Selina Woodstock, the new owners of property formerly known as The Lodge, were told they must study connection to the town sewer and water lines and resolve issues with the neighbors before further site plan consideration.
“It’s going to be a long, detailed process. It’s going to involve planning on our part and engineering,” Planning Board Chairman John LaValle said at the August 15 meeting, where architect Jess Walker, engineer George Schmitt and attorney Steven Barshov came to find out what is needed for the next step in the approval process.
“You as an organization are going to be required to put up considerable escrow in order to cover the town’s expenses for this process. And I’m going to ask that your company put up an additional $50,000 at this time,” LaValle added.
Off the table, at least for now, was any further discussion of a temporary Certificate of Occupancy, as discussed in prior board communication. Planning Board member Conor Wenk had floated the idea as a way to allow Selina Woodstock to open and not need to lay off staff, but neighbors criticized it as an end-run around the approval process.
“I was approached not that long ago by two members of the Town Board, (Supervisor) Bill McKenna and Reggie Earls, to talk about the shadow of the thought of an idea of granting you guys a temporary C of O,” Wenk said. “Having walked the property, I, more than the next guy, want to see this be successful because I believe that you guys have the resources to make that happen.”
Wenk explained his number one concern “harkens back to the days of Hotel Impossible where leach fields were found underneath picnic tables. And that is not in our future.”
A 2014 episode of the reality television show Hotel Impossible on the Travel Channel called “Rotting Woodstock” chronicled black mold and dilapidated cabins among several issues with the property.
“It’s hard for me to envision a site plan that does not involve hooking up to the town sewer for those laterals,” Wenk said, referring to the existing sewer infrastructure on the property.
Sewer expansion needs careful consideration
“What I really wanted to emphasize is that this is not coming to you as an expansion of this facility in any way in terms of something that is going to call into question the overall adequacy of the septic system for what is right now in terms of the buildings and the permit,” said Barshov, Selina’s new attorney who was brought on board recently.
“It may well be that the ultimate solution is to look at extending the sewer line, but I have to say that in doing so, you will not be able as a matter of law to be myopic in the sense of only looking at this property.”
Barshov is no stranger to Woodstock land use matters, having litigated the Comeau conservation easement as special counsel for the town. He raised concerns about a sewer line extension allowing for increased density.
“You run that sewer line up that street, all the way up there, you’re talking about the possibility of induced growth on sites along that line,” he said.
Areas serviced by water and sewer lines are typically allowed to have more bedrooms, for example.
Regardless of density concerns, septic tanks and leach fields are scattered throughout the property but are not all shown on the site plan or town maps. Selina’s engineer will need to complete a survey and figure out where they are all located as part of the engineering study to determine the feasibility of hooking up to the town sewer.
That will take considerable work since the property was developed well before town zoning laws were adopted, according to LaValle. Nobody is even sure if there was an original site plan that can be used for comparison.
LaValle urged Selina to also look into connecting to the town water line, which “should be minor compared to the effluent collection.”
Better communication with town, neighbors urged
“I’m not trying to get wrapped up in the whole thing other than to say while you guys are a new applicant on paper, there is a long history with this property,” Wenk said. “I’m not going to go over the whole thing with you save to say there is a communication breakdown in our expectations and what was being brought before us, time after time, and I think we should all have a very good understanding of what we need to achieve going forward.”
Barshov nodded in agreement. “We want to turn around and not just be good neighbors overall, and we know full well what the history is here, and I’ve been briefed on it at least a few times,” Barshov said. “And I get it. And my client gets it. I don’t believe in words. I believe in actions.”
He promised to speak with town officials to determine what can be done without approvals to alleviate neighbors’ concerns in the interim, such as replacing outdoor light fixtures that shine into people’s homes.
“I want to turn around and see what is it that we can do right now, even before the application goes forward, that wouldn›t violate anything, but that would turn around and start to show, by actions, that we get it, and we can turn around and address problems,” Barshov said.
Planning Board member Brian Normoyle asked for a show of hands from those in the audience who were there for the Selina project. Nearly everyone raised their hand.
He suggested Selina’s representatives meet with the neighbors to sort out remaining issues before returning to the Planning Board.
He said the issues “are going to get hashed out between you or they’re going to get litigated.”
Barshov said he’s not going to wait until a public hearing to find out what the issues are. He vows to hold a meeting, either in person or via teleconference, to discuss issues and solutions with the neighbors.
“With the level of use that is planned, I guess our big concern is going to be the impact on the neighborhood,” LaValle said. “Because this is, as we’ve stated, a nonconforming, existing use, which is operating on wells and septics, and that is a serious concern. So we’re going to look at the whole ball of wax, and may very well ask for considerable engineering to be considered in order to take the load off.”
Instead of coming back with piecemeal updates, Selina was asked to wait until it had discussed sewer issues with the town’s engineering consultant Dennis Larios and is ready with a more complete site plan.