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Dutchess County Community College and the Town of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner's Determination of Lead Agency Under Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law

PROJECT: Proposed Dutchess County Community College On-Campus Student Dormitory

DISPUTING AGENCIES: Dutchess County Community College and the Town of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County

I have been asked to designate a lead agency to conduct the environmental review of the proposed student dormitory project to be located on the Dutchess County Community College campus, Town of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act [SEQR; Article 8 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law (ECL); see also, Part 617 of Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York (6 NYCRR Part 617)]. This designation of Dutchess County Community College (College) as Lead Agency is based on my finding that the College has the greatest control over all aspects of design, construction and operation of the proposed project.

ACTION AND SITE

The proposed action is construction of a student dormitory on the College campus, within the boundaries of the Town of Poughkeepsie (Town). The proposal includes construction of a new 465-bed student housing building with associated courtyard, at a location on the campus that is presently occupied by the College's soccer field. That existing soccer field will be relocated to a vacant 24.36 acre parcel, also on campus lands managed and controlled by the College, and will include a new parking lot for 40 vehicles.

REGULATORY SETTING

The role of lead agency may be assumed only by an involved agency with authority to make discretionary decisions on one or more components of the overall plan. Solely for the purpose of resolving this lead agency dispute pursuant to the criteria in 6 NYCRR Part 617.6, I accept the positions of the College and Town regarding their respective jurisdictions over the dormitory project.

The following agencies have been identified as having, or have asserted, one or more discretionary decisions which could affect one or more components of the proposed action:

  • the College is the project sponsor who is, or will be, responsible for site selection, project design, and funding, as well as general oversight of all construction activities;
  • the Town has asserted that the town planning board (Planning Board) has potential jurisdictions over the proposed project, including site plan and subdivision review;
  • the Town further asserts that the town zoning board of appeals (ZBA) has jurisdiction, which is not specified further in the Town's dispute papers;
  • the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation would be responsible for review and approval of Stormwater Management Plans prepared for the project; and
  • the Town of Poughkeepsie Highway Department would have permit approval for any site access work.

DISCUSSION

The disputing agencies are the College and the Planning Board. No other involved agencies have sought lead agency status or commented on the request for lead agency designation. The College originally coordinated to establish lead agency for review of the dormitory proposal by letters to potentially involved and interested agencies on September 25, 2008, concerning a proposal for an off-campus dormitory, and advised all that the College was proceeding to act as lead agency. The Town Board of the Town of Poughkeepsie and the Planning Board of the Town of Poughkeepsie objected by letters dated October 3, 2008 and October 7, 2008, respectively. The College filed a request for lead agency designation shortly thereafter, but later withdrew that request for designation of a lead agency and indicated that it was preparing to modify its proposed project. The College circulated a revised project proposal in March of 2009, again indicating that it intended to proceed as lead agency, and the Town again objected. That revised proposal is the basis for the request for lead agency designation now being considered.

Under the current proposal, the College would construct a new 485-bed dormitory on College land presently occupied by a soccer field; the soccer field would be relocated onto additional College-controlled land that is located further north on the campus. A new pervious parking lot would be constructed near the relocated soccer field, also on College lands. Based on the Town's objections that were raised during the lead agency coordination process for the on-campus project, the College initiated this current dispute by letter dated May 28, 2009; the Town responded by letter dated June 29, 2009; and the College provided requested additional information by letter dated June 30, 2009. Letters regarding both the lead agency dispute and the project in general were also received from State and County legislators and local residents.

In resolving a lead agency dispute, I am guided by the three criteria listed in order of importance in 6 NYCRR §617.6(b)(5)(v), as follows:

  1. whether the anticipated impacts of the action being considered are primarily of statewide, regional or local significance (i.e., if such impacts are of primarily local significance, all other considerations being equal, the local agency involved will be lead agency);
  2. which agency has the broadest governmental powers for investigation of the impacts of the proposed action; and
  3. which agency has the greatest capability for providing the most thorough environmental assessment of the proposed action.

