Letters to the editor

Response to Geraldine Baldwin’s Oct. 22 Letter to the Editor

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October 25, 2021

Oct. 24, 2021

To: Brianna Staudt – Editor Hudson Independent

From: The Bartolacci Family

Re: Response to Geraldine Baldwin’s Oct. 22, 2021, Letter to the Editor

In a recent letter published by The Hudson Independent, our neighbor, Geraldine Baldwin, purported to lay out the facts and circumstances surrounding our family’s almost nine-year ordeal to rebuild the retaining wall in our backyard. We welcome this opportunity to set the record straight so that your readership is properly informed with the facts.

For context, it is important to highlight that our neighbor has been staunchly opposed to our application since the outset and appears to believe that she should have more say in what happens on someone else’s property than the property owners or the duly appointed Village land use boards.

She likes to describe the act of restoring or rebuilding a retaining wall as “obliterating” a steep slope and alleges that this should not be allowed due to Tarrytown’s steep slopes law. As some of your readers may know, the Village of Tarrytown has laws designed to protect undeveloped land on steep slopes. In our case, the “steep slope” in question exists only because our 1950s-built railroad tie retaining wall rotted out and partially collapsed, leaving nothing to hold back a large portion of our backyard which had been filled in to create a large flat area behind our house. This is not the type of slope Tarrytown’s steep slopes law was designed to “protect.” Applying our neighbor’s logic, if any of the hundreds of retaining walls that exist in Tarrytown were to fail, homeowners would only be allowed to replace them to the height of the pile of rubble existing after the collapse. Recognizing the absurdity of her argument, the Tarrytown Planning Board has rightly granted us one steep slopes waiver for an older set of plans and we are hopeful we will soon receive another for those currently being reviewed.

Our neighbor further claims that our proposed wall “will set a dangerous precedent.” The current Planning Board chairman, Ron Tedesco, is on record as saying our application will not set a precedent because we are replacing an existing wall, not building a wall where none existed previously.

She has argued that the new wall would cause a danger to the downslope neighbors on Riverview Avenue. To the contrary, failure to grant a steep slopes waiver would preclude us from rebuilding our retaining wall, which would leave an even more dangerous condition for our family and adjoining neighbors on both Miller and Riverview. With unrestricted storm water runoff, the current slope will continue to erode and become more unstable. Tarrytown’s Village Attorney is on record stating “…it would completely defy logic to preclude putting a retaining wall in a steep slopes area where the function of the wall is to stabilize the slope.” Moreover, our proposed restoration was designed meticulously to the latest engineering standards and is undergoing vigorous review by the Village Engineer.

Our neighbor’s letter states “Bartolacci is endeavoring to extend the yard by adding about 15 extra feet.” This is simply not true as we are trying to restore our backyard to its original condition, as described in the record by multiple impartial and unbiased current and former neighbors who describe (through their own eyewitness accounts) that prior to the partial collapse of the existing retaining wall there was a large flat backyard of almost the exact dimensions we will have should our proposed retaining wall be built. The evidence we presented to both the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Planning Board was compelling and led to the members of those boards granting our variances and site plan approval on prior plans. Ms. Baldwin was given, and accepted, every opportunity to refute our testimony and evidence but failed to convince both the Planning Board and ZBA.

In regard to the multiple alleged procedural violations raised in her letter, none have any merit at all, and the Village land use boards have scrutinized every detail of our proposal for almost nine years now. It is difficult to understand how they would have continued to deliberate on our application with so many alleged blatant violations, which we believe highlights the speciousness of Ms. Baldwin’s claims. We have followed the direction of Tarrytown’s Planning Board, ZBA, and the Village Attorney on such matters.

Ms. Baldwin highlights petitions in opposition to our plans signed by several neighbors on Riverview Avenue which she has submitted to both the ZBA and Planning Board. She fails to mention that there are many neighbors over the years who have spoken in support of our application. Our neighbors directly to the north and south of us are currently negatively impacted by the dilapidated state of the existing retaining wall and understand the necessity of getting our plans approved for the benefit of all surrounding properties. Both of these neighbors have submitted letters stating they fully support our proposal.

In discussing the litigation surrounding our application, which has been a significant reason for the amount of time this has dragged on, the letter fails to mention one of two Article 78 lawsuits she has brought against us and the Village in her attempt to reverse the well-reasoned decisions by Tarrytown’s land use boards. This unmentioned Article 78 was dismissed in its entirety by the Supreme Court of Westchester County because the case had no merit. Ironically, Ms. Baldwin implies that we have wasted Village and Court resources, yet she inexplicably continues to pursue her current lawsuit for old plans that are obsolete and will never be built out.

We believe it is important for readers to review the resolution from the ZBA for the variance issued for our current plans. This resolution disproves many of the allegations made in our neighbor’s letter and was drafted after a thorough and deliberative process lasting several months, where the Board members were presented evidence from both sides and were able to ask probing questions to get to the truth. Their conclusions were as follows:

1. “There will be no undesirable change produced in the character of the neighborhood or detriment to nearby properties as a result of the variance requested.”

2. “The benefit sought cannot be achieved by some method feasible for the Applicant to pursue other than seeking an area variance…”

3. “The variance is not substantial…”

4. “The proposed variances will not have an adverse impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood.”

5. “The hardship is not self-created as the conditions of the site and the need for variances are the result of preexisting, nonconforming conditions on the site and the topography of the site.”

6. “This Board is granting the minimum variance necessary for the applicant to achieve his benefit in a manner that is not cost-prohibitive and at the same time preserve and protect the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety and welfare of the community…”

We appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight and provide the facts surrounding our arduous retaining wall approval process. It is certainly our hope that as a trustee, one of Peter’s accomplishments will be to ensure that nobody has to endure something like this nearly nine year ordeal ever again in Tarrytown. We are confident that if residents vote on the issues, ability, and qualifications his campaign will be successful.

Peter, Suzanne, Anna and Brendan Bartolacci

 

Editor’s Note: Read Geraldine’s Baldwin’s Oct. 22, 2021 Letter to the Editor

 

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