Neighbors balk at new Woodstock Way café…with alcohol sales

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Public hearings that involve business projects before the Woodstock planning board tend to get feisty when they involve the changing hamlet’s residential neighborhoods.

Woodstock Way, which went through months of back and forth negotiations with worried neighbors and the planning board throughout the winter of 2017, returned before planners April 19 for a new special use permit to modify the plan it’s been developing throughout the last year. The reason? To change an “accessory use” on the 24-unit motel’s office structure from “retail sundry use to that of a restaurant limited to motel guests.”

According to project owners Ryan Giuliani and Jesse Halliburton, as well as their attorney Ron Pordy, their lodging development — which is redeveloping, repurposing and adding to a collection of small cabins located along the Tannery Brook behind the Center for Photography at Woodstock and stretching up to Hillside Avenue — has proved more expensive than originally estimated. That forced them to seek a county Industrial Development Agency tax abatement deal, which they pulled back from this winter after a public hearing demonstrated major community objections. Now, they feel that the town zoning law allows them to shift their plans for an office with snacks to a hotel café with patio and alcohol sales, as a means of better returning their investment.


A half dozen neighbors from Tannery Brook Road and Neher Street came out to note complaints. Weren’t there enough restaurants in town already, one property owner asked. How can you keep out non-motel customers, asked another. Several people mentioned the town’s comprehensive planning efforts being focused on the creation of better balance between Woodstock’s commercial side and its residential neighborhoods, and how the idea of a bar at the center of a motel complex in the center of town had never been proposed during the months when Woodstock Way negotiated its original permits.

“This not right,” said Terry Funk-Antman, a longtime local resident from Neher Street, noting how residents were holding onto a village hub under attack from too much side street parking, noise, and Airbnb traffic already. “I feel like we’re crossing a red line.”

Pordy, the applicants’ attorney, kept reiterating that what was being proposed was allowable under the town’s zoning laws, and not a bar but a café. He pointed out the 600 square foot size of the amended space’s interior, blew up at “illegal airbnbs” in the neighborhood competing with his client’s legitimate business, and noted how “this is being blown out of proportion.”

As happens at these sorts of public hearings, cross talk began to predominate, with Giuliani and Halliburton, as well as Pordy, interrupting members of the public’s statements. Then planning board chair John Lavalle would remind everyone that all his board could do was “follow the law,” and tried to restore order.

In an aside, Giuliani later noted that Woodstock being a music town, there would be music on site at the new café, as well. He added that as the proprietor of Shindig, another restaurant in the center of town, “we’re good seasonal operators…the property will be beautiful and we will control it to the best of our abilities.”

Halliburton talked about how the fence they built protecting Neher Street from the development was two inches thick, and more than originally requested. He added a litany of nearby purchases he and Giuliani had been trying to make so they’d not need to put a café on their premises. But no one took their offers.

Neighbor Mark Antman pointed out how, given the amount of resistance Woodstock Way met in getting its original permits, it might have made more sense for the developers to have grown their business incrementally.

“You’re pushing the envelope as much as you can because you did a bad estimate of costs,” he added. 

Chris Wanker, a former New York City firefighter suffering from 9/11-related health problems who lives immediately behind where the new café/bar’s been proposed, said that he was “lawyering up with this now. I was naïve.”

In a letter from his Rhinebeck-based attorneys, Wanker’s legal representative Victoria Polidoro pointed out problems that the new site plan amendment could face with previous zoning board of appeals’ variances, troubling details on the developers’ floor plans for the new “lounge bar” with a service window from the bar to the patio, and her belief that the entire project’s environmental review might need reopening.

“It is the job of the Planning Board to balance the desires of the property owner with the impacts on neighboring properties, such as increased noise, loss of privacy, and diminished property value,” she wrote. “We request that the Planning Board closely consider the special use standards for the bar and outdoor seating and deny the special use permit.”