A. First Criterion

In considering the first criterion, I must look at the range of anticipated impacts and determine whether they are primarily of statewide, regional or local significance. The Town described potential impacts relating to traffic, sewage disposal, water supply, vegetation removal, demands on emergency services, and visual impacts. The Town defined these as locally significant impacts because the College campus is entirely situated within the Town boundaries, and so the proposed project may have significant potential impacts on the area immediately surrounding the proposed project site, which specifically includes residential areas that could be adversely affected by additional traffic from residents of the dormitory. Although the College identifies itself as a regional institution, it is by charter and location a Dutchess County entity, and further, it provides no evidence to identify potential impacts which are anything but local. There is, thus, no real distinction between the disputing agencies as to the first criterion, as both agencies are essentially local entities, and likely impacts of the proposed project are primarily local. Accordingly, I cannot reach a determination based on the first criterion.

B. Second Criterion

In analyzing the second criterion, I must determine which agency has the broadest governmental power to avoid or reduce impacts. Along these lines, the Town has identified several potential impacts which it believes requires further investigation, and identified its planning board jurisdiction as including site plan and subdivision control, which together would give the Town a great deal of authority to reduce or minimize environmental impacts. See Town Law §§ 274-a and 277. The Town's papers also indicated that the ZBA may have jurisdiction, but failed to specify the nature of that jurisdiction.

On the other hand, the College, as campus property manager as well as sponsor, designer, and the agency principally responsible for construction oversight and funding of the proposed action, has the ability to change, add, and even eliminate any project elements to avoid or reduce impacts through its control of location, design and finance. The College is thus in a stronger position to avoid or minimize identified impacts because the College has direct authority over all aspects of design, construction and operation of the facility. Consequently, consideration of the second criterion leads me to the conclusion that the College has the broadest authority to implement the environmental review of this project. The second criterion, breadth of authority, thus favors the College.

C. Third Criterion

In considering the third criterion, which agency has the greatest capability for providing the most thorough environmental assessment of the proposed project, both disputing agencies appear to have the capacity to conduct an adequate and comprehensive environmental review of the entire project, either using their own professional staff or with outside assistance. The Town asserts that the Planning Board has many years of experience reviewing building projects, including similar large scale, institutional projects, whereas the College has already engaged professional engineering and planning consultants with extensive expertise in environmental review. Both agencies either have in-house staff or could arrange for consultant services to assist in conducting an environmental review of this proposed development. Thus, I find that both agencies possess, or could obtain through consultants, the expertise to conduct a thorough environmental review, and my determination is not changed based on the third criterion.

FINDING

Given the broad authority of a project sponsor to avoid or mitigate impacts through its siting, design and operational decisions, I conclude that the College should be lead agency for the SEQR review of the proposed College housing project. The decision that the College shall serve as lead agency for the SEQR review of this project in no way limits the responsibilities of other involved agencies, so the College must still seek and obtain any necessary approvals and permits from other agencies or authorities with actual jurisdiction over any aspect of the proposed project. I encourage the Town and other involved or interested agencies and residents to continue to articulate all of their environmental concerns to ensure that the College addresses them when it conducts the environmental review of the proposed action. I also encourage the College, as the lead agency, to fully investigate the potential impacts that have been identified during this lead agency decision dispute, or that may be identified during the course of the environmental review.


Dated: 8/4/2009

/ s /

Alexander B. Grannis, Commissioner
Albany, New York

Distribution:

Dutchess County Community College, by Daniel Spitzer, Esq., Hodgson Russ, LLP
Patricia Myers, Supervisor, Town of Poughkeepsie
David D. Hagstrom, Esq., for Town of Poughkeepsie Planning Board
John T. Weisman, Chair, Town of Poughkeepsie Planning Board
Marc Pfeifer, Highway Department, Town of Poughkeepsie
W. Stephen Capowski, Dutchess County Department of Health
Roger Akeley, Dutchess County Department of Planning
Tory G. Gallante, Chief, Fairview Fire District
Ruth L. Pierpont, NYS OPRHP
Richard Peters, Region 8, NYS DOT
US Army Corp of Engineers, NY District
James R. Doxsey, Dutchess County Legislature
Hon. Joel M. Miller, NYS Assembly
M. Virginia A. Buechele


E-copies to:

William Janeway, Regional Director, NYS DEC R.3
Margaret Duke, Regional Permit Administrator, NYS DEC R.3
John Parker, Esq., Regional Attorney, NYS DEC R.3
Lawrence H. Weintraub, NYS DEC Office of General Counsel
Betty Ann Hughes, NYS DEC Permits, Albany

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