Selina Woodstock, the international work/stay developers who paid over $2 million for the hotel/restaurant property previously known as The Lodge last Spring, quietly emerged on the agenda of the Woodstock Planning Board August 1.
The item was under the “Communications & Announcements” portion of the board’s agenda, before any scheduled public hearings or discussions were set to take place. The agenda described the matter as, simply, “Discuss granting a temporary (3-month max) Certificate of Occupancy to Selina if we can reach an agreement on the septic, site plan.”
The item still drew a crowd, and much concerned discussion after the matter arose in the planning board’s meeting.
“Tonight, about an hour before the regularly scheduled meeting, a call went around to the neighbors of The Lodge that one of the board members who had been absent from the previous [planning board] meeting was going to propose something to circumvent what had been decided at that previous meeting in order to attempt an end-run in service to Selina’s interests,” wrote neighbor Terry Austin of Risely Lane in a letter he sent to town supervisor Bill McKenna following the meeting. “About a half-dozen of the neighbors were able to drop everything and hurry over to see what was up.”
The property recently had a number of building permits granted by Woodstock code enforcement officer Ellen Casciaro reversed by the town Zoning Board of Appeals, which said a formal site plan review for proposed changes to the property before the planning board was required.
According to Austin and others of the neighbors of the controversial Lodge site what followed was board member Conor Wenk proposing the temporary C of O as a way to keep Selina from laying people off as it worked to right wrongs left over from the site’s previous owner. A $50,000 escrow amount was brought up as insurance that Selina not abuse its temporary certificate.
Austin went on to describe the proposed escrow account and deal as seeming “to have the appearance of a $50,000 bribe for the town to allow Selina to once again do whatever they want” despite detailed discussion of needed planning steps by the planning board’s attorney and planning consultant at its previous meeting in July.
Asked about the matter this week, planning board chairman John Lavalle, a former town supervisor, said “this was simply a discussion done in open session…very preliminary.”
Lavalle continued. “If it occurs at all it will involve a lot of precedent that concerns me. I believe this all came forward following a discussion between Selina and the town supervisor…What concerns me is an inequality involving other people who have not been treated as well by the town. We have to be fair with everyone.”
Asked whether he or anyone had met with any town officials before last Thursday’s meeting, Selina CEO Yoav Gery emailed, “Nothing has changed since the planning board meeting last week, where it was proposed that Selina be granted a temporary certificate of occupancy, subject to Selina funding an escrow account and/or satisfying other conditions. The issue was then calendared to be discussed in more detail during the August 15 meeting.”
Asked again about how the conversation got started regarding a temporary C of O after such discussion was dismissed by planning board attorney John Lyons and planning consultant Matthew Rudikoff on July 18, Gery emailed back only that, “I wasn’t at the meeting. But I understand that Conor Wenk raised the proposal.”
Attempts to reach Wenk were unsuccessful as of press time.
Town supervisor McKenna said he hadn’t spoken to Selina directly of late, but may have mentioned a previous discussion with the international company to Wenk in the past few weeks. “I threw this idea of a temporary C of O out ages ago when this whole brouhaha started,” McKenna said. “I simply suggested way back when this was before the ZBA, in April I think. Everyone started to realize that having gotten into this after they bought the property, Selina was caught betwixt and between, but also that it would be great if they could hook up to the town’s sewer system. All of this would be taking quite some time.”
Asked again how Wenk had come to be the planning board member who brought up the idea of a temporary certificate of occupancy before the planning board, McKenna went on.
“Reggie (Earls, a town board member) and I had a conversation at some time recently and Conor was there,” the supervisor added, noting how he often talks with town officials unofficially about current business. “We’re all expecting an Article 78 (lawsuit) around the ZBA’s actions regarding the property at some point and I suggested that if we were to entertain any of this it would make sense that Selina put money up to entice everyone.”
The next time any of this may come up formally would be at the planning board’s meeting on August 15.