Nearly two-and-a-half years after Phillip Rapoport and Kristin Soong Rapoport first came before Gardiner officials to broach the subject of their Heartwood eco-cabin project in Tuthilltown, the Planning Board voted at its July 16 meeting to put its imprimatur on the final version of the site plan, dated July 8. “We’re now at the 11 1/2th hour of the approval process. They want me to sign the plans,” said board chair Paul Colucci. “Do you get a special pen?” joked Planning Board member Josh Verleun.
Colucci read aloud a memorandum from town planner Jim Freiband summarizing his final document review and recommending the signature, with the additional condition that the Rapoports’ development company, Shinrin Yoku, LLC, close the site’s existing driveway adjacent to the Stone Wave Yoga studios once a proposed “stabilized entrance” is constructed. “The applicant has addressed all requirements on this July plan set. As such, the plans are ready for board signature,” Freiband wrote.
Carol Richman, the Planning Board’s most vocal skeptic of the Heartwood proposal from the outset, made one final effort to block the project being greenlit. “How can you approve this without the [terms of the] conservation easement being known?” she asked. “You don’t file an easement on a site plan,” Freiband replied. Heartwood attorney Mike Moriello reminded Richman that the conservation easement is attached to the site map filed with the lot line revision already approved by the Planning Board. “This board’s done with that document,” he said.
“The language for the conservation easement will come before the Town Board, possibly in August,” agreed Colucci. “Last I heard, the Open Space Commission was reviewing it and making recommendations.” “It will not come to us for approval,” affirmed Planning Board member Ray Sokolov.
Moriello further explained that his clients could not move forward with applying for a building permit until they have signed plans indicating that they have met all conditions, and that the Rapoports’ business investors were growing restive. “We have been held up four months” since site plan approval was granted, he said.
Authorization for Colucci to sign off on the site plan passed by a vote of 4-2, with Richman and Marc Moran voting against the motion and newly installed Planning Board member Ralph Varano and alternate member Becky Fullam ineligible to vote.
Meanwhile, an Article 78 lawsuit by the Friends of Gardiner against the Town of Gardiner, challenging the approval on January 17 of the special permit, site plan and subdivision request for the Heartwood project, continues to make its way through the courts. “There were oral arguments made, and the judge asked for transcripts,” Colucci reported. “It should take 90 days, more or less, for the decision.” Freiband noted that the judge in the case did not choose to stay the action that the Planning Board was about to take, approving the site plan.