After a busy 2021, zoning changes allowing for boutique craft manufacturing on Kings Highway, starting an in-depth environmental review process for a massive new development at Winston Farm and drafting regulations for short-term rentals, are high among the priorities of Saugerties Town officials as 2022 begins.
During a recent telephone interview with Hudson Valley One, Town Supervisor Fred Costello said officials will also be seeking to nurture a burgeoning film industry, attempt to address a number of issues in the Esopus.
In regards to proposed zoning changes that have attracted a good deal of concern from members of the public at Town Board meetings over the past several months, Costello said he hopes town officials will have a document that they believe is “representative of what the majority of the community is looking for” by early 2022.
Costello said officials want to make the zoning along King’s Highway more relevant to trends in commercial uses, particularly boutique craft manufacturing of specific products of a high value that are created on-site, often accompanied by a retail component.
“The current zoning is somewhat prohibitive,” Costello said. “The tension is we want to create an opportunity without creating an alternative to what’s happening in the village.”
Costello said he feels quite optimistic about development plans at Winston Farm coming to fruition this time because the developers — John Mullen, Anthony Montano and Randy Richers, who purchased Winston Farm in 2020 — all live in Saugerties.
Prior developers were all from out of town and this made them less sensitive to the historical, economic and environmental value of Winston Farm to Saugerties residents, Costello said.
The project could include single- and multi-family housing, a jobs incubator, public multi-use trails, camping and an amphitheater to the site of the Woodstock ’94 Festival west of the Thruway.
He said a comprehensive State Environmental Quality Review Act “SEQRA” study set to begin in 2022 will create opportunities for stakeholders to participate in the review process and allow officials to collect data about how the project will affect traffic and water consumption.
“At the end of that factual process, we can have meaningful conversations about what the developer desires to do and the community is willing to accept,” he said.
In other development-related matters, Costello said he hopes a couple of fairly large apartment projects could help make a dent in an affordable housing crisis that has gripped Ulster County and the area as housing prices have skyrocketed during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’ve made it clear to developers that an affordability component has to be part of the dialogue and that includes Winston Farm,” Costello said. “The current trend in the housing market means folks making entry-level wages, even $17-$18 an hour, cannot afford to live here.”
He also pointed to five homes that will be constructed as part of a unique project with the not-for-profit Habitat for Humanity, the town’s HUD office and a program sponsored by the Kingston-based not-for-profit housing organization RUPCO that helps private homeowners make repairs as other housing-based initiatives.
He said the town’s zoning code already allows for accessory dwelling units like accessory apartments in many areas zoned single-family residential. Some housing advocates say such units can help communities increase their stock of affordable housing, as was reported recently in The New York Times.
On the issue of short-term rentals, Costello said he hopes the town can pass some sort of regulations regulating the popular accommodations booked through such sites as Airbnb and Vrbo by early 2022. These accommodations have forced residents to grapple with clear quality-of-life concerns like noise, safety and parking issues.
He said the primary goal of the new legislation will be to ensure operators of short-term rentals are permitted and follow minimal building code standards when it comes to egresses, such as allowing occupants to escape through a window in the event of a fire and property maintenance. Noise levels would also be regulated and adequate parking would have to be provided to avoid spillover into neighbors’ properties.
The Town Supervisor admitted it’s less clear if short-term rentals are leading to a displacement in the housing stock. He said as far as he’s seen, homes being rented out as short-term rentals are often second homes and luxury properties that wouldn’t normally be affordable to first-time homebuyers or those of modest wages anyway.
Costello said town officials will continue to work with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York City DEP to work to mitigate discharges of turbid water into the lower Esopus Creek from the city’s Ashokan Reservoir. He said a recent DEP public forum helped the public better understand the discharge, even if not everyone liked the answers that came out of it.
Costello also feels optimistic the town can work with the Village of Saugerties to purchase a second water chestnut harvester for the Esopus Creek that could be used on the south end of the creek to avoid a long round trip there from the village beach where the current machine is based out of. This would allow crews to make further progress on mitigating the effect of the invasive species on the creek and help restore native fish and plant life to the creek, he said.
Costello said he expects Diaz Ambulance to bring a third ambulance and crew online by January 1 after months of controversy over the addition of the third ambulance, particularly over a tax-cap levy override that provided funding for the third ambulance.
Costello said 2021 saw the film industry grow by leaps and bounds in Saugerties with the industry now supporting 200 daily jobs in a repurposed warehouse. He touted Saugerties as an anchor point of the film industry in the Hudson Valley, and he only expects further growth in 2022.
He praised the HBO series Pretty Little Liars which shot both in the village and town including Saugerties High School, the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex and the Orpheum, which reopened in fall 2021 under the auspices of the not-for-profit Upstate Films.
Costello said construction is already underway on pickleball courts at Cantine Memorial Complex on land adjacent to the tennis courts, with the courts expected to open as soon as spring 2022 under a partnership between the town and a longtime area contractor.
“It’s a growing sport and as far as I know, there’s only one other pickleball court near Saugerties,” Costello said.
Officials will also consider a dog park at the west of the Cantine complex that would be accessed from Canoe Hill Road off Mike Krout Road.
As for Covid-19 related stimulus monies, Costello said the town hopes to spend them on water and sewer improvements and also put them towards the Saugerties Animal Shelter, where officials hope to break ground on a new facility in 2022.
Looking back on 2021 Costello said he felt like it was a year where the town was able to at least feel like it was somewhat out of Covid with the return of events like the Sawyer Motors Car Show, the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, Holiday in the Village and the reopening of the Orpheum.
“There was a lot of good news so far as doing things that felt normal, ‘’ he said. “That’s a demonstration of resilience and our love of Saugerties.”