The Town of Gardiner is proposing a six-month moratorium on the “processing and approval of new applications for certain tourism-related accommodation land uses” while it implements changes to the town Zoning Code intended to address issues identified in an audit recently completed by the law firm Young/Summer LLC. At its November 13 meeting, the Town Board scheduled a public hearing on the moratorium to be held on December 11 at Town Hall. The delay in processing applications could impact some currently pending projects, such as the controversial Heartwood resort, if significant changes to the initial proposal are made by the applicant.
The zoning audit final report, which can be viewed on the town website at www.townofgardiner.org/index.cfm, targeted three areas of Gardiner’s Zoning Code, adopted in 2008, where definitions have not kept up with the rapidly changing landscape of tourism accommodations. Municipal planners have been complaining that the code as it now exists has not been serving the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals adequately in recent years when it comes to distinguishing between hotels/motels and other overnight lodging facilities such as campgrounds. The Town Board now wants to draft new language that would clarify these categories and make it easier for planning officials, the building inspector and the code enforcement officer to do their jobs.
The confusion about how to categorize certain development proposals came to a head with the controversy over the proposed Heartwood eco-cabin project in Tuthilltown, which critics characterize as “glamping.” Also on the table for regulation during the proposed moratorium period are short-term rentals of private residences via Internet matching services such as Airbnb. Some Airbnb sites within the town have been recently identified by Gardiner residents as chronic sources of intrusive noise. Concerns about the Heartwood proposal also have tended to focus on the likelihood of noise pollution.
The language of the draft local law establishing the moratorium includes a grandfather clause that would exempt “the review, processing and approval of any applications…that are pending as of the date this local law is introduced,” November 13, 2018. Considerable discussion was devoted to the question of whether this means that the Heartwood proposal would, in councilman Warren Wiegand’s words, “get a free pass.”
At the Planning Board’s October meeting, the Heartwood principals submitted proposed language for an agricultural easement that many members of that board thought would give them far more leeway to build structures and implement tourism activities that exceeded the scope of the development as originally proposed. Wiegand asked if the text of the moratorium could be amended specifically to exclude “substantive” or “substantial” changes to a pending development proposal from the grandfathering protection. He said that he would prefer language specifying that, “If they change the application by a lot, they have to start all over again.”
Councilwoman Laura Walls countered that, in her opinion, the language of the moratorium is “pretty explicit” and would allow a pending application process to be halted in a case where the applicant is seeking substantive changes. She suggested that such changes to any proposals should be sent to Young/Summer for review on a case-by-case basis. “More units, more land coverage would be unequivocally excluded,” she said. “You can’t make it ironclad. There’s always individual discretion about how you read something, how you personally interpret it.”
Ultimately, the Town Board was able to reach a consensus that the moratorium law as drafted would allow the Planning Board to put consideration of the Heartwood proposal on hiatus, or even send the applicants back to square one, if the request for the agricultural easement is deemed to be a game-changer in the scope of the project. “The Heartwood thing is such a huge issue within the community, and if we don’t do this thing right, this whole thing could really blow up on us,” Wiegand said.
According to state law governing municipalities, a moratorium cannot be enacted for the purpose of targeting a particular development proposal. “It’s important to note that this moratorium is a result of the review of the code,” observed town supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “It’s not a knee-jerk reaction to any specific application.”
Gardiner residents are invited to make their views known at the public hearing on the moratorium law, which will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11. Comments may also be submitted in writing to the attention of the town clerk. Discussion of ways to address the deficiencies identified by the Zoning Code audit will be on the agenda for a multi-board meeting that will also take place in December.