The Woodstock Way proposal to add a bar/café area to its already-approved hotel complex rising alongside Tannery Brook in the center of town inched closer to the Land of Lawsuits after a contentious yet affirmative Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on July 12.
Attendance was much more sparse than at recent public hearings on Tannery Brook Real Estate LLC’s application for variances for several lot line adjustments, and their proposal to start serving food and alcohol where they had previously been okayed for check-in and the sale of sundries. Several neighbors of the new hotel complex were present, along with a few others from around town. But no attorneys.
The meeting started with a series of votes to recess discussion and decision-making on several outstanding variance requests. Those included Paul Fleischmanns’ request to expand upon the footprint of the long-defunct Lake Hill Store, at the corner of Route 212 and Mink Hollow Road, for the creation of a small store with small restaurant and two apartments above, as well as Douglas Ballinger’s push to make legal several situations at his developing Bagel Shop and Wine Bar complex on Mill Hill Road between Catskill Mountain Pizza and the auto repair shop next to Catskill Art & Supply.
Ballinger’s architect, Brad Will (who is also working with Tannery Brook Real Estate LLC on the Woodstock Way project), was told by ZBA members to put the changes he tried to talk up Thursday night into writing. “The hearing is closed,” noted ZBA chair Maria Mendoza.
Mendoza then opened board discussion of the Woodstock Way variances by reading a statement in which, according to minutes of the meeting “she wanted to acknowledge and state for the record that two of the people who spoke at the previous public hearing were her family members. She has written a letter to the Ethics Board concerning this matter. She has also been advised and believes there has been no ethical violation nor is there any conflict of interest.”
Later, ZBA secretary Michele Sehwerert noted that no ethics board decision had been made, nor requested. At present, the Woodstock Ethics Board is made up of Paul Washington, Iris York, Neil Rayne, and Alison Dodd.
As for the requested variances, Mendoza noted that the applicants had withdrawn their request for a variance that would allow outdoor patio seating for a bar/restaurant. The ZBA then approved all other variances by a unanimous vote without discussion.
But Ron Pordy, Tannery Brook’s attorney and a former zoning law consultant to the zoning board, followed the vote by noting that one of his clients’ requests had not been addressed: the matter regarding shifting use of the check-in/sundries sales in building seven to a bar/restaurant use.
The assembled neighbors immediately complained, at which point ZBA member Gordon Wemp threatened to have anyone speaking out of turn removed from the meeting.
Town attorney Rod Futerfas then noted that if the applicants wanted a café where they were previously okayed to sell sundries, they would have to go back through a full SEQRA (state environmental quality review act) process.
The audience clapped and again Wemp warned them about possible ejections from the room.
In a back and forth with Futerfas, Pordy said that he and his clients were simply looking for “a matter of clarification,” to which Futerfas replied, “That sounds like a site plan ruling.” He noted the 58 letters the ZBA and town had received in recent days against the bar/café variance proposal.
Mendoza asked the board if they wanted to vote on the matter.
“Ron, we’re not here to clarify,” Futerfas said, explaining that one couldn’t “modify” a variance for sundries to include the sale of alcohol. He suggested such matters were not for the ZBA, but town planners. “You are changing the use of the property with your request.”
While ZBA members said they didn’t feel prepared to vote on anything regarding alcohol or use changes, Pordy insisted that he wasn’t asking for a use variance, just an area one.
Futerfas had had enough. He told Pordy and his clients, Ryan Giuliani and Jesse Halliburton (the latter was not present), that the reason for the growing public reaction Woodstock Way was facing was because they were seeking a use change.
When Pordy again objected, saying he only wanted a clarification, and that they hadn’t rescinded their proposal for a bar/restaurant when they withdrew their variance request for a restaurant/bar patio with service, when Futerfas shut him off.
“Ron, you really need to stop,” the town attorney said, forcefully. “Now.”
Futerfas reiterated his position: that any consideration of a restaurant use at Woodstock Way would require a reopening of the SEQRA process, and a new site plan review.
As for the decision on other variances already approved, he suggested that the entire decision be reconsidered, given Pordy’s request that all be considered as a whole.
Mendoza adjourned the meeting after getting the ZBA’s okay to reconsider their entire Woodstock Way variances, possibly at their July 26 meeting.
The audience clapped, this time without any comments from the board.
Outside in the Comeau Property driveway and parking lot, those neighbors in attendance said they’d be certain to bring attorneys to the next meeting. Some pointed out Giuliani’s ties to high-end catering, and what that might mean for Woodstock Way. Others talked about a brewing lawsuit over the way The Lodge has received its building go-aheads, as well as violations the town was supposedly looking into at Sunfrost, on Tinker Street (calls to the supervisor and building department about both matters went unanswered).
“They probably would have gone ahead and built a bar/restaurant if their lawyer hadn’t pushed for more,” said one former planning board member.
Everyone agreed things seemed to have changed on their latest land use battlefront. The lawsuits, one person said, were likely to come from the other side now.