More than two years after it was first proposed, the controversial 141.3-acre Heartwood eco-resort in Tuthilltown has received conditional special permit, site plan and lot line revision approval from the Gardiner Planning Board. The resolution to approve described the proposed lodging facility, with 70 cabins and a restaurant and event barn, as “a modified project that is sensitive to the concerns that have been raised and is sited and laid out in the best possible way on the site.”
The lot line revision for the two-lot parcel, which lies between the Shawangunk Kill and Route 44/55, reduces the size of the lot reserved for agriculture from 97.1 acres to 33.1 acres. The lot that will contain the lodging facility will expand from 44.2 to 108.2 acres. Three conservation easements will cover the entirety of the agricultural parcel plus 21 acres of the lodging site.
In its findings for special permit approval, the Planning Board noted, “The project consists of a modest number of cabins that are sited in a way to minimize visibility and maximize distance from surrounding properties. The applicant has committed to quiet hours and outdoor music at special events will be monitored and the sound level capped through the use of noise limiters.” While acknowledging that the public hearing process generated “extended discussion and debate about potential noise from the project,” the resolution concluded, “The Planning Board determines that the project, with the stated conditions imposed and implemented, will not cause a public or private nuisance.”
One of the conditions to site plan approval regarding noise mitigation was further tweaked by the board prior to the vote. Noise limiters, originally proposed to cap the sound level at the source (Heartwood’s event barn) at 110 decibels between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 100 decibels between 8 and 10 p.m., will now be calibrated to limit levels to 100 db and 90 db respectively. No amplified music will be permitted between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and outdoor public address systems are prohibited.
The goal is to keep the increase in noise levels at the property line to a maximum of 3 db, which should be imperceptible to the average listener. The conditions specify that, “Prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the sound system and noise limiters will be field-tested under the supervision of a Planning Board representative with sound levels measured at the site property line in order to confirm there is no increase in the observed sound level at the property line.” A sound engineer would also be present during the field test. A recommendation from the citizens’ group known as the Heartwood Seven to establish a noise complaint telephone line directly to facility operators was rejected, with the board reiterating its previous position that the town’s building inspector/code enforcement officer is the appropriate agent to monitor and investigate complaints.
Other tweaks to the conditions include adoption of strict limitations on the use of “pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides and insecticides” in the forested area of the site outside the conservation easement, with mechanical methods such as traps being the first resort. Carol Richman warned her colleagues that “second-generation rodenticides” are “super-lethal” and can bioaccumulate in predator species such as raptors that eat rodents.
Tree removal guidelines were made more specific, protecting trees “greater than six inches diameter at breast height,” and the developers reiterated their intent to “field locate” the exact placement of cabins and other structures in order to minimize tree-cutting. Some other limitations impacting habitat were deferred to the wording of the conservation easements, which are yet to be finalized.
The vote on the resolution to approve was 6-1, with Richman the sole dissenter. “When does the clock start ticking, so we can go for an Article 78 [lawsuit]?” attorney Hilary Adler asked following the approval. “Because you know that’s coming.”