SELKIRK — An “Old Bethlehem” family was left disappointed once it learned the town wouldn’t grant them a waiver to the moratorium that prevents them from moving forward with a proposed housing development.
In February, the planning board voted unanimously against recommending a waiver for Michaels Group Homes’ 87-lot Kimmey Pointe subdivision off Selkirk’s Elm Avenue. The 57-acre development has been in the town’s pipeline since 2017. Any prospect of the project breaking ground this year was thwarted last December when the town passed a 12-month moratorium on accepting large-scale development proposals.
Michaels Group Homes is no stranger to town. The development firm is responsible for several of the residential developments that have come to fruition over the past several decades. Its portfolio of work includes Colonial Acres, Chadwick Square, Brookhill, Walden Fields, Newell Place and Bender Farms.
Carol Northrup and her brother had divided her family’s farmland, with 57 acres set for the Kimmey Pointe subdivision, and another seven acres she would retain to preserve the farm’s history. In addition to her family approaching its 100-year anniversary on the land, the homestead has a Dutch barn she said dates back as far as the late 1700s.
Attorney Andy Brick, representing Michaels, argued that it was “unfair” to include the proposal within the restraints of the moratorium because the developers were in the midst of two surveys that the town had requested. One survey was to report the effects of water running off of town-owned land. A second survey was a study to assess traffic use for a connector road the town required of the applicant. Both surveys, Brick said, served the town and not the applicant’s benefit.
“Both of those studies delayed the project’s ability to get a negative declaration,” he said, “and therefore [to be] on the other side of the application of the moratorium.”
The planning board voted twice on Michaels’ waiver request, the last of which was in March. In neither case did the board feel there was any “unnecessary hardship” for it to grant a waiver and allow developers to proceed through the process. It did, however, suggest that the developer proceed with attempting a four-home development — not restricted by the present moratorium.
Michaels showed the planning board that there would be no return of investment, itemizing the cost and expected return on each of the four homes. The group also added the cost of the connector road. Robert Leslie, the town director of economic development and planning, stated the connector road was beyond scope of determining hardship.
The town board voted 4-0 against granting the waiver to the developer. Town Board Member Jim Foster recused himself from the vote, announcing he was friends with the landowner.
Upon hearing arguments from both the attorney and the developer, Luke Michaels, board members expressed more concern over setting a precedent by overstepping the planning board’s decision.
Town Board Member Maureen Cunningham said she has listened to several groups seeking an appeal to the moratorium.
“We made the local law,” she said. “It hurts to hear this. It’s painful, but we made that local law and I feel we have to live with it.”
Northrup said she was “very disappointed” with the town, arguing that the proposed plan was already in line to similar developments neighboring her land. She called their decision to delay and deny her ability to move on “cruel.”
“I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s fair, at all,” she said, adding that she is suffering a hardship by not being able to work on her homestead or collect the retirement money from the pending sale of the 57-acre lot. “As [the homestead] deteriorates, are you going to help me get that up to par?
“No. You won’t.”