Neighbors of Ashokan Dreams, a bed-and-breakfast in the Town of Olive, are suing the town over the ruling by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) that allows the establishment to continue to operate as a wedding venue. A letter sent to all town residents by the High Point Neighbors Association has roused some citizens in support, roused the ire of others, and prompted Supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle to post a letter on the town website refuting statements made by the association.
The controversy over Ashokan Dreams began last year, when neighbors complained of noise, cars blocking High Point Road, and trespassing by wedding guests. The neighbors questioned whether wedding events are allowed under the permit obtained for a bed-and-breakfast by owners Chester Karwatowski and Anne-Marie Johansson in 1998.
Given that the town’s zoning code does not mention weddings, the planning board referred the question to the ZBA. On October 6, 2016, the ZBA voted 3-2 in favor of considering wedding events an “accessory use” to a bed-and-breakfast, after extensive discussion among themselves and having heard from residents speaking passionately on both sides of the issue at the previous meeting. The owners were directed to apply to the planning board for a special use permit and to submit a site plan that addresses the issues raised by the neighbors.
A group of neighbors, including the High Point Neighbors Association, then filed suit against the town, claiming the board’s decision violates town law. On January 7, the association’s letter delivered to all town residents stated that the town government was using contingency funds to pay a lawyer to defend a decision that benefits only the owners of Ashokan Dreams. The letter encouraged town residents to let town officials know “that you are concerned about the open-ended nature of their spending commitment.” Many of the neighbors also posted roadside signs stating in orange, “No Weddings” and in black, “Litigation in process.”
Rozzelle’s response on the town website denies many of the allegations in the letter, stating that legal fees are part of the town budget and are not coming from a contingency fund. She also points out that the town is obligated to defend legal challenges to its decisions.
“Everything is being done properly by the planning and zoning boards,” said Rozzelle. “We’ll see what the outcome is.”
“We’re not trying to close Ashokan Dreams down,” said David Andrews, a spokesman for the neighbors association. “We’re just trying to make sure it’s not destructive to our quality of life. The owners refuse to negotiate. We’ve tried, and the response has been they can do anything they want on their property. We didn’t want to bring a suit because it’s so expensive, but we feel we have no choice.”
Andrews cited problems including foot traffic, with 200 guests at a time using the road, trucks blocking the road to set up tents on days before the events, an outdoor toilet a few feet from the road throughout the season, noise issuing from an open-sided tent after 10:30 p.m. “Neighbors can’t use their homes when there’s a wedding going on, it’s so noisy,” he said, noting that the town does not have a noise ordinance.
When asked why the neighbors were suing even though a site plan has been ordered to address the specific issues, Andrews replied, “We believe that the granting of any special use, or other permit to hold weddings at this site is in direct conflict with the Town’s own laws, and that the ZBA, for its own reasons, chose to ignore their own laws. We’re trying to establish a precedent for this town so there can be some rules that will protect taxpayers.”
Johansson, reached by phone, said she had been advised by her attorney not to discuss details of the situation, but she said all Andrews’ allegations were untrue. She has heard complaints about the “No Weddings” signs and feels the association’s letter and signs are more disruptive to the community than her own events.
The site plan is still in the process of creation and will be considered by the planning board in the coming months.