The Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) has withdrawn its application to the Shandaken Planning Board for variances to build a maintenance shed and rail yard on its property along Station Road in Phoenicia. To operate in an area zoned residential, CMRR requested a use variance permitting light industrial activities. Hamlet residents have opposed the application for fear the storage of trains and renovation of train cars would present an eyesore and cause pollution of air, soil, and water.
At the planning board’s May 18 meeting, High Street resident Anique Taylor observed that the Ulster County Planning Board had stated that the applicant must meet all four criteria for granting a use variance. The public hearing had been extended to a fifth month to allow Harry Jameson of CMRR to provide a detailed financial analysis proving that no allowable use could provide a reasonable return, one of the four criteria. CMRR had made an attempt to fulfill another criterion by claiming a hardship because the railroad’s lease of the county-owned tracks expires May 31, and the group has until July to move its rolling stock, which it hoped to store at the Phoenicia site.
The county planning board, Taylor’s attorney, Rod Futerfas, and the town’s lawyer have all agreed that the hardship would be considered self-created, and therefore invalid, if the property had been zoned residential in 1990 and 2001, at the time CMRR purchased the two parcels of land. Having confirmed the history of the zoning status, Taylor and Futerfas insisted the application should be denied, since the hardship criterion clearly had not been met.
Jameson had not yet submitted the analysis of return from allowable uses and said he was still working on it. He pointed out that the county has extended its request for proposals from railroads seeking to operate excursion rides on the tracks. “CMRR will be submitting a bid to get a lease, so I don’t know if we will be the tenant or not. I’m requesting an extension of another month to see if we will be again occupying the property.”
“Meaning you wouldn’t have to move the equipment,” said planning board member Mark Loete. “But how does that affect us?” The legality of the use variance would still be an issue. Nevertheless he said he was willing to give Jameson one more month to come up with figures on allowable use.
Kathy Nolan spoke from the audience, requesting that such an analysis be submitted a week before the next planning board meeting so it could be considered by the concerned residents, who have been attending meetings month after month without a resolution to the issue.
At that point, Jameson withdrew CMRR’s application to the planning board. At a previous planning board meeting, he said that if the train cars cannot be stored in Phoenicia, they will probably be sold for scrap, unless another railroad company wishes to buy them.