On January 29, New York State Supreme Court judge James Gilpatric upheld the January 2019 decision by the Gardiner Planning Board to approve of Shinrin Yoku, LLC’s site plan for the Heartwood eco-resort development in the Tuthilltown hamlet. The court dismissed all 13 causes of action cited in an Article 78 petition by a group of residents calling themselves the Friends of Gardiner, who sought to overturn the permitting of the project, a process that the plaintiffs termed “arbitrary and capricious.”
“We respected the community’s Comprehensive Plan and the laws that support it,” said Gardiner Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “I appreciate that the court affirmed the Town’s commitment to apply our laws fairly and equitably.”
Among the allegations raised by the Friends of Gardiner were that the Planning Board did not take a “hard look” at three specific areas of environmental concern: noise levels, wildlife habitat and volume of well water. The plaintiffs argued, for example, that the town’s acoustic tests were inadequate, saying that a mock wedding band should have been brought onsite to measure more accurately the decibel level of an event hosted by Heartwood. They also contended that a 72-hour well water test should have been conducted, rather than the standard 24-hour test.
With regard to noise, habitat and water issues, Judge Gilpatric wrote, “The record in this proceeding demonstrates that the Planning Board took the required ‘hard look’ at the potential environmental impacts about which petitioners are concerned, and, although these concerns may be significant to petitioners, the Planning Board found that they are not significant within the meaning of SEQRA, and that finding will not be disturbed.” All testing conducted by the town was deemed in conformity with existing legal standards, with the judge specifically noting that one of the Planning Board members, Joe Hayes, was a hydrogeologist.
Other issues raised by the plaintiffs included the potential impacts of farm structures that owners Phillip and Kristin Rapoport plan to build on the part of the 141-acre property designated as an agricultural easement, as well as the legality of building a restaurant in the town’s RA district and an argument that the 80-building project’s 48,123-square-foot aggregate footprint violates the Town Code’s 6,000-square-foot limit for a single building. The judge characterized some of these concerns as being “based upon speculative and exaggerated assertions about the extent of potential development…. Simply put, the Court is unpersuaded that the Planning Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious or unlawful manner.”
A link to the full text of the court decision can be found at www.townofgardiner.org/heartwood-resort. As of presstime, the Friends of Gardiner website, www.stopheartwood.org, had not yet posted a response to the court decision. Shinrin Yoku, LLC, issued a statement in response to the resolution of the lawsuit, saying, “The judge’s decision was very decisive on all counts and we are happy to have this behind us.” The Rapoports describe the Heartwood project as “a modern eco-resort and wellness-oriented hotel. The hotel will feature both an indoor and outdoor pool, a spa, farm and restaurant highlighting local farm-to-table ingredients, as well as 70 individual cabins with en-suite bathrooms, private verandas, luxury bedding and views of the Shawangunk Ridge, forest and wildflower fields on the property.”