With a Comprehensive Plan drafted in 2004 that was never fully implemented and a Zoning Code adopted in 2008 that didn’t anticipate modern trends in vacationing, the Town of Gardiner has been wrestling in recent years with development proposals that seem like square pegs in round holes. Irate Gardinerites turn out in droves at public hearings considering such proposals, but the legal language isn’t yet in place that would make it clear and easy for the town, planning and zoning boards to make their determinations. Would-be developers also lack the clear guidelines that would enable them to design their site plans to navigate the review process without hitting too many snags.
So it should come as no surprise that, when town supervisor Marybeth Majestic looks ahead to what’s on her plate for 2019, she says, “The first thing is the Zoning Code audit. We just enacted a six-month moratorium to deal with it.” Specifically, the hiatus suspends “the processing and approval of new applications for certain tourism-related accommodation land uses” while the Town Board makes some tweaks in the code.
The entire code won’t be overhauled at this point — only the sections that keep coming up in the application review process as vague, contradictory or outdated. The first steps of the audit have already been taken by the town’s law firm, Young/Summer LLC, who created a chart that breaks out five problematic current definitions that need refining: “low impact recreation,” which mentions lean-tos and gazebos but fails to address how a tent or yurt on a platform would be classified; “recreational camps,” which is vague in its references to “permanent seasonal structures”; “lodging facility,” which fails to distinguish among hotels, motels and inns; and “resort.” The code as it now stands makes no provision for the kind of facility now known colloquially as “glamping.”
In addition, Majestic notes, the town needs to enact a “stand-alone law for short-term rentals” at private homes, via newly popular matchup services such as Airbnb. The code also has some ambiguity in its language regarding whether accessory apartments in the RA zone should be considered a “use by right.”
The process of auditing the code may not take up the full six months allotted. Majestic suggests that the most time-consuming part of the process may be deciding what quantitative parameters such as lot-line setbacks may be appropriate for different accommodation types, which will involve researching how other towns have addressed such issues. “We’re trying to do it in bite-sized pieces,” she says.
The second item on her priority list for 2019 is securing funding to circumvent an infrastructure disaster that’s waiting to happen on Gardiner’s western frontier: an aging bridge whose state of structural deterioration was recently upgraded to “code yellow” by Department of Transportation inspectors. “I’ve been after money for the Clove Road Bridge since I was elected,” she frets. The Bridge New York grant fund has just turned Gardiner down for a second time, but the supervisor has high hopes that the Ulster County Transportation Council will come through next year with substantial funding — 80 percent, requiring a 20 percent local match — through its TIPS program.
Another infrastructure headache long in the making is the Gardiner hamlet’s sewage treatment plant, which is close to capacity and sometimes exceeds it during storm events. “It was mentioned in the 2004 master plan that it wasn’t adequate,” says Majestic, noting that two developers have recently expressed interest in building housing complexes in the downtown sewer district that would add to the plant’s load. The town recently contracted with an engineering firm to map the district and make recommendations of ways to increase plant capacity. “We’ll have to find the money to pay for the engineering,” she adds. “By the end of 2019, we should have a fully engineered plan, so we can go out for a grant.”
Less urgent, but also long-delayed, are the finishing touches on the pole barn in Majestic Park. Some construction work was done over the past year, including installation of partitions in the bathrooms and a new ultraviolet water filtration system. The supervisor’s next priority for the Parks Department is to install kitchen plumbing, appliances and cabinetry, which will make the space much more useful for community events. Insulation and heating to make the pole barn usable year-round are a longer-term goal.
On the financial front, Majestic wants the Town Board to put in place very specific policy guidelines in 2019 for the use of unexpended fund balances and reserve funds, which have in some cases languished for years unspent, or been added to annually to a point where they far exceed recommended percentages of the town budget. Research is already underway to select a new system of financial management software, installation of which should greatly streamline the task of keeping tabs on those dust-collecting pots of money.
Also on Gardiner’s horizon for 2019 is a newly revived Open Space Commission. Its first task, Majestic says, will be consolidating and reviewing information about existing easements on properties within the town, so that it can “put monitoring programs in place.”
If there’s still time and energy left after the Zoning Code overhaul is completed, the Town Board will then be asked to turn its attention to a “long-term review of the master plan,” with a view toward implementing recommendations that still seem appropriate but were never carried out. But that’s a very ambitious project, and may turn out to be matter for yet another year.