Blowback against the changing character of Woodstock tourism arose full-throated during the town planning board’s continuing public hearing for the new Woodstock Way lodging development on Thursday night, September 15. Neighbors of the proposed 24-bedroom motel, from Neher Street and Hillcrest Avenue in the village center, spoke about general support for the plans from the same people behind Shindig restaurant, but worries that it was all too much — especially a two story structure with deck that most speakers felt would overwhelm existing views, and peace and quiet.
A second planning board discussion of extensive renovation plans at the old Woodstock Lodge, near the Woodstock Elementary School, focused on ways to both replace and expand non-conforming structures that had been grandfathered to fit existing zoning laws already. Lawyers and planning consultants talked extensively about how far legal definitions could be pushed and pulled to accommodate a proposal that all in attendance seemed to agree was better than what had been at the site.
Planning board chair John LaValle opened the hearing on Woodstock Way, a proposal to replace five of six structures and add two new structures to what had been a collection of shacks and cottages by the Tannery Brook waterfall on Waterfall Way, behind the Center for Photography at Woodstock, by noting “most communication in support” of Tannery Brook Real Estate LLC’s plans, and one letter from neighbors “with questions and comments.” He then allowed those neighbors their time to comment.
Chris Wanker, who said he bought a second building next to his home at the upper end of Neher Street to preserve his peace and quiet, talked about how there had already been a “transient problem” on the street. He spoke about the area’s proliferation of short-term rentals, severe parking problems on weekends, and the two story structure called for in Woodstock Way’s plans and how it would block the view he’d bought his home for.
“This is Airbnb on steroids,” Wanker said. “It’s like having a nice little brownstone in Manhattan when a skyscraper moves in next door.”
Woodstock historian Richard Heppner, who said he was commenting as both a Neher Street resident and in his official capacity, talked about how Woodstock Way was abutting “one of the few neighborhoods left in this town.” He, too, addressed weekend traffic problems, exacerbated by those who see Neher Street as easy parking.
“I feel like we are a town in transition. There’s been an explosion,” said Terry Funk-Antman, another Neher Street resident. “We live in a tourist town but there has be a realistic dimension to all this happening in our backyards.”
Continuing comments addressed the two story structure, as well as the motel’s entrance and exit from and on to Hillcrest Avenue. Everyone wanted assurances that traffic would be routed only one direction on to Hillcrest, towards Tannery Brook Road.
“We don’t want to be fighting you,” Neher Street resident Kristen Eberhard, looking towards Ryan Giuliani, one of the four owners of Woodstock Way. “We’re excited about this project. The aesthetic is exciting. Our big concern is scale and scope. We are a neighborhood. We do care about Chris [Wanker].”
Eberhard added that while everyone was enjoying the accoutrements of the town’s transition to a different level of tourism, “It has to melt into the fabric of what is here.”
Cornelia Rosenblum, who serves on the town’s Commission for Civic Design — which recently gave a recommendation for the Woodstock Way project’s design — asked as a town resident why one of the “transient” rentals couldn’t be kept a long-term rental space. She also mentioned the viability of neighborhoods.
After public comment was completed, planning board consultant Matthew Rudikoff went over a memo he had sent the project’s developers, and attorney, that listed items that needed resolution or completion before the review process continued, or reached the permitting stage. Among them were concerns regarding the rebuilding of a retaining wall that kept much of the property from sliding into Tannery Brook creek, as well as the state of roadways within the property and how they might hold up during construction phases.
The board decided to continue the public hearing in the future, though not at it’s September 29 workshop. It will announce the date when it is scheduled.
New Lodge reality
A subsequent preliminary discussion of plans to revive the old Woodstock Lodge, which gained infamy two years ago in a Hotel Impossible episode entitled “Rotting Woodstock,” focused on how best the new-to-town-business developers — collectively named MHS Worldwide Holdings III, LLC, but made up of two lifelong friends Skurnick and Jack Waterman (the former with a longterm second home in Olive) and a former bartender/deejay at the old Lodge, Brian Parillo — should move their project forward.
After presentations on new parking, water and sewer systems and other property betterment ideas by architects Jess and Les Walker, and attorney Ron Pordy (who also represented the Woodstock Way project), Rudikoff asked what variances would be necessary to make the new Lodge a reality.
Pordy brought up an area in Woodstock’s zoning law that allows for expansion of existing structures by up to 25 percent, along with another clause allowing for replacement of failing structures that have been grandfathered into existence despite being nonconforming.
Rudikoff asked whether the use of the property was being changed through expansion — more people, more cars, more events. Others worried that they might be trying to squeeze too many variances on to an already tight zoning situation. Yet all seemed in agreement that what was being planned and presented by the Walkers — who are also designing new restaurant spaces at the old Joyous Lake on Mill Hill Road, the former Gypsy Wolf on Tinker Street, and a new Yum Yum in the back of the Bank of America structure at Bradley Meadows (where Woodstock Video once was) represented both a great improvement over what the Woodstock Lodge had become, as well as a strong answer to the community’s need for more tourist lodging.
“Most of the 25 percent expansion is used bringing buildings up to code,” said Les Walker, a veteran of the local design scene for decades. Pordy added that the sections of zoning code that allowed them to replace structures had a one year timeline in which to accomplish such changes.
Rudikoff noted that the big problem at hand would be “what standards to review the design by.”
“What we want to do is improve the property, improve the use of the property, and address some of the property’s historic issues,” answered Pordy.
Rudikoff answered that was all fine and good as long as what was proposed was legal.
“We’ll make sure it’s legal,” replied Pordy.
At meeting’s end, Rudikoff suggested to the planning board that they work with the town zoning board of appeals on the subsequent review package, and that the applicants get everyone a schedule of variances they would be needing to proceed.
Everyone agreed the situation was complicated.