The Town of Olive planning board met on May 2 with the intention of hammering out conditions for a permit for Ashokan Dreams bed-and-breakfast to hold weddings on its site this summer. However, the board voted to make a visit to the venue before deciding on details of the permit.
Board members plan to tour the property, site plan in hand, in groups of one to three, from May 3 to May 7. Another meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m., to attempt to finalize the permit.
Attorneys addressed the board on behalf of the High Point Mountain Road neighbors, who have registered complaints about last year’s weddings, claiming the events brought excessive noise, cars blocking the road, and trespassing by wedding guests. The neighbors brought a lawsuit against the town zoning board (ZBA), objecting to the ZBA’s ruling that weddings could be considered a “special use” of a bed-and-breakfast, worthy of a special permit under town code. A judge determined that weddings could be considered an “accessory use” to a “boardinghouse,” as opposed to part of the b-and-b’s principal business, and that the ZBA had to modify its decision to reflect that terminology, as it would influence the nature of any permits granted. The ZBA was scheduled to address this requirement at its May 4 meeting.
Ron Pordy and Larry Wolinsky, the neighbors’ attorneys, told the planning board that an accessory use cannot be more substantial than an establishment’s original use. They said the board must therefore keep size in mind when considering a permit for weddings, given that the bed-and-breakfast itself has only one to three bedrooms.
“The board should not be taking into consideration what they [Ashokan Dreams] have done in the past,” observed Pordy. “The court was clear in determining this was not a principal permitted use. There can be a swimming pool to a residential home. But this is the tail wagging the b-and-b dog. The court did not say a 180-guest wedding facility is permitted. Are 10 guests appropriate as an accessory use, or 20?”
The board then voted to close the public comment section of the public hearing on Ashokan Dreams’ application. As discussion of the permit began, board member David Sorbellini proposed making a site visit. He said he had looked over the property from the road. “The site plan makes it look really big and spacious and non-intrusive. When you get there, it’s a little more intimate than you think. That would lead right into decisions we have to make. We want to vote on frequency, hours, traffic, number of guests.”
Board member Ed Kahil disagreed, saying, “We were intending to make these decisions tonight and have done with this. I’m not necessarily in favor of that, but it’s been over a year, and we’ve had three public hearings.”
“When you have the public show up in the quantities we have, we owe it to the public” to take a little more time to make a decision, said Sorbellini.
The board voted 6-1 to make a site visit, with only Kahil objecting, saying he was already familiar with the site and would not visit. (Earlier in the meeting, he had noted that his son’s wedding reception had been held on the property.) By going to the site in groups of three or fewer, the board will avoid the necessity of considering the visits public meetings. No decisions will be discussed until the next actual meeting, set for May 16 to facilitate quick action on the permit.
Ashokan Dreams owners Anne-Marie Johansson and Chester Karwatowski readily agreed to a schedule of visits by board members. Two immediately adjacent neighbors, seated in the audience, suggested the board members also go into their homes to get a sense of their proximity to the venue, and arrangements were made for those visits also.
Robert Hagopian, the applicants’ engineer, clarified recent changes to the site plan, and the subject was closed until the next meeting.
Then the planning board heard from Martin and Sara Lynch, who have purchased a building on Route 28A in West Shokan, where over the years, a series of cafés have operated next door to the post office. They plan to run a café and market, Marty’s Mercantile, with an opening scheduled by Memorial Day weekend. As the business does not represent a change of use, the Lynches’ plans were accepted and endorsed heartily by the planning board.