Issues regarding building permits, renovation allowances, pool safety and the transformation of what was known as The Lodge and is now struggling to become Selina Woodstock grew even more complicated this past week.
The town planning board opened up a sketch review for site plan permitting of the Country Club Lane property that was, for years, the Pinecrest, at its May 2 meeting, with board members stating their trepidation regarding the location and its previous owners. They also cited current building permit controversies still before the town zoning board of appeals, while representatives of Selina Woodstock pointed to zoning laws that say all applicants deserve fair treatment, no matter how fresh or un-fresh their ideas may appear.
After being reprimanded by the town board for her granting of building permits for work at The Lodge site while stop work orders were apparently still relevant, and with an interpretation of town zoning law regarding same permits still pending a decision before the Woodstock ZBA (which meets on the issue this Thursday, May 9), town building inspector and code enforcement officer Ellen Casciaro wrote a letter to the ZBA reiterating her right to make determinations without interference. Which prompted town supervisor Bill McKenna to speak about town officials and “differences of opinion.”
Amongst all the legal maneuvering, it turns out that the general contractor/manager for Selina Woodstock’s wished-for changes and upgrades to The Lodge site — which envisions a work-stay mix of inn-rooms, food concessions, pool and a recording studio — is Michael Skurnick and MHS Worldwide Holding III, the same entity that previously owned The Lodge and sold it after abandoning site plan review and making changes with Casciaro’s later-rescinded approval over a year ago.
“It’s all very confusing,” McKenna said in an interview this week.
Things kicked off at the May 2 planning board meeting with board members asking for paperwork clarifying who the new owners of the property were, who representatives would be, and who would be answering planners’ questions. Paul Shultis Jr., a longtime board member, former planning board chair, and son of Woodstock’s legendary building inspector of several decades, went over some of the history of The Lodge and its application for renovations.
“We’re still unsure how the zoning officer allowed the applicant to stop the permitting process and okay demolition and replacement of buildings,” he noted. “Now you’re back to us.”
Victoria Polidoro, the attorney representing Selina Woodstock, pointed out that the new owners wanted to proceed with proper approvals. When planning board members said they would send the project back to the hired planner, Matthew Rudikoff, who was originally reviewing the application three years ago, and ask for escrow payments to cover such expenses, Polidoro pointed out how there had been disagreement with Rudikoff’s analysis and comments. She suggested that the town might want to change its view of the proposed renovations to one that shows the project has little impact.
Shultis noted that the board’s concerns had always been with longstanding neighbors’ complaints about the various businesses that have operated inns, restaurants and music venues at The Lodge site. Polidoro answered that 25 percent expansions were allowed, while planning board members countered that such allowances needed to be within setbacks and other provisions of town zoning law.
Architect Jess Walker said the expansions would involve nine new rooms, leading to discussion of use versus property expansions.
“Zoning has to be read in favor of the landowner,” Polidoro said.
“We went over this for weeks and weeks the last time,” replied planning board member Peter Cross.
Polidoro said she wanted legal opinions on all matters. “We wanted to expand the buildings but you didn’t want to,” Walker responded, referring to the last time he was before the planning board with Lodge permit requests years earlier.
The board pointed out that they were confused by the recent controversies, brought up before the Woodstock ZBA and addressed by the town board, regarding stop work orders at The Lodge, the granting of recent building permits by Casciaro and requests for a stay on all building activity by the town board and others, and continued construction work at the site itself.
“I do understand your confusion but our clients have building permits and are acting on them,” Polidoro said on behalf of Selina Woodstock.
“The new owners should have come to us and not just the previous owner,” Shultis replied.
“You can’t bring bias to this permit process,” Polidoro responded, at which point planning board chairman John LaValle said that her wish was, “laudable but impractical in terms of this property. We’re not here to simply roll over.”
He added that having Skurnick now overseeing construction work where he previously skirted planning board approvals was complicated. Cross pointed out that a survey of the property would have to be done since neighbors are saying Skurnick had previously deposited debris “over the line” during its previous work at The Lodge.
Construction should be stayed
In Casciaro’s May 1 letter to the Woodstock ZBA, which resumes its public hearing Thursday, May 9, on whether the building inspector acted illegally in granting building permits on The Lodge property in March, she said that, “despite the claims of two neighbors, there were no violations on the property at the time of issuance,” and that she has approved Selina Woodstock’s construction application to reconstruct a building and renovate others as of May 1. She added that “it is anticipated that the site plan review process will conclude and a resolution will be issued before certificates of occupancy are issued.”
On May 7, Casciaro further issued a Certificate of Compliance regarding the property’s swimming pool, despite it also having been a point of contention in the planning process, as well as with the Ulster County Department of Health.
When asked about the actions of the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer this week, including another permit situation that centers around roofing that’s before the ZBA after months before the planning board (which we’ll cover in full next issue), supervisor McKenna reiterated his and the town board’s stance that any construction at The Lodge/Selina Woodstock site should be stayed until the ZBA finishes its interpretation process, and the planning board can undergo complete site plan review.
Asked again about Casciaro’s latest actions, McKenna added, simply, “We have a difference of opinion.”