“Sleeps up to 18. Right next to our brand-new sports courts & pedal kart track, Cindy Bear’s Palace is a fantastic option for a large family getaway! Live life in luxury for a great vacation! Starting at $520/night.” So reads the Lazy River Resorts, LLC website’s pitch for rental of the most capacious (and costly) option for overnight accommodation at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp in Gardiner. Trouble is, the building at 46 Bevier Road lies on a separate parcel from the rest of the campgrounds and hasn’t been approved for such use by the town. A legal appeal by Lazy River of a Notice of Violation (NOV) issued on July 31 by Gardiner’s building inspector/code enforcement officer, Andy Lewis, was vehemently rejected last Thursday by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“The inclusion of this property, and its subsequent use as part of your campground business, constitutes an unauthorized amendment to and/or expansion of your Site Plan, and requires approval from the Town of Gardiner Planning Board,” wrote Lewis in the NOV. “To maintain compliance with the Zoning Law, you are required to immediately discontinue the business use of this property until an application for a Site Plan Amendment has been reviewed and approved by the Planning Board.” As of Monday, September 30, Cindy Bear’s Palace was still actively available to rent on the resort’s website.
Lewis explained that what he accidentally discovered on an inspection of the property on July 3 — originally scheduled for a walkthrough of a bathhouse being constructed under a separate building permit — “took me aback.” A large tennis court, basketball court and racetrack, he found, have all appeared on the 46 Bevier Road parcel without Planning Board approval. Complicating matters further, the “new adjacent recreational facility” was apparently built since the town adopted a moratorium on development or expansion of tourism-related accommodation facilities until changes to the zoning code are worked out by the Town Board.
Lazy River took the position that 46 Bevier Road is a “single-family dwelling with an accessory apartment” on a separate lot from the resort, being sublet as an AirBnB, and that the amenities constructed adjacent to it should not be treated as a commercial use for the campground’s clients, despite both properties being under the same ownership. “Let’s say a different owner rented this house. Why can’t these people walk over and use Jellystone Park?” asked the attorney Lazy River, Charles Gottlieb of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, LLP.
The ZBA wasn’t buying it. “People who rent the house have full use of the [resort] facilities,” pointed out board member David Sterman. Asked point-blank by ZBA chair David Gandin, “Do you dispute that people who go to the campground can now use the improvements to this lot?” Gottlieb demurred, insisting that Gardiner zoning law is “vague and ambiguous” and claiming that the recreational facilities are an accessory use allowed by the town for residential properties. “How is that not commercial?” asked board member Michael MacElhiney. “If it smells like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is a duck,” fellow member Joe Katz observed wryly.
“They’re really not good neighbors,” averred Suzanne Levirne, an Albany Post Road resident who lives “one lot away from the campground” and has complained to the town on previous occasions about persistent noise coming from events at Lazy River. Noting that many uses were “grandfathered” into the original 70.8 acres of the resort, she alleged, “The campground has gotten a pass on a lot of things…What they’re trying to do is circumvent any approvals by the town. They’re buying properties down the road without getting any additional approvals…It’s an expansion of the campground. They can call it whatever they want.”
According to Lewis, recent conversations with the Gardiner Planning Board on the topic had yielded a consensus that compliance is the town’s main goal. “We want to minimize the impact on the residential neighbors surrounding the campground,” he said. “Getting them in front of the Planning Board is critical to gain compliance.”
Saying “I object to the process,” Gottlieb argued that enforcement of the NOV should be adjourned until Lazy River comes before the Planning Board for several other permit applications currently in process: “I think a global solution is more useful, instead of a piecemeal approach.” But he waded into dangerous waters when he asked Gandin to recuse himself from voting on the matter, alleging bias: “I know that the town is not pleased with Jellystone Park…I dispute the characterization that this board does not get involved with the policy of the town.”
“Anybody’s personal feelings do not come into our deliberations,” a clearly irritated Gandin said tersely. “We’re here because your client was cited with a Notice of Violation. It’s a very discrete consideration. The construction was improper because it’s a backdoor expansion of the campground without getting a permit.” Gottlieb antagonized the board yet further when he implied, in a reference to a potential “waste of town resources,” that a lawsuit might be imminent, which Gandin characterized as “a veiled threat, which we will not be bullied by.” Several members objected to what they saw as the attorney’s patronizing manner, and MacElhiney called his approach “not exactly an act of good faith,” saying that it did not demonstrate a desire for “the constructive engagement that you’re trying to espouse.”
Gottlieb then returned to citing case law that he said upheld the rights of the owner to develop the property unless specifically prohibited in the zoning code, but by then it was too late to make amends. Katz made a motion to turn down Lazy River’s appeal and uphold the building inspector’s determination; it passed at once, unanimously. ZBA members asked that their irate comments after Gottlieb left the room be kept “off the record.” The agenda for the next Gardiner Planning Board meeting, scheduled for October 15, had not yet been released as of presstime.