An attorney representing a group opposed to the construction of a Legoland theme park in New York has taken legal action, alleging that the process and an Orange County community are being hijacked. He also wants the court to halt a public hearing set for Thursday.
Goshen-based attorney Michael Sussman represents Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley and a number of Goshen residents. He says the legal action is four-pronged.
“One, we want the court to declare that the town must do a generic environmental impact statement before it proceeds to pass major changes to local laws in the comprehensive plan,” Sussman says. “Two, we want the town planning board to be superseded by the DEC as lead agency on the basis of what we believe is clear evidence that that body is biased, predisposed in favor of the project. If that doesn’t happen, we still want the court to intervene and say that that document is incomplete, represents illegal segmentation and that, in fact, scheduling public hearing is premature.”
He refers to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Plus, says Sussman:
“We want the court to allow a more expansive process by which this community can consider and give its comments through our planner, residents of the community about this particular project,” says Sussman. “We don’t think this project should be rushed through. We don’t think that people’s views should be disregarded. We don’t think our planners, our other experts’ views should be disregarded and given three minutes to speak.”
A December 15 public hearing is to consider amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the proposed site plan, subdivision and special permit application, clearing and grading permit, the sale of town parcels to Merlin Entertainments and two local laws that would make Legoland in Goshen possible. One is a proposed law amending the zoning code to create a commercial recreation overlay zoning district to allow a commercial recreation facility. The second is a proposed law to amend the comprehensive plan to allow for commercial/tourism recreation uses in certain areas.
Dominic Cordisco is counsel for Merlin Entertainments. In a statement, he says, “While we respect everyone’s rights, some who disagree with our proposal seek to delay the project and deprive all members of the public from expressing their opinion. They have done this by resorting to the courts, solely in an attempt to stop the hearing and the Town’s ongoing review. Their claims are contrary to well established law and procedure, as courts defer to local agencies in the processing of applications when all legal requirements have been met – as they have been met here by the Town of Goshen. Merlin Entertainments believes in the full merit of Legoland New York and looks forward to hearing all public comment on our proposal.”
Sussman contends that at issue is not the substance of the Legoland proposal, but the process. Stephen Gross is a principal with Hudson Highlands Environmental Consulting and consultant for Concerns Citizens for the Hudson Valley. He contends the draft environmental impact statement is lacking.
“It’s missing major components. The two most glaring of those are, number one, that the town is looking to rezone 522 acres of land to allow amusement park use,” Gross says. “And this proposal that’s before them is only addressing, at most, 153 acres, leaving the bulk of the property unstudied.”
He says the second issue concerns water, highlighted by this year’s drought.
“There’s nothing in the EIS, there’s nothing in any documents, because we’ve gone through the Village of Goshen’s documents as well, there’s nothing to indicate whether or not they do have sufficient water not only to supply Legoland but also to supply the future needs of the Village of Goshen itself,” says Gross. “So these are the glaring omissions among many, there are many other omissions, but these are the most glaring, and the Town of Goshen needs to be critically concerned about these issues before they move forward too quickly.”
The town supervisor did not respond to a request for comment. Merlin Entertainments is set to invest some half-a-billion dollars over five years into the development of Legoland New York on about 140 acres of a 523-acre site consisting of 15 parcels. Plans call for a theme park with rides and attractions, an aquarium, theaters, restaurants, and a 250- room hotel. Those unable to attend Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. public hearing may submit written comments for at least 10 days following the hearing. Sussman says a court date on the matter has been scheduled for the morning of December 14.
Meanwhile, Merlin Entertainments received a $3 million regional economic development grant for Legoland New York, as announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo last week.