Gardiner’s town hall was a packed house at last week’s planning board meeting, with hundreds of residents turning out for the first session of a public hearing on an application by Shaft Road, LLC to develop an 86-acre property owned by David Kiviat between Shaft Road and South Mountain Road into a ten-lot major subdivision. Other than the developers, the representatives of Philadelphia-based Posel Management Company and their attorney, not a single voice was raised in support of the project as it now stands. Many spoke out against it.
The parcel, situated in a Rural Agricultural (RA) zone, wraps around the town’s highway-garage property and is bisected by both the Delaware Aqueduct and a Central Hudson power line right-of-way. Most problematic, in the view of many meeting attendees, is the fact that the parcel also contains 35.89 acres of wetlands as designated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Although the wetlands do not appear on New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) maps from the 1970s, they meet the “acreage threshold” to be eligible for DEC wetland designation, according to planning board member Carol Richmond, and as such would require a 100-foot buffer zone.
One attendee, Sean Rutledge, identified himself as a former engineer. He displayed a poster of the site map submitted by the developer, marked up to indicate where the buffers would hypothetically lie. He contended that two of the homesites, a septic field and a driveway lie within the buffer zones, while other proposed constructions lie on “constrained lands,” as defined under Gardiner’s zoning code, such as on steep grades. “They have to redo everything. They obviously didn’t look at the Gardiner code,” Rutledge said.
“The 100-foot buffer will be the death knell of this project,” predicted Mountain Road resident Eli Kassirer.
Echoing comments submitted by Gardiner’s Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC), several public hearing attendees claimed that the conservation analysis submitted by Shaft Road, LLC was deficient. “The wetlands are the primary issue,” said attorney David Gordon. “There is absolutely zero discussion of the conservation value of this particular resource.”
He argued that according to the town code, conservation analyses of environmentally “sensitive areas” are required by the town code from professionals with experience in such matters – not just “the applicant’s surveyor or engineer” – if the area in question is larger than 30 acres. Not only was the applicant’s conservation analysis not in compliance with town law, in Gordon’s opinion, but it also failed to provide the “substantive information” that the planning board would need in order to complete the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of the site plan.
Several other attendees joined Gordon in urging the planning board to ask the DEC to do a new delineation of the wetlands on the property, providing more accurate parameters for the developers to redesign the subdivision.
This opinion was also expressed in a letter from Ulster County legislator Tracey Bartels read into the record by planning board member Raymond Sokolov. “DEC hasn’t found any fault with our delineation,” argued Shaft Road, LLC’s attorney, who contended that the state agency does not have jurisdiction over federal wetlands.
“We have a whole history of encroachment on wetlands. We have held fast to DEC regulations,” planning board vice-chair Paul Colucci admonished him, “I don’t think you have a whole lot of audience here ready to embrace this project.”
Another complaint from residents was the fact that the applicant had split up the conservation easement required to have the development classified as an open-space subdivision. “To create conservation easements where individual homeowners each have control defeats the purpose of having a conservation easement,” said Lisa Lindsley, one of the organizers of the group of citizens opposing the development.
Other residents cited similar concerns to those expressed in the ECC report regarding potential fragmentation of existing forest, wildlife habitat and wildlife connectivity, the sorts of negative impacts that a conservation easement is supposed to prevent. The applicant’s proposal to use driveways as perimeters for wetland buffers was rejected as singularly inappropriate, as they could impede migration of wetland wildlife such as salamanders. “Displaced and disrupted wildlife has no voice in this matter,” said Kassirer.
Several critics pointed out that the applicants had failed to designate what individual or agency would be responsible for monitoring the easements. “It can’t be monitored by the Open Space Commission,” planning board member Warren Wiegand noted, because “there is none right now. We need to find an alternative.” Splitting up the easements among many parcels would make monitoring an onerous task for a town employee such as the building inspector or code enforcement officer.
Marty Kiernan, the owner of neighboring Kiernan Farm, drew a warm round of applause when he urged the planning board to consider preserving the Kiviat property in perpetuity, as Gardiner did with his 140-acre spread in 2011 with help from the Open Space Institute. “You got together to preserve my farm for a reason,” Kiernan said. “I propose that we come together and buy the development rights …. Generations to come will look back on this township as an oasis.”
Town planner Jim Freiband noted that several components of the data necessary for the town to complete a (SEQR) were not yet in hand, including a stormwater assessment and full comments from the county planning board. The public hearing will be resumed at the planning board’s November meeting and possibly beyond, according to chairman Mike Boylan.