What could be the community’s next big land use battle has emerged in the past week as news appeared that The Lodge at Woodstock, featured on TV as one of the nation’s worst hotels just five years ago, sold March 13 for $2.8 million to an international “Lifestyle, Travel and Hospitality Platform” that’s become one of the hottest international real estate ventures since being formed in Central America 11 years ago.
On Thursday evening, April 25, the Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals will start a public hearing on whether recent town actions were legal approving fast track renovations planned to get the latest iteration of The Lodge, once known as the Pinecrest on Country Club Lane, up and running as a music studio and “retreat for artists and creatives” in time for the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival in August.
According to ZBA secretary Michele Sehwerert, the hearing will start around 7:30 p.m. and be held “for an interpretation as to whether building permits 19-16 and 19-67 dated March 25, 2019 were properly issued.”
The Lodge’s previous owners, MHS Worldwide Holdings III, had begun discussions with the Woodstock Planning Board late in 2016, moving towards site plan review and permits, as well as ZBA overview of any areas in need of clarification regarding the long-grandfathered property located in the midst of a residential neighborhood. After numerous meetings with the planning board where the extent of renovations and building replacements were discussed, MHS Worldwide Holdings and their legal representative abruptly stopped the review process in 2017. Word from planning board members was that MHS Worldwide’s principals, Michael Skurnick and Jack Waterman, had gone directly to town building inspector Ellen Casciaro and supervisor Bill McKenna.
MHS Worldwide Holdings submitted building permit applications late that summer of 2017, and those permits were then granted by the town “limited to the repair of existing buildings and associated septic systems, as well as the rehabilitation of an existing swimming pool and surrounding deck.” Certificates of occupancy were later granted the buildings, but not the pool and deck.
By late 2017 The Lodge was advertising renovated rooms and a revised restaurant/bar/nightlife scene, even though repeated site visits by this reporter showed continuing foundation and site problems. By early 2018 site work had apparently resumed, and a neighbor to the property hired legal help to petition the town for help stopping what was seen by many in the neighborhood as illegal activity.
On July 2, 2018, attorney John W. Furst of Newburgh-based law firm Catania, Mahon, Milligram & Rider, PLLC wrote Casciaro and the Town on behalf of James D. Cohen of Millstream Road regarding new construction activity at The Lodge involving parking lot expansions and other non-approved work. On July 10, 2018, Casciaro sent MHS Worldwide Holdings III two Orders to Remedy noting that the work undertaken could not proceed without an approved site plan from the town planning board. On July 11, 2018 she added a Stop Work Order for “the landscaping and other exterior modifications to the property,” as well, until site plan review and permits were approved by the planning board. She also noted that since the pool had been posted for noncompliance and had no certificate of occupancy, it “should not be in use.”
But in recent weeks, other neighbors of The Lodge noted that new building permits were suddenly okayed for the site on March 25 even though no approved site plan had been granted, or site plan review before the planning board even started.
“I think there is a bit of a miscommunication regarding the stop work order that I issued to The Lodge back in July,” Casciaro wrote one of those neighbors on April 4, while noting that her biggest beef had always been with signage and the moving of boulders. “I removed the stop work order. It is a flip of a button on my computer. I don’t call the paper and tell them my daily operations. Again, it was a flip of a button on my computer. The violations were removed.”
Casciaro went on, in her April 4 letter, to note that “the owners of The Lodge and their design team came to my office and requested a building permit to remove and replace a severely deteriorated building and to fix some others. I told them that as long as they did not replace the signs or change any landscaping without a site plan, I would issue the requested permits. The Lodge and the design team submitted to the planning board the beginnings of their site plan revisions as planned.”
Stop work in effect?
Last August, town attorney Rod Futerfas wrote to an attorney for the then-owners of The Lodge that, “It is noteworthy that your client’s activities having been undertaken in violation of the zoning code…if left uncorrected will result in no certificate of occupancy being granted. This of course represents a serious impediment to the future sale and financing of your client’s property.”
Adding to Futerfas’ opinion, town supervisor McKenna noted in an email last September that representatives for The Lodge “were told they needed to return to the planning board to complete their site plan. The stop work order is still in effect and should be until they conform the Zoning Law.”
Last weekend, John Furst, the attorney representing neighbors of The Lodge, noted that he had “chatted” with McKenna and been told that The Lodge will be making an application to the planning board soon and furthermore that, in the interim, “no permits will be issued for any aspect of the property until said violations are cleared. Thus, regardless of whether the proposed upgrade or change triggers site plan review, the Building Department will not process any applications for The Lodge.”
Requests for clarification between Casciaro’s actions regarding building permits and McKenna’s policy prescriptions, as well as all the activity proceeding without any announcement in a change of ownership at the property, went unanswered as of press time.
MHS Worldwide Holdings III — a partnership between Michael Skurnick of Brooklyn, former Paramount executive Jack Waterman (who had a home in Olive), and former Pinecrest bartender/manager Brian Parillo — bought the 27,000 square-foot restaurant, pool and cabins property on 6.5 acres for a little under $1.1 million, according to Ulster County records in 2016. The previous owners, who gained notoriety in 2014 when then-owners Carlos and Annie Pombo agreed to have an episode of the Travel Channel reality TV show Hotel Impossible shot on site in exchange for upgrades (which became the episode “Rotting Woodstock”) bought the property in Spring of 2001 for $475,000.
Selina, the entity that has announced their purchase of the property alongside announcements for the launching of two new hotel properties in New York City last month, told Travel Weekly in March that what had been the Pinecrest and The Lodge “will be positioned as a retreat for artists and creatives, offering guests access to its recording studio” and described itself as “a millennial-focused brand that offers workspace for rent by the day, week or month in addition to overnight accommodations.” The company has more than 30 outposts across Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Portugal.