Gardiner seeks environmental analyses for three major development proposals

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Gardiner Planning Board has a lot on its plate these days, with three major development projects currently under review that require voluminous input from the town’s Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC). A former ECC member herself, current planning board member Carol Richman thinks that the town’s expectations of that body are too stringent, and she’s pushing back.

At its April 18 meeting, the planning board continued discussion of the Shaft Road LLC subdivision, a proposal that has already drawn considerable fire from Gardiner residents. Three months of public hearings last fall generated requests for the applicant to revise both his site plan and his Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). Revisions have now been submitted for the project, which would subdivide the 86-acre property at the confluence of Shaft and South Mountain Roads into ten parcels. Two of the homesites were shifted and an access road moved in response to objections from planning board members and the public.

The proposal is being submitted as an Open Space Development, with a conservation easement as an essential component of the plans. Many questions were raised about the delineation of wetlands on the property, some of them federally regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and others eligible for classification by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC); the two agencies have differing standards for such development considerations as minimum buffer widths.


According to the applicant’s engineer, Barry Medenbach of Medenbach & Eggers, PC, the DEC had corrected the wetlands boundaries on the site map at his request, and sent an inspector to make a site visit. “He said this section of stream should not be classified as a qualifying wetland,” said Medenbach, pointing out an area on the map that had previously been disputed, where the stream passes through a power line right-of-way and “dissipates out.” The engineer said that the DEC inspector had agreed with his proposal to “put the culvert alongside the town culvert,” calling it “a compromise that seems to make everybody happy.”

Not everyone on the planning board was satisfied with the changes, however. One member, Joe Hayes, complained that the board had not yet seen a “declaration of covenants” specifying what uses would be prohibited in the conservation easement area, such as the grazing of livestock or the use of leghold traps. “Someone could keep a couple of cows in the wetlands, which would change their entire quality,” Hayes pointed out. “We’re all trying to reduce the flow of nutrients into the Wallkill.”

In a split vote, the planning board voted to reopen the public hearing on the project at its May meeting. Richman, Warren Wiegand and Keith Libolt all objected that they wanted more time to review the new documents first, as well as the ECC’s comments on the revised EAF.

The planning board then turned its attention to another proposed Open Space Development: the Green 208, LLC/Woods 1A project slated for 320 Route 208, a large parcel of “former apple orchard” on the east side of the road that extends beyond its intersections with Old Ford Road on the north and Forest Glen Road on the south. The proposal is for 53 residential units to be contained in four clustered three-story buildings, with 90 percent of the site set aside for open space, including bicycle paths.

This project is in the earliest stages of consideration by the planning board, with only one comment received so far from any of the involved agencies and no lead agency formally recognized. However, noted member Ray Sokolov, “We’ve had a certain amount of vehement mail from people here about the projected septic field near Jenkinstown Road.” Moreover, the ECC must consider the application’s conservation analysis because it is an Open Space Development. But when town planner Jim Freiband suggested that comments be sought from the ECC in time for the May planning board meeting, Richman said that they were asking too much from commission members. “They just had a change in leadership,” she pointed out. “They are doing this by volunteering their evenings, and it’s supposed to involve research… We’ve got to give the ECC more time.”

“The planning board is statutorily required to handle this within a certain time period, 60 days,” responded Freiband. “You need time to digest what the ECC does.” In the end, the board voted to instruct the ECC to send their analysis in time for the May meeting; Richman abstained.

The ECC’s role came up yet again during consideration of the controversial Heartwood NY/Electric Bowery proposal to build “eco-cabin” lodging on the Shawangunk Kill. Planning board members had visited the site, and a long-form EAF had been submitted; but the site plan was still incomplete and none of the involved agencies had yet responded to the request to designate the Gardiner Planning Board as lead agency. “This will all end up being June,” Freiband said.

Richman questioned why this proposal was not also being reviewed as an Open Space Development. “I think there needs to be a conservation analysis,” she said. “Rare plants are found along the Shawangunk Kill…. I think we’re violating the intent of the zoning law, which is to protect certain environmentally sensitive areas.”

Freiband suggested referring the EAF to the ECC for review, leading several other planning board members to chime in with Richman’s contention that the ECC was being overburdened. “They should be working with a biologist,” she argued. “Our zoning laws allow for the hiring of professional help.” “If the ECC feels overwhelmed, we do have discretion to hire a consultant,” agreed Libolt.

“They have three projects going to them right now,” observed planning board chair Mike Boylan. “Shaft Road is the most urgent. If they need assistance, they should let us know. I think we do have the resources within the town.” The planning board ultimately voted to request the ECC’s comments on the eco-cabin project be delivered five working days before its June meeting.