The Woodstock Town Board on June 17 paved the way for the former Zena Elementary School to become a music academy by voting unanimously to change the zoning law to allow a private, for profit school to exist on the property. Previously the law allowed only public not-for-profit institutions.
“Really all we’re doing is conforming with New York State law,” town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber said.
The board also once again debated the pros and cons of solar electricity generation, at the meeting, deciding to seek proposals for a solar farm to be located either at the site of the Wastewater Treatment Plant or at the now-defunct town landfill, on the West Saugerties Road.
To accommodate neighbors of the school, the board held its regular business meeting at the Woodstock Fire Company No. 4 firehouse on Zena Road, but only one person spoke about the new zoning changes to allow the school’s reuse. “We think continuing to be a school over there, even though it’s a private school, would be good for the Zena community,” said area resident Jim Hanson, who is also chairman of the town Environmental Commission. “It would be an excellent usage of that property.”
The school is in a residential area that, since 1989, was prohibited by zoning laws from having a private or for-profit educational facility.
Paul Green Rock Academy operator Paul Green plans to partner with concert promoter Michael Lang to run a music academy in the former school that has been vacant since June, 2013. Lysbeth and Steve Kursh were the only bidders for the school that was owned by the Kingston Consolidated School District, at a proposed sale price of $926,000. The Kurshes plan to use the fields for Woodstock Day School activities and lease part of the old Zena school to the music academy.
When the bidders voiced their intentions for the properties, town officials discovered the town zoning regulations conflicted with state law. “I remember in this room, last summer, when there were more members of the community here, the expression of wish and hope that it would be maintained as an educational facility,” said Wilber.
Some people were concerned that the zoning change would create a proliferation of schools, but that hasn’t happened in areas of the town where schools are already allowed, he explained.
Also under the zoning revisions, a school must have “a curriculum, adequate facilities to conduct its educational function and a staff qualified to implement its educational objective.” The Planning Board may require schools to adhere to published planning and urban design standards, a stipulation recommended by the Ulster County Planning Board.
“I think it’s going to have a multiplying effect because you’re not only going to have students, but you’re also going to have teachers. And teachers are going to need housing,” Wilber said. “There is a stock of housing in this particular section of town which could use ownership.”
“It’s a very nice outcome for the Zena School,” added Councilman Ken Panza. “It’s almost unexpected. It could’ve been sitting there like the West Hurley Elementary School being empty.”