Those behind the proposed Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley (ICCHV) in the Rondout are starting the planning process from scratch, after an attorney for a neighbor of the proposed facility raised serious questions about city officials’ vetting of the project.
City Planner Suzanne Cahill met with ICCHV backers on Monday. At the meeting, Cahill said, the group reported that they had hired a planner and would submit an entirely new application to the board within the next few months.
The new application will include submissions to the city’s Heritage Area Commission and Historic Landmark Commission. Neither body was part of the original review of the proposal. The new application will also go through a more rigorous “coordinated review” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Cahill said the group volunteered to re-start the process following complaints from neighbors and a letter from an attorney detailing flaws in the original review.
“After receiving a response from the neighbors’ attorney they decided to take another look at the project,” said Cahill. “They really want to address some of the concerns that were brought up.”
Planning for the ICCHV began in 2012. The proposal called for a 15,000-square-foot building on a vacant lot on Abeel Street overlooking the Rondout Creek. The building would hold classrooms and exhibition space, a theater and banquet hall and other amenities. The center seeks to highlight Irish culture and provide space for Irish language, dancing and music classes and exhibitions. The nonprofit group would also be able to rent the banquet hall for weddings and other special events.
Hillary Harvey lives next door to the proposed center. She said she was aware of the plan when she and her husband Owen moved into the house last year. But she became concerned about the scale of the project when she was asked for an easement for foundation work.
“I spent a lot of time trying to work through and understand the project,” said Harvey. “But I just kept coming up with more questions.”
Those questions are laid out in a 22-page letter prepared by Rhinebeck attorney Warren Replansky. Replansky, who was hired by Harvey and another neighbor to examine the project laid out 12 issues with the project’s vetting. Among the objections raised in Replansky’s letter was the alleged inadequacy of the planning board’s environmental review. Replansky wrote the board had cleared the review process in a single meeting in January 2013 and never coordinated the work with other “involved parties,” including the Heritage Area and Landmarks commissions.
“Given the magnitude of this project and its numerous potential environmental impacts and the fact that it was designated as a Type I action, it is incomprehensible that the Planning Board conducted its environmental review of this project at a single meeting on Jan. 14, 2013,” Replansky wrote. “It is clear that the Planning Board failed to identify the potential environmental impacts of this project and take a “hard look” at the same.
Replansky argued that the proposal in fact had a number of potential impacts including traffic, parking noise and light stemming from “multitude and commercial nature of the proposed uses for this facility.” Replansky added that the 15,000 square foot building was out of character with the surrounding residential block and appeared to violate local zoning codes. Harvey said that Replansky’s letter confirmed her view that the project appeared to have grown out of proportion to its original intent.
“I don’t want to stop this project, I just wanted to make sure it has the whole neighborhood’s interests in mind,” said Harvey. “It just seems like it got super-sized somewhere along the way.”