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Letter: Comment on the Draft Scope for Preparation of the Draft EIS/St. Paul’s School

(Editor’s Note: This letter was originally sent to Village Administrator Robert Schoelle, Jr. and is being printed here at the request of the executive committee of The Committee to Save St. Paul’s.)

According to the SEQRA regulations, as lead agency, the village board is required to specify “the extent and quality of information needed for the preparer” to adequately address each of the “impacts” to be covered in the Draft Environmental Impact Study. The Draft Scope presented to the community on May 7 is drawn with a broad stroke, and The Committee to Save St. Paul’s believes that the village board needs to strengthen the document in order to adequately protect the Garden City community and truly reflect the people’s wishes.

The scoping document is particularly weak in the section entitled, “Impact on Historic Resources.” The village board must clarify that the historic St. Paul’s Main Building is the only building of historic significance under discussion at the site. Ellis Hall, Cluett Hall and the gymnasium are not original commissions by Cornelia Stewart in memory of her husband, Alexander Turney Stewart, our village founder. In addition, this community must be told what considerations will be addressed by the DEIS preparer with regard to the St. Paul’s Main Building’s listing on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

It is equally imperative that this community is informed about the method the village board will use to select a “qualified” historic resource consultant. We expect our village board to hire an independent historic consultant with proven historic preservation and adaptive reuse background, who will clearly provide an objective analysis of the significance of the St. Paul’s Building. Interested members of the public must be allowed to comment on and critique the qualifications of any companies or individuals under consideration to serve as the consultant. We will not stand by if a consultant is hired who merely tells the board what it wants to hear.

The Committee to Save St. Paul’s respectfully requests that the village board remove the term “mothballing” under the section addressing “Reasonable Alternatives,” because this term holds a view that the building will be draped in a tarp and left indefinitely to become an eyesore in this community. Rather, we implore you to rephrase this “alternative” as “Stabilization of the historic St. Paul’s structure and preservation for a yet-to-be-determined future use.”

Additionally, under this section, The Committee to Save St. Paul’s believes that the village board should be aware that elements within the Garden City community are currently gathering new information, from historic and development standpoints. Therefore, the draft scope should include a procedure for obtaining new information, and the means by which local groups and individuals can forward information in progress to the consultant for study, review and reporting.

While little community involvement in the process has been sought over the past 15 years, we expect this board to include extensive public comment and input to ensure that the environmental decision-making process fully complies with SEQRA regulations. Indeed, the village board does not have a track record of transparency on the issue of St. Paul’s, and needs to communicate with the community in a clear and direct fashion. Garden City residents must be well informed this time around and given adequate and timely information on what is taking place.

Once again, we call on this board to fulfill its legal obligations and to give the consultant a clear pathway to prepare a DEIS that is worthy of this community’s consideration. St. Paul’s has been with us for 125 years. Many residents are not ready to reduce our historic treasure, St. Paul’s, to a cloud of dust and a heap of rubble.

Peter Negri, Ed Keating, Frank McDonough and Maureen Traxler

Members of the Executive Committee of The Committee to Save St. Paul’s