual homeowner’s responsibility to maintain.
Adding to residents’ concern about water runoff from Old Colony Road to Pipeline Road, Zappico’s plan called for the removal of 70 trees from the proposed site, including a 36-inch diameter maple, a 48-inch ash and three 36-inch oak trees. The developer does plan to replant the 70 trees and potentially more, but the growth time of those replanted trees is unclear.
“While the planning board will look at the ultimate stormwater management permit, if it were to be issued, it would be issued by the town engineer,” said Aaron Schmidt, the deputy commissioner of community development and conservation for the town. “The planning board at its meeting [April 17] took note that the site is relatively wooded now [and that] it wouldn’t be in the proposed condition and they wanted to make sure the applicant and the town engineer were coordinating on it further.”
In January 2018, Zappico submitted a wetland watercourse clearance form with a proposal to pipe the existing watercourse to eliminate the buffer area. The clearance form received an administrative denial from the Department of Community Development and Conservation, and now requires a permit approval from the planning board.
“It was also observed that the velocity of the water runoff has been sufficient to deposit debris and rock directly onto [Pipeline Road] at this proposed project,” wrote Walter Groden, Greenville fire commissioner, in a letter to Schmidt dated March 27. “We are hopeful the applicant’s design and the town will successfully address these reoccurring conditions along [Pipeline Road] in the area of this proposed project.”
Zappico designated the watercourse in their clearance form as an intermittent drainage ditch, which, according to Commissioner Groden, is incorrect.
“Prior land surveys of the area which have been seen indicate that this watercourse may be an element of an existing brook running east across Old Colony Road,” wrote Groden. “From this information we would think that further discussion may be warranted between the town and the applicant to confirm the root cause of the water runoff and icing conditions occurring on Pipeline Road.”
In two separate 1960s surveys of the land, one delineated the watercourse as a stream, the other a brook.
“For town-related purposes we call it a watercourse,” said Schmidt in reference to the drainage ditch. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a manmade created drainage ditch or a flowing brook, we treat it the same.”
Traffic has also been a major concern for residents, as Old Colony Road leads to Edgemont Junior/Senior High School and is commonly used by students and commuters going to and from Hartsdale train station.
“I know — because I’ve lived here for 30 years — that cars often speed coming northbound on Old Colony,” said Jim Blann who co-chairs a committee monitoring the development issues surrounding Old Colony Road. “I know it’s already a dangerous spot because I’ve almost gotten hit many times there in my car. … Building homes where cars would be backing out of their driveways into Old Colony is just going to create more risk.”
John Canning, an independent traffic consultant from Kimley Horn, presented a traffic study at the planning board meeting April 17.
“We looked at the sightlines, we drove over the crest and around the curve, we took speed measurements, we measured the sightlines with a rangefinder and with aerial photography and we determined … that all of the driveways will have adequate sightlines for the speed of the approaching vehicles, taking into consideration the grade,” Canning told the board.
The study found the maximum speed going downhill on Old Colony Road was 37 miles per hour. Further, 85 percent of the cars measured at that location were driving slower than that maximum. At the crest of the hill going northbound on Old Colony Road, just south of Midvale Road, cars were recorded traveling 33 miles per hour.
“I drove the road as well, and … I’m a little bit of an aggressive driver, I felt uncomfortable driving at 35 miles per hour,” said Canning at the meeting. “I feel confident that’s a good speed to be measuring it at.”
The report does not account for excess parking, pedestrian traffic and potential delivery drivers on the street.
Ross Vinograd, a resident co-chairing the committee with Blann, has performed his own analysis of the Kimley Horn traffic study, noting differences between Zappico’s proposed sightlines and grade and the new traffic study with Kimley Horn.
The Kimley Horn study did not rely on the existence of Zappico’s study, according to Canning.
Different solutions have been brought forth by residents, such as adding a stop sign at the corner of Midvale and Old Colony roads, or expanding Midvale Road to connect with Pipeline Road.
“You can just imagine what happens if two of those five houses are having holiday parties — where are they parking?” said Vinograd. “They’ll pile up Midvale, which is also a slippery hill … and then you’re going to have foot traffic going back and forth across the road.”
There is currently an asphalt strip sidewalk on Old Colony Road that ends near Midvale Road, forcing southbound residents to walk in the street.
Zappico does plan on expanding the sidewalk if the developer obtains approval from the planning board to build the proposed houses.
Zappico will meet with the Conservation Advisory Council on May 23, and a public hearing for the proposed project is scheduled for June 5.
“We want an independent engineering study to make sure the town is getting this right,” said Weissman. “The developer believes that [it’s] addressing the issue and that this is no longer an issue … If that’s the case then they shouldn’t be adverse to having an independent study done just to make sure we’re crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s.”