Sunshine Children’s Home is a facility for children with the most serious, and often terminal, medical conditions. Their patients are literally the sickest of the sick. Sunshine Children’s Home is located on a 33-acre property in Ossining, on the west side of the Town of New Castle
Sunshine is trying to expand their facility to accommodate more children. Under our Town Code, Sunshine was required to seek an amendment to its existing special use permit and certain variances from our Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”). The ZBA unanimously approved their special permit and variances. Likewise, the Planning Board unanimously approved their environmental permits pertaining to wetlands, trees and steep slopes. Both the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board are independent, statutory boards under New York State law, and their decisions are not subject to review by the Town Board. With this project (and most others, for that matter), the Town Board does not have any approval authority over the application.
One issue that has generated some confusion and misinformation is why the Town explored entering into an arrangement with the Village of Ossining in 2015 to supply municipal water to Sunshine and approximately 14 nearby residents. Let me provide some facts:
In 2015, the Village of Ossining approached the Town about purchasing water from us because Ossining was rebuilding its water plant and needed a temporary supply. Our DPW Commissioner, Gerry Moerschell, proposed using this supply agreement as a way to also get Ossining to supply public water to residents living near the Sunshine property, as well as Sunshine itself, all of whom currently rely on wells. Sunshine would have paid for the infrastructure work needed to extend a water main that could have supplied the facility and nearby homes. Sunshine and those nearby residents would have the opportunity to connect to the Ossining water plant, so they would no longer need to rely upon well water.
At that time, the entire Town Board unanimously supported pursuing this idea, even though we recognized it would also benefit Sunshine. Our collective view, shared by Town professional staff as well, was that making public water available to residents who currently don’t have it is a good thing. That included Sunshine. We did not want to bypass a good opportunity because it might help Sunshine with its proposed expansion. Sunshine would still have to satisfy all relevant environmental and other requirements in order to move forward with its project.
So, we told Ossining that they could use our New Castle municipal water while they rebuilt their water plant, but we wanted Ossining to supply water to certain New Castle residents — Sunshine and as many nearby homes as possible. This area of Town is too far from our New Castle water plant to ever be connected otherwise – the distance makes it prohibitively expensive, according our DPW Commissioner.
The Millwood Fire Department also supported this proposal because it would allow for the installation of fire hydrants where currently none exist. Specifically, the Millwood Fire Department recommended “that an agreement with Ossining should be pursued for extending the water mains onto the property to provide fire hydrants at several locations”. Click fire truck to read letter.
Keep in mind, Sunshine is a chronic care facility for very sick children. They are on well water and have no fire hydrants. Nobody would seriously question that using municipal water — especially from New Castle, since we have GREAT water — is healthier and more reliable than well water. With fire hydrants, the public safety benefit is equally obvious. In fact, years ago, Sunshine had a fire and essentially had to watch the building burn to the ground because they couldn’t fight the fire (no people inside, of course).
Turns out, Ossining didn’t need our water – nor anyone else’s water for that matter – so it became a moot point. Ossining backed away from the proposal, and the opportunity to provide municipal water to this area of Town via the Ossining supply was lost.
Connecting a chronic care home for sick children to municipal water, and adding fire protection, would’ve been a very good thing. Plus, nearby residents would have benefitted. Unfortunately, there was a small group of neighbors who are so vehemently opposed to the Sunshine expansion that they didn’t want anything done that could help Sunshine with their expansion plans.
We caught a lot of flak for trying to do what we thought was in the public’s best interest. That’s ok, everyone is entitled to express their opinion. I do think it’s a little ironic to hear those same opponents of the Sunshine project argue that Sunshine’s well water is not safe, and that the proposed expansion could jeopardize the well water in that area.
I still think that we, as a Town Board, tried to do the right thing. In fact, if it turns out that one day Ossining needs our water, I would make the same proposal again.
That said, I do not claim to be aware of all the potential water issues and impacts arising from the Sunshine project. I do know that our ZBA held numerous public hearings on this matter, and reviewed this matter for almost two years. Our ZBA members are a smart, dedicated and hard-working group who always have the best interests of our residents at heart. I know that if there was evidence that the water supply of Sunshine Home and their neighbors could be compromised, our ZBA would take it very seriously.
I respect the process and the right of residents to express their opinions and challenge any board’s decision in court. We need to allow the courts to decide whether the ZBA got it right.