Giuliani and Halliburton said they were willing to compromise on hours on the patio and other elements of their proposal. Pordy kept reiterating that they were discussing a café, and not a bar. Lavalle kept the public hearing open and “recessed to the call of the chair,” meaning it will likely resume at the planning board’s meeting on May 3.

Dog boarding on Playhouse Lane?

Also set for a public hearing on that date will be a proposal from Lisa Bonk to open a boarding and day care center for dogs, Grateful Pets, on her property at 18 Playhouse Lane. According to Bonk, her plan is to care for a maximum of ten dogs at a time, in addition to her own, within her home and a back yard to be surrounded by a six-foot high fence. Daily operations, beyond up to four dogs boarding over, would be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dog waste would be picked up and disposed of in a special trash can. 

Bonk noted that she came up with the idea after having boarded her own dogs in traditional kennels, not an experience she wanted to replicate. She added that this was her first stab at a business of this sort, and that the facility would be in her home, which also has an accessory apartment on the property.

Planners noted that they “don’t see many applications like that” and would be opening up past projects they’ve worked with to find out all that’s needed for review, from health department permits to variances. 

They set a public hearing on Bonk’s Grateful Pets proposal for 7 p.m. on May 3.

There are 5 comments

  1. Jane

    Vaguely in response to ‘Lusty Louise’ – where I live, there are those who would post as you do. Minimum-wage, seasonal jobs, will accomplish little. And, your taxes are not going to diminish with projects like this. I also highly doubt there this is a hardship case, yet no matter who is doing the developing – anywhere – it is remarkable how the tiny violins get played.

    But as to keeping some vestige of Woodstock… if people can do it, better to get together to move to a different location and start making history in that place. Look at how hard the Greenwich Village preservation folk have to keep fighting. Of course, there isn’t another place like that in the world.

    1. Pronto

      This area really needs to stop trying to preserve everything in amber. Any time anything comes up, most people seem to want to defeat it and keep everything the same. This area changed constantly up until recently, when the baby boomers reached their cranky middle age (and later). Now they want it to never change.

  2. Donny Downer

    I think that the problem we’ve always had is that seasonal business is up to the whims of the masses. If this venture is already hurting before opening, are they really prepared to weather a bad season or two? What’s going to happen when Mill Hill is under repair? It isn’t this town’s duty to bend over backwards to investors for the sake of a project they didn’t clearly think through. If you want to give out charity, give it to the elderly, the homeless first. Not to someone who ought to know better, being experienced in real estate as they say…

    Big-picture question time: Is it sustainable to encourage more growth in a sector that is already crowded, at any cost, or is that putting all of our eggs into an uncertain basket? Parking issues, utilities issues, other basic questions of infrastructure also come into play with the recent insurge of more hospitality businesses. It isn’t just a question of appearances or character, there are concrete issues that need to be looked at more carefully… Quality of life, maybe, if you have the time to think about anything but your bottom line.

    Times change, but how we approach that is most important for people who aren’t just making a monetary investment. People still live here, despite the most recent trend towards short-term rentals and a resort-town mentality. Sustainability is in the best interests of business owners and residents (long-term or otherwise) alike. Ensuring a positive future for the people who live and work here? That is far apart from baby-boomer nostalgia. Culture? Culture is its own beast, but money can’t buy that, and tourism is but the exploitation of culture. Nobody controls culture, but anyone can sell it. I suspect that whatever culture we end up with will ultimately up to whoever is left around these parts after the bubble pops.

    Never mind the matter of brand-dilution, but we’re not a brand, right? Ha…

  3. Born Yesterday

    Not satisfied with the break they got when the planning board issued a “negative declaration” of potential environmental impact when they presented their Woodstock Way proposal, now developers Giuliani and Halliburton are changing the project to something way more intense. Town officials need to stand up. Reopen the environmental review, change the declaration to positive impact, and require the developers to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

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