State stops work on Glenmere mansion renovation - Call for further study on

| 29 Sep 2011 | 01:16

endangered frog habitat By Pamela Chergotis Chester — After giving its initial go-ahead, the state conservation department asked that work be stopped on the major renovation underway at the Glenmere mansion because of concern about the endangered northern cricket frog. In an April 14 letter,, Michael Merriman, deputy regional permit administrator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, wrote that the department “recently became aware of a more extensive winter range” for the frog that lives in the wetlands of Glenmere Lake. “The full extent of the winter hibernating range may be as much as 450 meters (1,450 feet) beyond the shore of the lake.” The letter said the department “understands” the renovation work will come “as close as 1,110 feet from the shore,” and asks for the cessation of “any construction, demolition ... until such time as the NCF [northern cricket frog] study is completed.” Central Valley attorney Stephen Reineke represents Peter Klein Realty LLC of New York City, the owner of the mansion and its 100-acre property. He said the problem is only that the state does not have all the information it needs. He is confident that supplemental information sent to the state will settle the matter in the project’s favor. Reineke said the renovation will in no way harm the frog’s habitat. In fact, he said, the habitat will improve it when the historic gardens are re-established. And except for one small outbuilding to be constructed far from the lake, the open space on the property — 92 acres — will remain that way, he said. Plans are to transform the 32-room Tuscan-style villa into a bed and breakfast, restaurant, and spa. The owner hopes to restore the property to its former glory, when the estate played host to the swells of the Gilded Age. Financier Robert Goelet IV built the mansion in 1991. Carrere & Hastings, architects of the New York Public Library and the Guggenheim Museum, did the work. But it is the lowly business of the mansion’s septic system that will ultimately decide whether the project goes forward. Joseph Mlcoch, the Town of Chester building inspector, said the town will not be able to give the owner the permits needed to go forward if the state decides the project’s septic field will encroach on the frog’s habitat. A discharge of 20,000 gallons per day is the trigger that gets the state involved, he said, and the town cannot issue permits for septic systems handling this volume if the state does not approve them. Mlcoch stressed that the town planning board did everything right in the process up to this point, granting conditional approval only after the state accepted the original environmental review. Ray Johanson, the town’s planning board chair, said the conservation department “did accept the original review with no problems and then got more academic information.” Reineke hinted at the intervention of a “third party.” Jay Westerveld, a naturalist and the Sugar Loaf historian, has regularly raised questions about how the project will affect the frog. Mlcoch said the matter is now between the state and the owner. Scott Bonacic, the town attorney, sent Reineke a letter on April 23 advising him of the state’s concerns, and that any work going forward would be at his client’s own risk. Westerveld said he has seen workers doing construction work at the site this week. He sent The Chronicle a photo he took of the original gate in the process of being demolished. Is this restoration? he asked in an e-mailed message. Mlcoch questioned the practicality of going forward with the project until there’s some assurance the septic system will be approved. “How will they be able to open a business like that without the proper permits?” he asked. He also asked how the conservation department can go forward with its own construction work on the Glenmere dam without also looking at frog habitat there.