Zoning unrest in Woodstock

In preparation for Selina Woodstock’s promised application for a long-awaited site plan review for the property formerly known as The Lodge, on Country Club Drive, Woodstock planning board members have been visiting the inn and taking photographs of what they say appears to be exterior work at the site. 

Representatives for the new owners, including The Lodge’s previous owner — who abruptly ended an earlier review process two years ago and is undertaking renovations under building permits that the town board has said are illegal (and that are now being reviewed by the Woodstock zoning board of appeals) told the Woodstock Planning Board at a May 2 meeting that there would be no exterior work at the site until they’ve completed their review process.

According to John Lavalle, chairman of the Woodstock Planning Board, his board hasn’t scheduled any sessions for special permits or site plan review since no proposals have come before them yet.

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In the meantime, tension appears to be building around the ZBA’s pending interpretations regarding Selina Woodstock’s building permits, and another ZBA interpretation that asks whether the planning board can help mediate a situation involving normally illegal activities in the town’s restrictive scenic overlay district, as well as oversight requests from town supervisor Bill McKenna.

Those requests from McKenna apparently include a demand that he approve all departmental expenditures even though Lavalle said the planning board has never gone over its meager annual budget

McKenna said this week that all he’s been seeking from planning board secretaries of late, and refused access to, is the reason for the planning board’s executive session last week, which he questioned the legality of. As for budget requests, he noted that “It’s been longstanding practice, since Jeremy’s first term I believe, that the town’s different departments touch base with the supervisor regarding any hiring. I don’t know why the planning board might think they’re special.”

Unrest on the planning board has led, Lavalle said, to the board asking its attorney, John Grant, to look into the rare move whereby the planning board would ask the town ZBA to interpret the limits of planners’ ability to question code enforcement in town.

Paul Shultis

According to others on the planning board, there’s even been talk of a mass resignation if their planning reviews continue to be countered by errant building permits, incomplete applications regarding the town’s land use ordinance, or no code enforcement. Or, for that matter, the way they feel they’re continuing to get push-back against using planning professional Matthew Rudikoff to help them with complicated land use issues.

Planning board member Paul Shultis, who used to serve as board chair and whose father, Paul Shultis Sr. was the town’s code enforcement officer and building inspector for decades, took specific umbrage at comments McKenna had made to Woodstock Times in the past, published in last week’s paper, about Casciaro’s feeling there was a “witch hunt” after her. Shultis noted the extensive paper trail the planning board had on all their requests for information, interpretation, or concern over the years.

He and Lavalle also spoke about older days when the planning board was aided by a full time planner, who members said was diligent in assisting that all applications before the town not only passed legal muster, but met and kept precedent for a well-run town. All that shifted when that planner, Dara Trahan, was let go for “budgetary reasons,” and the town board pushed Shultis Sr.’s replacements to be more business friendly.

The ZBA decision regarding the legality of several of Casciaro’s new building permits for the site is expected next Thursday, June 13.

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