Because the town attorney’s back went out, he had to skip the May 31 workshop meeting of the Shandaken planning board, delaying once again the resolution of the controversy over whether the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) can legally be given a permit to store its trains on its own land in Phoenicia. Board members had invited attorney Richard J. Olson to clarify, in person, his reasoning on the status of CMRR, whose representatives claim it qualifies as a public transportation entity and therefore is entitled to the special permit. Olson’s recent letter to the planning board disagreed with this contention.
Although the board did not further discuss the issue, many rail buffs spoke up in favor of granting the permit, citing historical and economic considerations. Two Phoenicia neighbors repeated their opposition to storing the cars in a residential zone. Frustrated CMRR chair Harry Jameson demanded a decision on the permit application, which has dragged out for many months. Board chair Don Brewer said that in any case, no vote could be taken at a workshop meeting, but the board would make a decision at the next regular meeting, Wednesday, June 14, at 7 p.m., after consulting with Olson.
The three board members present offered encouragement to Joseph Di Thomas and a partner who are considering purchasing the Phoenicia Pharmacy and turning it into a community workspace, with offices for rental by freelancers. In the front of the building, they are thinking to have a coffee bar, because, said one of the men, “Since Mama’s Boy closed, no one can get a good cup of coffee in Phoenicia.” Eventually, the back room might be developed into a space for events — small concerts, yoga classes, art showings, community gatherings, and the like. Although there would be a small area for preparing food, the men said they are not looking to open a restaurant.
They have been researching the possibilities, speaking to current owner Georganna Millman, town code officer Warren Tutt, septic designer Rex Sanford, the Catskill Watershed Corporation, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in an effort to estimate water usage and understand the requirements for the septic system.
One of the board members pointed out that computers and work space are available across the street at the Phoenicia Library. “The difference is, I can’t go into the library and set up an office,” explained Di Thomas. “Here people could have a regular ongoing workspace, where they can leave their personal stuff, and it would be secure. There would be a conference room for meetings. A lot of freelance people are coming up here — attorneys, designers, video editors.”
“It’s a change of use,” said Brewer, “so a site plan has to be drawn up and presented to the planning board. But I don’t see any red flags on the use.”
Added board member Cliff Rabuffo, “No one likes to see lights out on Main Street.”
The pharmacy has been closed since last summer, following the death the previous year of pharmacist Marty Millman. Di Thomas emphasized that the two men have not purchased the building but are still in the research phase.