Long delayed plans to build the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley in the city’s Rondout neighborhood have suffered another setback after organizers of the project missed a crucial deadline to secure building permits for the site.
The oversight, which supporters attribute to a “terrible mistake” means that the project will have to go back before the city’s planning board to seek a new site plan approval.
“It was an oversight, a terrible oversight, on our part,” said Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley spokesman Brian Devine. “There were many eyes on the same paper and somehow we missed it.”
For the past six years, the ICCHV has struggled to win approval for construction of the three-story, 16,000-square-foot building on a vacant lot at 32 Abeel St. Plans call for a community hub which would include an Irish pub, 171-seat theater and classroom space for instruction in traditional Irish dance, music, sports and Gaelic. The center would also serve as office space for the group.
From the beginning, the project has faced opposition from neighbors who say the center’s proposed site, on a quiet street bounded by residential properties, is inappropriate. The center’s backers prevailed in one lawsuit challenging a zoning board of appeals decision that ruled the site could be included in the Strand business district, based on its connection to the waterfront zone by means of a narrow footpath. The group also had to overcome a ruling from the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission that its design, based on the former D&H Canal Paymaster’s Office which once stood on the site, was too obtrusive and out of character with surrounding buildings The ICCHV appealed to the zoning board, which overturned the HPLC decision). Over the course of six years the project was redesigned, reduced in scale and subjected to review by six state, county and city agencies.
Finally, in April the city planning board signed off on site-plan approval that would have allowed the project to move forward. But one approval came with a 120-day deadline for ICCHV to obtain building permits from the city to move ahead with construction. The permit approval expired in September.
Devine said that ICCHV learned that the site plan approval had expired when they applied for a building permit and were denied based on the expiration. City Planner Sue Cahill, meanwhile, said that the deadline passed while the city’s building department was awaiting information from the group before issuing the permit.
Over the summer, ICCHV began excavation at the site. City regulations do not require a building permit for digging, as long as site plan approval has been granted. Shortly after excavation began, neighbors complained about damage to their driveways and serious erosion along Company Hill Path. ICCHV backers met with city officials to discuss remediation efforts, including shoring up the pathway and installing silt fences and rock to prevent further stormwater runoff from the site.
Devine said the group had complied with all of the city’s requests for remediation but said he thought it was unclear whether the excavation, as opposed to an exceptionally wet spring and summer, were to blame for the erosion.
“My understanding is that over the course of many years that path has been subjected to water runoff before and has eroded before,” said Devine.
Last month, ICCHV members returned to the planning board to seek an extension of the site plan approval. Board Chairman Wayne Platte Jr., however, said the board considered the approval expired and the group should be prepared to start from scratch. The process, he said, would involve a new round of public hearings on the issue. Platte added that attorneys for neighbors who have filed suit to stop the project would have to be given notice of the new approval process.
Devine said that ICCHV planned to submit their plans for the board’s approval without major changes to the design. He added that the group was hopeful that the board would “fast track” approval of the plan.
“We hope they will see that we complied with all of the city’s requests up to the time of the approval,” said Devine. “We hope that will influence their decision.”