“The only way Legoland could proceed is through a zoning change. And what we’re asking for is when they come and ask for that zone change, it be by four to five votes, not three to five.”
Attorney Michael Sussman
BY ERIKA NORTON
GOSHEN — A newly formed grassroots group wants the town of Goshen to lead the environmental review on the proposed Legoland theme park.
Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley also wants a supermajority vote from the town board when its decides whether to change zoning to accommodate the project.
“The only way Legoland could proceed is through a zoning change," said attorney Michael Sussman said at a Concerned Citizens meeting held Aug. 24 in his Goshen office. "And what we’re asking for is when they come and ask for that zone change, by giving them these petitions, it be by four to five votes, not three to five.”
Sussman, who has been hired by the group, said the petitions have been delivered to town officials.
Sussman said state law demands that a town board subject itself to a supermajority vote for zoning changes or comprehensive plan changes if 20 percent of the adjoining property owners ask for such a vote. The petition had 37 signatures, he said, and there are approximately 50 to 51 adjoining properties within 100 feet of the site.
Sussman also took issue with the state-required environmental quality review, which he said must done by the town board, not the planning board.
In a statement, Dominic Cordisco, an attorney for Merlin Entertainments, said the town of Goshen Planning Board serves as lead agency for the environmental impact review and will ensure that all aspects of the project, including construction and operation, are evaluated. But the town board retains its authority over the proposed zone change, Cordisco said.
“There has been no delegation of the town board’s authority,” Cordisco said. “To suggest that the town board engage in a separate SEQRA (New York State Environmental Quality Review Act) review to evaluate only the zone change — without evaluating the site specifics of Legoland New York — is contrary to the language and intent of SEQRA.”
The group also objects to the 30-year tax break requested by Merlin, in which the company would make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) during that time.
The 'too generous' tax break
Other concerns included the 30-year PILOT agreement that Merlin Entertainments requested. Brad Barnhorst, the president of Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley, said the numbers from Merlin’s 2015 annual report show that the profit from Legoland New York ticket sales would cover the proposed annual $1.3 million host fee in 5.39 days, or less than a week.
Last week, New York State Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, called the tax breaks “far too generous.”
Group members Jessica Gocke and Melanie Turner both said the proposed advantages will not outweigh the negative changes Leogland will bring to residents' quality of life. Gocke called the proposed benefits “propaganda in it’s truest form.”
Cordisco and Sussman denied the idea, advanced by Orange County Steve Neuhaus, that high-density housing will take over the site if Legoland doesn't build there.
"We know in this county that is a euphemism, and we know why it's being spread," Sussman said. "And it’s offensive. The county executive should know better and should be taking the lead in telling people the truth in the county, and he’s not doing that. It's a shameful application of responsibility, and it's a terrible way to make an argument."
Sussman compared the Legoland project to other past controversies in the county, and is prepared to go to court.
“This organization is going to fight just like we did at Valley View, just like we did with the government center, to ensure that the laws of this state a preserved and protected, not trammeled and ignored by powerful interests," Sussman said.