General Motors (GM) closed its riverfront plant in Sleepy Hollow in 1996 and the site stood idle until 2000 when it was dismantled. GM committed to cleaning up the contaminants left on the site– hazardous solvents such as methane gas, chromium and, lead and high levels of chromium, trichloroethylene, polycyclic hydrocarbons and methane. The contamination derives, not just from GM’s manufacturing of cars since 1915, but also from contaminated fill from other river sites that was used to create the GM site by the filling in of a bay. Under the current proposal, over 2,000 Sleepy Hollow residents would live on this site.
In 2002, GM, in conjunction with the New Jersey developer Roseland, proposed a tremendous mixed commercial/residential redevelopment called Lighthouse Landing for GM’s 95-acre riverfront site. The initial proposal for the site included a total of 1,562 residential units in rental apartment buildings, condominiums and townhouse units; 50,200 square feet of office space; a 147-room inn; 180,000 square feet of retail space; 4107 parking spaces, many of them covered below the surface of the streetscape; some open space; and a new train station. GM and Roseland agreed to remediate the contaminated site for the purpose of accommodating the development for restricted residential and restricted commercial use.
Riverkeeper has been involved with plans for the GM site since GM dismantled its plant, and believes that a portion of this site – much of which consists of land-filled River – should be dedicated to meaningful habitat restoration. The Sleepy Hollow GM site is a prime candidate for Hudson habitat restoration because it is the largest redevelopment on the estuary north of New York City, and because approximately two-thirds of the site was formerly part of the Hudson estuary. Under the historic Public Trust Doctrine, lands formerly underwater are mandated to be used to benefit the public. After GM purchased the property, the Pocantico River was filled in and rerouted so that GM could expand its facility. GM and Roseland planned to build upon the part of the Pocantico River that was formerly underwater. Riverkeeper supports the appropriate redevelopment of waterfront land, provided that the historical flow of the Pocantico River is restored in keeping with the public trust.
In 1997, New York State approved Sleepy Hollow’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), a locally prepared, land and water use plan for a community’s natural, public, working, or developed waterfront. It also provides the organizational structure, local laws, projects, and on-going partnerships that implement the LWRP plan.
On December 13, 2007, Roseland pulled out of its deal with GM, claiming that the terms imposed by the village during the final stage of the environmental review process had diminished the project to a point where it had become economically unviable for Roseland.
In anticipation of GM’s contracting with a new developer, the Village Planning Board made recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Trustees, urging them to address the issues of the Pocantico River, of transportation, of shade trees and landscape, of the possible effects of gentrification and re-development pressures on the inner Village area adjacent to the GM site, of the completion of the remediation of contaminants and of how Sleepy Hollow’s land use system will address the effects of climate change.
Riverkeeper supports the planning board’s recommendations to the Village and Mayor, stressing the importance of the removal and treatment of contaminated sediments from the Hudson River adjacent to the GM site, as mandated by the DEC under the IRM.
In the end, Roseland had agreed to include more water-related amenities, but many of those uses will require extensive remediation of the contaminated sediments that remain in the Hudson River adjacent to the site. Riverkeeper is attempting to ensure that the next developer cannot claim that water-related uses are not feasible because of that contamination. The removal and treatment of the contamination by General Motors is essential because inclusion of the promised water-related uses is not just a commitment, but a requirement of the law.