Though the Woodstock Way application had been excluded from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency agenda at its early-morning February 14 meeting, project developers Ryan Giuliani and Jesse Halliburton made an appearance. Giuliani read a lengthy rebuttal to the Woodstock town board’s unanimous objection to its approval, as stated in a letter read by supervisor Bill McKenna at the February 1 public hearing.
The developer’s statement to the IDA included a plea for approval. Giulani said he expected Woodstock Way to be on the March agenda of the IDA.
“Let me first speak to supervisor McKenna’s point about opportunity here,” Giuliani read. “Yes, we took an opportunity to make an investment in Woodstock, but the underlying contention that we are merely profiteering and seeking an easy handout at the taxpayer’s expense is untrue. It is an unfair characterization of who we are and how we came to be here. We came to this town because we love the Catskills. We love the values and the community in which we live…”
Tannery Brook Real Estate LLC is seeking $527,539 in tax breaks over ten years under a program where the developer will pay taxes on the current value in the first three years, then 25 percent on the increased assessment for two years, then 50 percent for five years. That’s the standard schedule for applicants for IDA assistance.
In its statement to the IDA at the public hearing in Woodstock on February 1, the town argued that Woodstock was “not an economically depressed area,” and that the planning-board agenda was full with applications from groups investing in businesses and properties. “Ten or fifteen years ago, everyone talked about the need for more short-term lodging in Woodstock,” said McKenna’s letter. “Today, as noted above, we believe that need is satisfied, and what Woodstock now lacks is long-term affordable housing…Unfortunately, the Waterfall Way project has removed five or six units from the long-term housing market.”
Giuliani and Halliburton countered that properties used for Airbnb, not themselves, were “the beneficiary of an unfair advantage.” Airbnb’s Woodstock inventory “dwarfs all of the other motels, hotels and legal B&Bs in the town combined.” It created no jobs, they said, while having no regulatory structure to which to adhere.
“It is therefore puzzling, misguided and indeed, incorrect to allege that the IDA support we seek would create an unlevel playing field,” they said. “Instead, the Woodstock Town Board should be supporting developers like us, who are spending substantial amounts of time and effort to follow the rules through the regulatory wringer at great expense while Airbnb gets a free ride.”
McKenna argued otherwise. “Our understanding of a Pilot [Payment in Lieu of Taxes] is that it is a tool to encourage development in a community that is economically in need, where the particular project is desired and that will create jobs,” he wrote on behalf of the town board. “In this instance, the developers came to Woodstock because they saw a great opportunity for investment in a booming community. There was no need for inducement.”
That characterization stung. The developers countered that “Woodstock Way will create local jobs for the community. It will create living wages for the people who are employed by the hotel and it will benefit many of the local businesses on our main [Tinker] street, as well as area businesses.”
For several decades, the Ulster County IDA was willing to overrule local objections to a policy its members felt were in the interests of the entire county. After a court supported the strong local objections to the proposed Park Point dormitory project contiguous to SUNY New Paltz several years ago, however, the IDA adjusted its policies to give greater weight to municipal concerns.
The developers told the IDA that they expected to be on the agenda for next month’s meeting.