If the number of speakers pro and con at last Wednesday’s public hearing and the volume of applause or derision greeting their comments are any indication, the population of the Town of Rosendale remains about evenly split after years of debate on the appropriateness of the development proposed by Hudson River Valley Resorts, LLC (HRVR) for the former Williams Lake Hotel property. Close to 200 people, mostly town residents, packed the Rosendale Community Center, and dozens signed up to weigh in on the question of whether or not the Town Board should amend the Zoning Law to create a special zone called the Binnewater Lakes Conservation Planned Development Area. The amendment would be necessary for HRVR to obtain town permits to build the clustered townhouses envisioned for the rural Binnewater site.
Given the high turnout and the issue’s contentious history in Rosendale, town supervisor Jeanne Walsh announced at the outset that each speaker would be limited to three minutes at the microphone, to the dismay of many who had brought prepared statements or extensive notes. Walsh also directed the speakers to stay on-topic with regard to keeping comments pertinent to the proposed zoning change, rather than debating the Williams Lake Project in a more general sense.
It quickly became apparent, however, that how strictly these limitations would be administered by the supervisor — a longtime booster of the project — depended a great deal on whether the speaker was a supporter or an opponent. Long, rambling reminiscences about growing up near Williams Lake, without any discernible reference to the zoning change, were tolerated from a number of supporters, while the project’s skeptics were cut off abruptly the moment they mentioned environmental concerns such as endangered bat habitat or the site’s sensitive karst geology.
First to be interrupted was Dr. Irwin Sperber, who questioned the adequacy of the lake as a water source. When Walsh told him that none of the issues that he wished to raise was germane to the zoning change, the clearly frustrated SUNY New Paltz sociology professor responded, “ I thought this is what people did in Russia, but I guess it’s happening here.”
Among the opponents who kept their remarks closely tailored to the issue of the amendment to the Zoning Law, the problem most frequently cited was the vagueness of the proposed new language — notably a paragraph about public access whose use of the conjunction “and/or” fails to guarantee that community members will be allowed to swim in Williams Lake in the future, according to critics. Local resident Sheila Dvorak Galione, who said that she relies on swimming as “low-impact exercise” to alleviate her myasthenia gravis symptoms, called the alternative site, Fourth Lake, “a poor option for swimming” that is often “covered with algae.” She urged that the amendment’s language be “revised to provide affordable public access” to Williams Lake itself.
Marie Caruso of the Mid-Hudson Group of the Sierra Club also noted that the proposed wording “contains no binding commitment to public access,” saying that her constituents “hope you will clear up the vagueness and ambiguities” in the zoning amendment. Sierra Club attorney David Gordon seconded that, contending that the proposed Planned Development Area as defined included “no standards that are enforceable.”