Neighbors of Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center are suing the Town of New Castle to stop Sunshine from expanding.The heart of the issue, 21 residents said in a petition filed in Westchester Supreme Court, is an aquifer that supplies drinking water to Sunshine and to their houses.
The town has allowed Sunshine’s owners “to bulldoze their way through the environmental and zoning permitting process,” the complaint stated, “to expand their facility from 18,916 square feet to 143,889 square feet and from 54 patient beds to 122.”
Sunshine’s attorney, Mark P. Weingarten, called the complaint “the height of hypocrisy.”
He said it was just the latest in a series of lawsuits, and this time the neighbors are challenging the zoning board over actions it took to alleviate concerns raised by one of their own.
“This is absolute proof that the people involved are doing nothing more than attempting to make Sunshine spend inordinate amounts of money until it will somehow – which will never happen – abandon its project,” Weingarten said. “It’s shameful.”
Sunshine Home treats children with complex medical conditions and who require post-acute care and rehabilitation. It occupies a heavily wooded, 33-acre site that includes steep slopes and wetlands.
The lawsuit named Spring Valley Road LLC and MSAF Group LLC as the owners and also names the Zoning Board of Appeals, Environmental Review Board and building inspector Steven Davis as defendants.
The neighbors claimed that Sunshine has been allowed to deepen a well and remove hundreds of trees as if the work has nothing to do with the expansion of the main facility. Breaking projects into smaller segments to downplay the overall environmental impact, the petition stated, is not allowed under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Neighbors also alleged that the town is running afoul of its own revised Wetlands Law of 1990, Steep Slope Preservation Law of 1992 and Tree Preservation Law of 1992.
Sunshine gets drinking water from three wells that draw from the same aquifer that supplies the wells for nearby houses. The wells have detectable levels of radium, a toxic substance, and one well has levels that exceed state and federal safety limits. Sunshine has blended the water from the wells to dilute the radium contamination.
Sunshine reported to the Westchester County Health Department in 2015 that it was looking for more water to support the proposed facility expansion, the complaint said, but the town treats the water issue as unrelated to the expansion.
Last year, Sunshine deepened one of the wells and in doing so, the complaint stated, demolished a well house, dug up steep slopes and removed trees. The impact of the work had not been reviewed by the zoning or planning boards, the neighbors alleged, and Sunshine neither notified the town nor got permits.
“Sunshine’s illegal activities,” the complaint stated, “have resulted in zero consequences, zero enforcement and zero penalties.”
The neighbors claimed that when they tried to voice concerns at public hearings, the zoning board did not allow them to comment on issues such as radium contamination and environmental impacts.
Weingarten said Sunshine got all of the permits required for steep slope work, wetlands, stormwater pollution prevention and tree removals.
The neighbors had raised water issues in previous lawsuits and lost, he said, and water is just one of 50 issues they raised.
Their actual issue, according to Weingarten: “They don’t want the home enlarged.”
The neighbors include Anne Atwater; Charlie and Zoe Bennett; Violet Benny; Charles Brieant III; Beryl, Janet, Howard and Micki Buchanan; Helder and Maria Cordeiro; David and Liz Jacobs; Cynthia and Jeffrey Manocherian; Mary and Lesley San Marco; Katie Wasserman and Oren Neiman; and Laura and David Whitlinger.
The neighbors have asked the court to annul Sunshine’s amended special permit and a tree removal permit, require an environmental impact statement and stop Sunshine from expanding the facility.
Weingarten said the owners are working on getting building permits.
“They’re moving full-speed ahead,” he said, and the opponents “are getting desperate to stop us.”