The 2012 movie The Cabin in the Woods is a tongue-in-cheek horror film in which the usual tropes are revealed over time not to be what they seem. Similarly, most of the Gardiner residents who testified at the August 15 public hearing on the Heartwood resort development did not feel that the proposal to put some cabins in the woods was entirely as wholesome as the picture applicants have framed. They believe that what’s being pitched as a classy getaway in an idyllic location will profoundly impact how idyllic life is along the Shawangunk Kill.
The plan, dubbed “Heartwood,” would convert an old timber farm into a camping resort including a variety of amenities such that it’s been dubbed a “glampground,” a portmanteau of “glamor campground.” Taylor Family Partnership representative Phillip Rapoport was given an opportunity to discuss changes made to the plans at the beginning of the hearing. Those modifications include reducing the number of so-called “eco-cabins” from 40 to 28, pulling the remainder of them farther from the stream banks, relocating tennis courts to the other side of the site to address noise concerns of one neighbor, and agreeing to give conservation easements on the three acres in the northerly corner as well as along the riparian buffer of the 141-acre site.
Gardiner’s building activity is not sufficient to have an engineer on retainer to review projects, but Heartwood board members agreed that hiring one is the best course of action. Board member Carol Richman would like to see a professional look at the ecological impacts as well. After the hearing, board members took steps to retain an engineering firm, reserving the hiring of a separate biologist of the firm retained does not have one on staff.
Planning board chair Paul Colucci imposed a two-minute limit on comments during the hearing. That was met with some groans — limits on speaking in some adjacent towns being a minute longer — but very few people actually ran up against that limit. Colucci stressed repeatedly that the hearing would be continued at a later date, and that all written comments are reviewed in full by board members.
While some of those who spoke stated that they are not against the project, few words were spoken in support by the long line of residents who packed town hall to share their views over the course of an hour and a half. Chief among the worries they expressed was noise, and the most common piece of evidence they cited was Tuthill House at the Mill, the onsite restaurant at Tuthilltown Distillery. Music drifts far up and down the kill, many neighbors explained, radically changing the character of back yards where wandering deer were the loudest thing many of them heard at night. The events to be hosted at Heartwood would only further disrupt a lifestyle many in town chose specifically for its deep rural character. Keeping all events inside with doors and windows closed was suggested by several people as a way to mitigate noise impacts.
As Richard Smith described the current situation, “On a Tuesday afternoon in February, we can go outside” and not hear ambient noise.
Another point of contention are the “eco-cabins,” apparently dubbed as such because their location under an old-growth forest canopy is expected to save on air conditioning costs. Building them there would also require putting water and sewer lines into trenches that would run through those woods. Forest ecology has been shown to be highly interdependent, with trees actually communicating through a subterranean fungal network, and as such could represent a form of habitat fragmentation.
Hilary Adler, of Hudsonia, deposited written comments more than an inch thick on the table after she spoke. She noted that in a 200 biodiversity report, DEC officials recommended that buildings be set back at least 1,000 feet from the banks of the kill. The current plans have some construction less than 400 feet away.
Reducing the number of cabins was called a “nice gesture” by Carol O’Biso, but she finds it unacceptable to “trench them through old-growth forest to save on electricity.”
Regarding the conservation easements, O’Biso noted that an easement on the entire property was recommended by county planning board members.
“This fragile land cannot withstand these impacts,” said Annie O’Neill, who asked, “Do we want to be a community, or a destination?”
Water was another common theme, both volume and quality. Some neighbors are concerned that another big water draw could impact their own wells. Geralyn Torrone and John Bohan showed a chart illustrating the decline in rainfall over the past decade, suggesting that the water table isn’t being replenished as quickly anymore. Adler recommended that in addition to well impact testing, water quality also be studied. Christine Guarino warned about erosion of the kill’s banks due to increased recreational use of that water body. Questions about storm water runoff were also raised.
Developers were frequently characterized as dispassionate investors with no ties to the community. They work for high-finance firms in New York City, board members were told, and will likely sell Heartwood as soon as it turns a profit. Plans to seek some tax relief was used to hammer that point home.
“They have no intention of becoming residents,” said Deyano Manco, “nor will this resort benefit local business owners if plans to build a restaurant on-site are approved.”