Woodstock working group has ideas for former funeral home property

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

A community group with investors can purchase the former Lasher Funeral Home to make sure local needs are prioritized while preserving open space, a panel told the Woodstock Town Board at its August 24 meeting.

The Lasher Property Working Group was asked to find uses for the property at 100 Tinker Street shortly after a sale to Woodstock Way partners Ryan Giuliani and Jesse Halliburton fell through because of timing and uncertainty about the town’s impending moratorium on transient housing. Giuliani and Halliburton had planned to convert the existing buildings into a hotel and event space and build homes on the field. In response to neighborhood pressure, the partners took the homes off the table and offered to sell most of the field back to a group committee to keeping it undeveloped. When the deal fell through, that put more pressure on people already scrambling to find alternatives.

Short of the town buying the property, which seems unlikely, a group of local residents is seeking an alternative to a developer that may not be responsive to community concerns. “The Lasher property, when it went on the market, was a wake-up call for the town, and we all experienced it, the untimely passing of Ken Peterson, and the loss of the funeral home that had operated for generations,” working group chair Deborah DeWan said. The property being put up for sale is not just about the loss of the funeral home and meadow, but “something deeper and more profound,” she said. “What we’re experiencing in Woodstock now is something that towns throughout the Hudson Valley have been facing for decades. I’ve worked in dozens of them and the development pressure that gobbles up open space really can kill the heart of the community. And it happens a little by little by little. Death by 1000 cuts.”  

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The buildings are in decent shape and have potential for uses such as shared workspaces, artist and music studios, gallery space and housing, DeWan said. “In our view, as a group, we looked at this and we felt that if it is done, it could be done in a small scale that would fit to the surrounding neighborhoods and architecture, and all the while maintaining the views and the prospect of public access and employment.”

Community group could prioritize funeral home

A funeral home would not need the entire footprint and could be contained to the parlor, said working group member Kirk Ritchey. “So that’s one priority the community would hold to this group. In one sense it’s a very positive thing because whoever purchases the property, they have a guaranteed lease in one-fourth of the buildings,” Ritchey said. “That’s a very strong proposition for a bank.”

Ritchey said the other buildings could be repurposed for mixed use with upper floors for residences. A group could purchase the property with the support of the Town Board and would have a mission that is in keeping with the community, he noted. “That’s really the possibility that we’re most excited about. The other one is if we don’t do anything, then the second possibility that will likely happen is that someone else will buy it. They may act like they understand this town, and they will try to understand this town, but they likely will fail in their translation of what they think should happen on that property in my opinion,” Ritchey said.

Out of shock comes a new model

“We just thought, this is our life. And I think that it was a real shock to us. It was a shock,” community advocate and working group member Terry Funk-Antman said. “And in a way, if you want to turn anything into positive, it was a shock that made us really think about what this property is.”

She thanked Supervisor Bill McKenna for allowing the working group to come up with options. “You said this is really an exercise in collaborative problem solving. What we wanted to see is could we do this together. Could we work together,” she said. Funk-Antman said she thought of the working group as a new model for how the town can approach options for large properties that come up for sale. “I think that it’s back to the basics, working together, compromising, offers us a way forward of holding the larger vision in our mind’s eye of what we really want to protect,” she said. “And to remember that we’re neighbors, and this is a treasure.”

Town supervisor Bill McKenna agrees a similar working group could be used in the future.

“While this didn’t come up with any great plan that you could actually move forward, I think we have set up a new model for looking at other properties,” he said. “And we’re in the middle of a moratorium now. We’re involved in a committee that’s seeking solutions, so I’m optimistic that we can move this thing forward.”

Ritchey said the group’s presentation served as a call to action and the rest is up to the community. “There are residents who are willing to get together. The first thing would be to assess the level of investments and capacity and capabilities of providing those investments in the short term, establishing an LLC, a legal entity, beginning a site plan, maybe initially having an agreement with the sellers, so that there could be a site plan development, to verify that there’s alignment there,” Ritchey said.

Town councilman Lorin Rose favors a different approach. “I still think the town should buy it and move the town offices down there. Instead of putting an addition on this building [the current town offices atop the Comeau property], take that money and buy that,” said Rose. “That’s been my opinion from the beginning. It’s still my opinion.” Rose had proposed the idea several months ago as an alternative to the $2.9 million renovation to the offices on Comeau Drive, but it failed to get traction with the rest of the Town Board.

Other members of the working group are Maxanne Resnick and Nels Leader of the Woodstock Land Conservancy and Town Board liaison Reggie Earls. Kevin O’Connor of Rural Ulster Preservation Corp (RUPCO) served as an advisor.

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