Compatible uses? Cucina lawsuit alleges planning board errors

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Bad process alleged on the part of Woodstock’s land use planners and a wish for a level playing field for the town’s planning decisions led contiguous neighbor Nancy Schauffler to file her Article 78 lawsuit against the planning board and the owners of property on which Cucina restaurant sits.

The lawsuit seeks reversal of the planning board’s September 20 resolution that overturned a Zoning Board of Appeals decision and decided Cucina, the restaurant located in the Gateway District where routes 212 and 375 meet, could open its new catering facility without benefit of a site plan review or special use permit.

“People have been saying all along, including (Cucina property owner) Cy Adler, that this was going to end up in court,” she said in a recent interview. “I called an attorney I was recommended to in Albany when I got word that they were going to pass this resolution.” That was on August 30, when the planning board first discussed the wording for a resolution that would overrule a Woodstock ZBA decision that required Cucina to be subject to a public hearing before planners for special use permit review purposes.


“I just want the zoning law followed,” said Schauffler, a former New York City real estate manager now raising her daughter in town. “The law requires there to be a special use permit for what was planned and they weren’t doing that.”

Woodstock town attorney Rod Futerfas, as expected, said he could have no comment, given pending litigation.

Schauffler, a Woodstock PTA member, who was one of several people to sue the town for its decision to okay the Woodstock Commons affordable housing project, built off a nearby street, added that she’s received several unannounced visits from Adler and his wife, as well as Cucina co-owner Lois Freedman, about her lawsuit, as well as a previous complaint she made that resulted in the ZBA’s reversal of a building permit granted Cucina for its catering hall last winter.

“I want to see that my neighborhood’s protected,” Schauffler added. “This is a restaurant in a residential zone. Town law must be applied here.”

Specifics in the Planning Board’s six-page resolution dated back a year to a series of notes submitted by town planner Alan Sorenson following a conceptual meeting about Cucina’s renovation plans in August, 2011, as well as a September 12, 2011 response to those notes from town Zoning Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector Ellen Casciaro. Further documentation cited a 1990 Zoning Board of Appeals variance granted for ten parking spaces on the property’s front yard; and a 2005 memo from previous Zoning Enforcement Officer Paul Shultis, Sr. that granted a waiver to The Emerson, a previous restaurant on the location, for a similar renovation job within the property’s main restaurant structure, but not the red barn structure where the current catering hall is located. The net result: that since the site met its special use requirements, none was needed.

Cucina, and property owner Cyrus Adler, were directed to apply for a Building Permit within 12 months, and a Certificate of Occupancy within two years.

Schauffler’s lawsuit — filed by John J, Privitera, of the Albany firm of McNamee, Lochner, Titus & Williams on October 4 and set to be formally presented in State Supreme Court in Kingston on December 6 — points out that the town’s Gateway Overlay  requires a tie-in with cultural facilities and that, “The Project, as proposed to the Planning Board, and the Determination itself, were not supported by any contract, management agreement, financial arrangement or other business document signed by a cultural institution and Applicant.” The suit also notes that, “The Planning Board’s Determination, which granted permission for the Project without actual issuance of a Special Use Permit with conditions, was affected by an error of the law.”

According to ZBA chairman Howard Harris, “We on the ZBA came to our conclusion based on our interpretation of the law. We feel that what we did was correct. We don’t do things haphazardly. It’ll be up to the courts.”