2012-02-15 / Front Page

Big House -- a Really Big House -- on Avery Road Draws Protests

Many neighbors at Planning Board object to proposed structure, a good part of which would be storage
It was standing room only during the peak hours of the Philipstown Planning Board meeting on Thursday evening at the VFW Hall in Cold Spring.  
The most prominent agenda item, regarding construction of a new building on Avery Road in Garrison, brought out a roomful of neighbors and community members, many of whom objected to the project. Despite the crowd the meeting remained for the most part civil.
Local surveyor Glennon Watson (of Badey & Watson) was “on stage” for much of the meeting, holding a lavaliere microphone as he walked the Philipstown planners through sketches, site plans, and color renderings of various projects, including the Avery Road plan.
As described in last week’s PCN&R [“Plan for Avery Road House Faces Fight,” February 16, 2012] neighbors of Nancy Olnick Spanu and Giorgio Spanu have rallied to oppose what they believe is a 16,000-square-foot storage facility to house the Spanus’ art collection—and not a housing-and-storage space, as the Spanus’ application (and Mr. Watson) described it—on their 47.869-acre property, which already contains a home and a farm. Watson as much as admitted that since the property is zoned residential, the building is going to be a residential facility—for the Spanus’ “staff or for their family and guests” as well as their significant art collection. The Spanus—Mr .Spanu is originally from Sardinia—have been described as the world’s most prominent collectors of Italian Murano glass.
The original application for this project dates to October 29 of 2011. There are no windows in the proposed facility and only two doorways at the basement level. The concrete and steel structure with a 15,901-foot “footprint” will also be 22 feet tall, sided with translucent gray vinyl panels. A double set of interior curtains with electronic controls would surround the entire building, Watson said—one set to mitigate sun glare during the day, and a second set of blackout curtains for nighttime use.
The Conservation Advisory Board has already approved a wetland permit for the project.
Planners asked some questions regarding exterior lighting, runoff, and proposed natural screening (using trees and other foliage), but while the board itself had no specific questions about the use of the building, the public certainly did. A parade of Avery neighbors took the microphone to question what they termed as a deceptive action on the Spanus’ part to disguise an art storage facility as a residence.
Neighbor Ken Hoff read from a 9-page letter he had submitted, referring to a recent reduction in the proposed square footage of the building as a “negotiating ploy” and noting that the entire project exposes “flaws in the zoning” because he and his neighbors had to come out to “protect ourselves” and to oppose “a structure that is grossly out of place.” He also referred to  “the selfish desires of individual property owners who have blatant disregard for their neighbors.”
Local architect Mark Kemeny urged the board to look not just at the square footage but the height of the building. “Realistically it’s the size of Foodtown,” he said, “and it’s a box.” Kemeny added that “the proposal is highly insensitive” with regard to water retention.
Ralph Arditi, also of Avery Road, spoke at length about his concerns and the need for the project to move slowly, which he said would not be a problem since “Nobody’s homeless here.”
Sam Braunstein of Avery Rd was very apologetic both to the audience and the Spanus in particular, but requested that the board not delay, “but reject the application.”
Neighbor John Benjamin, who first drew the neighborhood’ attention to the proposed project, noted that he has never received notices of site visits by the Planning Board. A brief, somewhat heated discussion ensued in which planners tried to explain to him that site visits are always advertised in the Legal Notices section of thePCN&R and that it is the responsibility of citizens to follow up on these types of notifications. Benjamin also noted that planner Dr. Mary Ellen Finger—whom he referred to as “Ms. Finger”—is the Spanus’ veterinarian, implying that a conflict of interest might exist. However former chair Ande Merante and interim chair Michael Leonard later confirmed that this is not the case since there is no direct material connection between a planningboard decision and veterinary services.
Neighbor Anthony diSarro noted that ‘Avery Road, if you’ve been there, is mostly a dirt road,” and wondered about the effect of 18-to-24 months of truck activity on the tranquility of the area. People in the area tend to keep their speed down on Avery Road, he said, but “my experience is contractors don’t do that.”
Robin Arditi said she looks at the Planning Board as “the safeguard to protect Garrison” and preserve the quality of life of its residents. She admitted to being “very very disturbed” by the description of the new building, which she described as “a warehouse…a translucent warehouse.” Noting incorrectly that the Spanus had 150 acres (they have 49-plus acres) she concluded, “Frankly I think this is a travesty.”
Nancy Olnick Spanu, who had sat quietly near the front with her husband during the entire meeting, then took the microphone to reassure the crowd that “we feel the same way as the rest of the neighbors.” She and her husband share their values, she said, and their vision of Avery Road. She concluded by saying that they would never do anything to disrupt that, at which point Ken Hoff, who was sitting near the microphone, quipped, “So you’re withdrawing your application?”
Neighbor Barbara DeSilva, who is already dealing with “disruption” of the property because of road work, said that “it’s a historic district and we have to protect our roads and the character of our land.”
Last to speak was Lithgow Osborne, who began by saying “I’m a little envious: I want a job at your place [so he could live in what was being described as ‘staff quarters.”] Adding that no floor plans had been made public, he added, “It clearly is not a residence…what is going on here? Sixteen thousand square feet? Its’ big!”
Chairman Leonard noted that it was almost 9 o’clock and there was a full agenda, so the balance of the discussion was left for next month’s meeting.



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