The fate of the train cars parked at the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) Phoenicia yard remains undecided as the Shandaken zoning and planning boards toss communications back and forth. At issue is whether CMRR can be considered a public transportation utility, a designation that would allow the planning board to grant a special permit for storage of trains on CMRR’s residentially zoned property.
On July 19, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), faced with a request from the planning board for an interpretation in the case, deemed the request improper and sent it back for revision. ZBA chair Rolf Reiss said the request assumes that CMRR is a public transportation facility and asks whether storage of trains is a permitted use under town code. “I believe,” he said, “the planning board overstepped their bounds on this and made a determination that’s able only to be made by the ZBA, in designating the Catskill Mountain Railroad as a transportation use. I’m not saying they are not a transportation use, but I believe that is not a determination they can make.”
The three ZBA members present, Reiss, Keith Johnson, and Gary Gugliemetti, voted unanimously to send the request back for revision. The planning board was acting on a May 1 letter from town attorney Richard Olson, which stated, “The only use permitted under the zoning code by special permit is a ‘public utility or transportation use, excluding garage and maintenance facility.’ Clearly the application speaks to the fact that the requested use is for storage (garage) use pending further relocation….Unless the applicant can obtain an interpretation that it is in fact a Public Transportation facility and not a ‘garage or maintenance facility,’ the Planning Board has no ability to take any action on the request.”
On August 9, the planning board claimed the ZBA had misunderstood or been misinformed about the nature of its request, and chair Don Brewer said the ZBA lawyer was talking to the planning board lawyer to clear things up. The August 23 ZBA meeting has been cancelled.
CMRR, after more than a year of unsuccessfully seeking permits to house its trains on its own property after its lease on the county railroad tracks expired, moved the trains in February, without a permit. Neighbors have objected to the presence of the train cars in a residential zone as illegal, unsightly, and an environmental hazard and have invoked town code in trying block CMRR from obtaining a permit.