Gardiner’s planning board, as well as town residents who sat in on their August 4 Zoom meeting, got their first look at plans for the agricultural portion of the Heartwood eco-camping resort. Slated to feature a barn, farmstand, greenhouse and shelters for goats and chickens, the Heartwood Wildflower Farms facility is intended primarily as an added attraction for overnight visitors to the adjacent resort, according to owner Phillip Rapoport.
Located on Route 44/55 in the hamlet of Tuthilltown, the main parcel of Heartwood is set to include 70 cabins – some of them overlooking the Shawangunk Kill – plus a main building with spa, restaurant and an event space. The proposal sparked considerable controversy in the community, especially with regard to potential noise impacts, but received site-plan approval in January 2019 after two years of sometimes-heated discussion.
Rapoport reported that groundbreaking for the main resort parcel got under way this June, when New York State’s pandemic-containment stay on construction work was lifted. He projected “roughly a two-year timeline,” with opening of the facility planned for the summer of 2022. “I’m very grateful, in hindsight, for the long process, so that we missed this Covid escapade,” he said with a laugh.
The conservation easement worked out between the town and the developers allows for agricultural uses on the parcel adjoining the resort on its western flank, which formerly was home to a tree farm. Most of the proposed applications are considered accessory uses-by-right under the New York State Agriculture and Markets law, rather than being regulated by local zoning ordinances, and thus do not technically require further in-depth review. But the developers agreed to run all their plans by the planning board anyway, citing the scale of the project and the level of community concern.
As envisioned, Heartwood Wildflower Farms will be, in Rapoport’s words, “a vegetable farm and plant nursery with goats.” The goat enclosure will be 480 square feet, with a smaller chicken coop of about 150 square feet. The farmstand is slated to cover 800 square feet. The largest structure, a 3600-square-foot barn, is “intended to support our agricultural program,” with a gathering space for lectures, classes and workshops as well as tool and equipment storage and office space. As the Heartwood resort is being marketed in part as a destination for yoga retreats, perhaps visitors will be able to engage in trendy “goat yoga” sessions next door.
Some members of the planning board members expressed unease with the building’s potential as an event venue. “You have something here that’s going to encourage large gatherings of people at some point in time,” chair Paul Colucci pointed out.
“What’s to prevent you having a band, making beer, having parties?” asked board member Josh Verleun.
“Those activities are explicitly prohibited in the easement language: serving alcohol, having a taproom, gatherings of over 60 people,” Rapoport responded. “It’s been incredibly thoroughly vetted and restricted.”
Twelve parking spaces are planned for the farm site – largely to accommodate employees, he noted, as most recreational users are expected to walk over from the adjoining resort. The parking lot will be permeable, surfaced with crushed stone. “It will look like a parking area at Mohonk or Minnewaska,” Rapoport said.
A new road servicing Heartwood Wildflower Farms, with a separate entrance, will also have a permeable surface. Noting that the proposed roadway crosses a planned drainage swale, Colucci asked the developers to come back with more details about the road’s dimensions, elevations and grading. The goat housing must also be set back at least 200 feet from the swale.
The developers still need to obtain Department of Health approval for a new well and septic field, but the agricultural portion is not required to undergo further State Environmental Quality Review.
“I believe what you’ve prepared for tonight is a good start,” Colucci said.