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Vista Fire District Number 1 v. Town of Lewisboro Lead Agency Dispute

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

PROJECT: Proposed Additions and Alterations to the Vista Firehouse, Hamlet of Vista, Town of Lewisboro, Westchester County

DISPUTING AGENCIES: Board of Fire Commissioners of the Vista Fire District Number 1 and the Town of Lewisboro Planning Board

This decision to designate the Board of Fire Commissioners of Vista Fire District Number 1 (Fire District) as lead agency for the conduct of the environmental review of the proposed additions and alterations to the Vista Firehouse under the New York (NY) State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) is made pursuant to Article 8 of the New York State (NYS) Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) and Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York (6 NYCRR), Part 617. This decision is based on my finding that the Fire District has the broadest authority over the proposed action and thus is best suited to lead the environmental review.

The proposed action is a set of additions and alterations to the Vista Firehouse and grounds. The project is located east of NYS Route 123 in the hamlet of Vista, Town of Lewisboro, Westchester County. This proposal by the Fire District to expand and upgrade the existing firehouse within the limits of the Fire District's current property lines includes:

  • adding one fire vehicle bay and raising door height on three of the five existing bays;
  • adding a second story to the entire structure;
  • adding an enclosed entrance/stairwell/elevator cluster on the opposite end of the building from the new bay;
  • adding approximately 20 public parking spaces, separate from existing fire personnel parking;
  • making additional entrance, parking and internal modifications to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
  • replacing outdated diesel, heating oil and gas storage facilities;
  • adding storm and floor drain treatment and discharge systems; and
  • regrading and landscaping the site, including planting an offset double row of trees as a buffer on the firehouse's north side, retaining several mature trees between the firehouse and the wetland, and maintaining a minimum of 10 feet of unmowed natural buffer along a wetland adjoining much of the east side of the property.

In order for the project to be undertaken as proposed, the following agencies were identified as having jurisdiction to make discretionary decisions or approvals affecting one or more components of the overall plan:

  • the Fire District is the project sponsor, and will be responsible for project design and funding as well as general oversight of all contractors for the project;
  • the Town of Lewisboro Planning Board (Town Planning) is responsible for site plan development approval and wetland and watercourse activity permits for the Town of Lewisboro;
  • the NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for highway access ("curb cut") permits and traffic regulation on NYS Route 123, which adjoins the firehouse property on the west and provides all vehicle access for the site;
  • the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 3 office (DEC- 3) has wetlands and stormwater permitting authority;
  • the Westchester County Department of Health (County Health) must review and approve water supply and on-site septic system plans;
  • the Westchester County Planning Board (County Planning) has a general land-use and design review; and
  • the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CT-DEP) and the First Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, Connecticut (Norwalk) have oversight authority of the Norwalk public drinking water supply.

CT-DEP and Norwalk are not involved agencies under SEQR because they are not NY state or local agencies. The involved agencies which have expressed a desire to act as lead agency for the environmental review of the Vista firehouse additions and alterations are the Fire District and Town Planning. County Planning acceded to the Fire District acting as lead agency in its response to the Fire District's initial coordination letter. No other involved or interested agencies responded to or commented on the original coordination letter, the contesting agencies' filings, or the letter sent by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (department) staff requesting additional information regarding this dispute.

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

  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.

In this case, there is no real distinction between the disputing agencies as to the first criterion, as both agencies are local entities and all of the impacts identified in both of their filings are primarily of local significance. These potential impacts include alterations of existing land surface and drainage features; changes in visual character of the site; and modifications to traffic flows.

Accordingly, I move to consider the second criterion, breadth of authority, and on this point I can make distinctions between the disputing agencies. The Fire District, as sponsor, designer, construction overseer and the agency principally funding the proposed action, possesses through that design and financing control a substantial ability to add, modify or even eliminate project elements. This becomes especially important if design changes would be needed to avoid or minimize project impacts. As sponsor, the Fire District has the greatest ability to modify plans to avoid or reduce impacts.

By contrast, Town Planning's responsibilities under site plan review and wetlands permits would only apply to modifications to buildings and other exterior site work. Neither would reach to interior rehabilitation, a significant part of the proposed action as a whole. Furthermore, the plans already incorporate substantial drainage and wetlands protection and enhancement, including stormwater management provisions for the new construction and parking area plus floor drain treatment for the existing as well as new equipment bays.

The third criterion relates to the capacity of an agency to provide for a thorough environmental assessment. The Fire District is already represented by design/engineering and legal consultants with experience in environmental evaluations. Town Planning has members with experience reviewing development proposals and has access to professional environmental consultants, as well. Thus, both agencies have demonstrated the necessary capacity, and there is no clear distinction between them based on this criterion.

For the foregoing reasons and based on the facts presented, I conclude that the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Vista Fire District Number 1 should be lead agency for the conduct of the environmental review of the proposed Vista firehouse additions and alterations due to its possessing the broadest governmental powers to design and implement mitigation for any potential impacts.

This decision in no way limits the jurisdiction or responsibilities of the other involved and interested agencies. I encourage the Fire District to seek and use the specific expertise of Town Planning as well as the other involved and interested agencies in evaluating potential impacts and developing viable alternatives to mitigate or avoid any unacceptable impacts.

Denise M. Sheehan, Acting Commissioner
Dated: June 9, 2005
Albany, New York

Disputing Agencies:

  • Board of Fire Commissioners of Vista Fire District Number 1
    Town of Lewisboro Planning Board; attn: Jacqueline Dzaluk, Chair
    Kornfield, Rew, Newman & Simeone (for Fire District); attn: Frank Simeone, Esq.
    Keane & Beane, P.C. (for Planning Board); attn: Lawrence Praga, Esq.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • Marc Moran, Regional Director, DEC Region 3
    Margaret Duke, Regional Permit Administrator, Region 3
    Michael Naughton, Esq., Legal Affairs, Albany
    Betty Ann Hughes, Environmental Permits, Albany

Additional Copies - Involved/ Interested Agencies:

  • Town of Lewisboro Town Board
    Westchester County Department of Health
    Westchester County Planning Board
    NYS Department of Transportation, Region 8
    Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; attn: Robert Hust, Supv. Environmental Analyst
    First Taxing District of Norwalk, Connecticut; attn: Franco Chieffalo, Gen. Supv.
    The Helmes Group (for Fire District); attn: Peter J. Helmes, AIA

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