Discussions continued at the May 17 special meeting of the Gardiner Town Board on the requests by Lazy River, LLC to designate a Campground Floating District and obtain a Special Use Permit (SUP) for its Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Campground. Waivers of a dozen provisions in the Town’s zoning code would be prerequisite to issuance of the SUP. Lazy River needs these approvals in order to maintain unpermitted expansions and improvements to those of its facilities that had been approved in previous years, as well as to carry out additional planned improvements.
Specifically, the lodging facilities known as Cindy Bear’s Palace and the Bevier Lodge have been doing business for several years without formal approval by the Town of Gardiner, as have a number of new recreational facilities built on acreage formerly belonging to the Lobster Pound restaurant. “We’re looking at things already constructed without the Town’s review,” said the Town’s attorney, Allyson Phillips of Young/Sommer LLC.
The discussion brought out a host of opponents to these expansions, including near neighbors whose lives have been negatively impacted by seasonal activity at Yogi Bear, which some Gardinerites characterize as “an amusement park, not a campground.” Noise has long been the most consistent complaint. A video capture from across the Wallkill River of a “hayride” with a deejay traveling from campsite to campsite at night, playing amplified music and urging campers to shout in unison, recently surfaced on a Facebook group called Gardiner against Yogi Bear Expansion. This footage was e-mailed to Town Board members, who seemed galvanized by the evidence that, in Majestic’s words, “The complaints are real. People’s quality of life here in Gardiner is affected by the campground.”
During the “privilege of the floor” segment of the meeting, one resident of the adjoining Farmers’ Turnpike neighborhood described himself as a combat veteran whose PTSD is frequently triggered by outbursts of noise from the campground across the river. A college student spoke of her inability to focus on studying for her final exams on account of the unrelenting noise. Others reiterated complaints often heard in the past that the noise does not cease after the 10 p.m. curfew to which Lazy River had previously agreed in applying for permits to operate its facilities.
Lazy River attorney Charles Gottlieb, of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, LLP, denied the allegations, saying, “The Town conducted four noise studies that did not show substantial noncompliance.” He deflected blame for the “hayrides” onto hired deejays whom he said the owners of the campground could not control, or onto the campers themselves. This evasion did not sit well with the Town Board. “It’s always ‘because of the deejay,’” councilman Franco Carucci fired back. “All these people are not lying.” “The bottom line is I heard it; I didn’t imagine it,” said Supervisor Majestic, recounting walks that she had recently taken along Farmers’ Turnpike on weekend evenings when the campground is busiest.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the legality of the “park model RVs” being used as campground lodging by Lazy River. Majestic cited a letter from Gardiner’s fire chief alleging that these supposedly mobile units have their “hitches being taken off right away” upon arrival, whereupon they are placed on piers. “He’s concerned about the spread of fire,” the supervisor explained. Gottlieb said that, with the exception of eight park model RVs that are “up on a hill” and therefore not vulnerable to flooding, “All the others still have a hitch and can still be moved. The hitches can be placed back on.” Because the units are “RV certified” per federal regulations, the units are “not subject to local fire codes,” he argued. Gottlieb said that 14 park model RVs had arrived at the site in 2021 and 21 more since January, with more planned to be added for the coming year.
Phillips cautioned Gottlieb that the campground’s aggressive expansion and denials of responsibility were not going over well with the community. “It’s in Lazy River’s interest to use this process to make a fresh start,” she said, as the Town Board scheduled a public hearing on the CFD and SUP applications for its June 7 meeting. Councilman Warren Wiegand agreed: “This has been going on for years, and it never gets better.”