Glamping proposal sets off heated discussion in Shandaken

Don Brewer and Art Christie of the Shandaken planning board.

Don Brewer and Art Christie of the Shandaken planning board.

Glamping, a new trend in tourism, is poised to arrive in Shandaken, and the neighbors are not happy. Combining glamour with camping, a glamtent has canvas walls on a wooden base that provides support for a bed and other furniture, making the camping experience more comfortable for those seeking to commune with nature.

Karlyn Monroe has submitted a site plan to the Shandaken planning board for 10 glamtents and two permanent structures (to house a communal kitchen and sanitary facilities), to be located near her family’s residence on a 108-acre property on Route 42. Her neighbors have attended two planning board meetings to express concerns about potential issues such as noise, drunkenness, and trespassing.


At the May 11 public hearing, Monroe provided a lengthy statement clarifying her plans in response to the worries of adjoining property owners. She called her project “a conservation mission for our pristine property. We want to preserve or improve its environmental status.” The business will be oriented toward families, who will pay around $200 dollars per day to enjoy “forest bathing,” that is, “taking in the atmosphere of the forest,” for pleasure and mental health. Monroe plans to keep the site aesthetically pleasing and well-blended with the natural surroundings, with no more than two tents per acre.

The project will be built gradually over the next two years and will accommodate no more than 40 guests at one time, said Monroe. Detailed rules will be made clear, addressing topics from disposal of trash to establishment of “quiet time.” Property boundaries will be clearly marked to prevent guests from trespassing, and Monroe will inform them of opportunities in the local area — tubing, fishing, farmstands — to support other businesses.

Monroe expressed dismay at her neighbors’ hostility to the project. “I was disappointed that the neighbors did not want to meet with me to learn the details of the plan. I’m following all the rules, remaining fully transparent, working with the town. I have provided everything requested.”

Two neighbors spoke up, expressing concern that Monroe’s guests would not have sufficient oversight and that the project might lead to a rash of similar sites constructed in the area.

Lawyers representing the neighbors alleged that the project violates town zoning laws and  requires a use variance or an environmental review. Attorney Rod Futerfas pointed out that the structures for rent will combine characteristics of cabins and tents. Monroe, who participated in planning board workshops while putting together her site plan with the help of an engineer, stated that the wooden base and timber frame of the temporary structures qualify them as cabins. Rental cabins are a permitted use in the residential zone, while campgrounds are not. Futerfas said the law states that “where there is ambiguity, the more strict requirement should apply,” and that therefore the board should consider the project a campground and refer the application to the zoning board for a use variance.

The Ulster County planning board’s response to the application reflected a similar uncertainty, requesting verification of the proposed use and stating that a permit for operation as a campground may be required from the county’s health department. The county observed that other requirements may include a driveway permit from New York State, health department approval of the septic system, a SPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity, and a stormwater management plan.

Attorney Rod Pordy said he reads the town law as specifying that each structure must have its own kitchen and sanitary facilities, which would require central water and sewer, while communal versions of these facilities are not allowed. He also said the planning board must conduct a more thorough environmental review than the cursory Environmental Assessment Form already supplied.


60 days for a decision

The planning board then voted unanimously to close the public hearing, and most of the audience departed. Chairman Don Brewer said, “We’re going to look through what we heard tonight, check through our regulations, and make sure we’re not missing anything.” The planning board has 60 days to render a decision on the permit application.

Board member Art Christie said, “What this young lady is actually selling is the atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, the environment, the clean waters and the fresh air. Her business is not going to survive if someone’s up to 3 a.m. playing music.”

He recommended a conditional permit, obliging the owner to renew the permit after a year, which would enable the town to examine the impact of the business. Monroe would be allowed 60 days to correct any problems that have arisen. “There’s no past history of glamping,” Christie added, “to look back on and say ‘these could be the issues.’ Any one of these issues that came out tonight with the public could be a problem later on.”

Monroe had been amenable to the idea of a conditional permit at the previous meeting, but at the May hearing, she said she felt the thoroughness of her submitted site plan should make a conditional permit unnecessary.