Tuthilltown Spirits, located on the Shawangunk Kill in the Tuthilltown neighborhood of the Town of Gardiner, is seeking to expand its Visitor Center at 14 Grist Mill Lane by 3,850 square feet. Seating capacity would be increased from 36 to 56. At its December 21 meeting, the Gardiner Planning Board declared itself lead agency for environmental review of the proposed construction project, with a public hearing likely to be held at its February meeting.
According to engineering consultant Andy Willingham, the applicant, Tuthilltown Holdings, Inc., needs the expansion in order to provide ample social distancing for visitors gathering to embark on distillery tours or to shop in the facility’s retail area. The distillery was not able to reopen in the summer of 2020 when comparable businesses were being permitted to phase in visitation as COVID infection rates began to subside in New York State, simply because of the building’s tight floorplan. Tours did not recommence until November 2020, and that only on a limited basis. Willingham explained that the intent of the expansion was not to entice more visitors to the site at any given time, but to afford them more space during future waves of the pandemic.
Only two additional parking spaces are included in the site plan for the project. This expansion will necessitate the removal of four pine trees. In her final meeting on the Planning Board before moving into her new seat on the Gardiner Town Board, Carol Richman urged the applicant to add some landscaping improvements to the site plan, including removing some old asphalt near the banks of the Kill, eradicating invasive species and planting “more natural vegetation” in the riparian setting.
Planning Board chair Paul Colucci concurred with Richman, saying, “It’s not unreasonable to discuss improving the landscaping. Some improvements may be warranted; it’s right up against the river.”
State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of this project would not normally be required, as the proposed expansion is under 4,000 square feet and therefore classified as a Type II action, according to Millspaugh. However, the 35-acre site also includes the Tuthill House at the Mill restaurant, built in 1788 and designated a historic building. Town attorney Dave Brennan explained that a full SEQR would therefore be performed, as if for a Type I action.
The remnants of the former grain mill’s old sluiceway are also considered archaeologically sensitive, which means that any expansion project must be greenlit by the State Historic Preservation Office. And the Department of Environmental Conservation must weigh in on potential impacts to the Shawangunk Kill, which is designated a Recreational River. Responses from these two state agencies, plus the Ulster County Planning Board, were not expected to arrive in time to schedule a public hearing at the January meeting.
The application also includes a request to add two more outdoor speakers to the facility’s existing two. As the distillery has on occasion been cited as a source of noise by nearby residents, the speakers may well prove the most contentious detail of the project once the public comment period gets underway.
Gardiner cell tower public hearing extended to January
A public hearing on the proposal by Wireless Edge to build a cell tower at 630 South Mountain Road in Gardiner was held open after the Gardiner Planning Board’s December 21 meeting, to be continued on Tuesday, January 25 at 7 p.m. The board hopes to conduct a State Environmental Quality Review for the project at that meeting, but must first receive confirmation from the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB) that the application is complete. “We made the referral [to UCPB] prematurely; we didn’t have all the evaluations,” explained Planning Board chair Paul Colucci.
The evaluations in question included full analysis by Wireless Edge of the results of its visual impact study. A balloon test was conducted on November 13 at the proposed site, which is a Town-owned property currently used by the Gardiner Highway Department to store road maintenance vehicles. Photo simulations of potential visual impacts indicated that the top of a 110-foot tower there would be visible year-round from six of the 18 vantagepoints from which photos were taken, including two on the Bruynswick Winery property.
Colucci also questioned Wireless Edge representative Robert Gaudioso about some potential construction issues raised by highway superintendent Brian Stiscia: the proximity of the tower site to existing structures on the property, and the fact that the foundation for the tower was planned to be built near an area that had been filled with organic matter. “Typically, we would take soil samples and design the foundation based on that,” Gaudioso reassured the board chair. With regard to height, he said, “The fall zone has to be one-and-a-half times the height of the tower. The distance is more than 200 feet to the closest building.”
The Planning Board voted to re-refer the site plan application to UCPB with the missing information, and to hold the public hearing open until the January meeting.