Most of the speakers at a Saugerties Planning Board public hearing on Ryley O’Connor’s plan to open a new repair shop off High Falls Road agreed: Ryley is a nice person. For people living nearby on High Falls Road that was not the point.
At least 10 neighbors cited the potential noise and traffic on the quiet, narrow road. Two customers of Ryley’s existing shop talked about his competence and his willingness to work with people to solve problems.
Engineer Richard Rothe presented the plans at the public hearing on Tuesday, June 21. The proposed shop would be housed in a 60×125-foot building. The project would disturb one acre, or a bit less. There would be very few lights, all downward facing.
Patrick Melville, the first of the speakers, said he lives next door to the proposed auto repair shop. The owner has already begun site work, with no permits, he said. He fears oil and other contaminants will seep into the ground water, which now serves the wells of neighboring properties. He also predicted the shop would be noisy, and that bright lights would be on all night “shining into my house.” Melville offered to show the board pictures of O’Connor’s shop on Route 32, [at Harry Wells Road off Route 32] asserting that it is an unsightly mess. The Highway Business zone, a mixed residential and business zone, does allow repair shops, and Melville accused the town of being more interested in making money through the business taxes than in protecting the homeowners in the area.
One speaker, who declined to give her name, said that the original plan showed all the lots in the proposed subdivision as houses. What changed, she wanted to know. She had expected Ryley to build his home there, and possibly run the repair business as a home business, not a full shop. Planning Board consultant Adriana Beltrani explained that the change in use is the reason the Planning Board action is required; a residence would not require board action.
Kathleen Marks said she moved to Saugerties a few years ago, and has been having her car serviced at Ryley’s business on Harry Wells Road. She praised the quality of his work, saying “I trust him implicitly. He’s honest, he’s trustworthy, he’s reliable.” Marks described Ryley as an excellent mechanic. “I don’t understand why, if the laws are being followed, this competent business owner is being challenged.”
Toni Purcell suggested that a better orientation of the business would be to place the front entry on Route 32. High Falls Road tilts, she said; “when another car is coming, I have to go way over.” With Highway Commercial zoning, businesses should locate on Route 32.
In response to one resident’s question, Ryley O’Connor said he makes sure he collects any oil that he takes from cars to heat the shop and his home. “Oil is like gold to me,” he said. It is stored in barrels, and he makes sure none leaks into the ground.
Rothe said he lives next door to a repair shop, “and sometimes I hear an air tool. You know what I do when I hear the air tool? Nothing, I go on living my life.” He acknowledged that things might be different for the neighbors, on High Falls Road, but a repair shop is an allowed use in the zone, and he [O’Connor] has a right to operate there. “It just needs site plan approval.” While some members of the audience called out that Rothe’s experience was not the same as what they anticipated, he said that people are working at the repair shop near his home every day.
In response to a question about how much water the business will use, and its possible effect on nearby wells, Rothe said the Health Department quantifies water use in a business by the number of employees. This business would have two, based on this formula, “this business would use less water than a three-bedroom house.”
Beltrani, the board’s consultant, said there were still outstanding issues, and suggested that Rothe should come to the next meeting with more detailed information. The list turned out to be fairly extensive.
Board member Michael Tiano said the estimate of water usage, 400 gallons per day, seems like a lot of water. He asked whether they would be washing vehicles or whether there were other explanations. Rothe said the calculation is generally based on the number of employees, in this case, two. “Four hundred gallons is a little bit more than a three bedroom house, and a little bit less than a four bedroom house,” he said. Tiano also asked that the developer provide a list of solvents, chemicals and any toxic substances to the Saxon Fire Department.
Planning Board member Carole Furman asked what precautions are being taken to assure that oil and other chemicals don’t leak into the soil. Rothe responded that the building will be on a concrete slab. Oil is drained into containers, and then into drums, Ryley O’Connor said. He had indicated earlier in the meeting that used motor oil heats the business and his home.
Plan for four attached homes draws questions at Planning Board hearing
Brapas Land Development LLC is proposing to divide one acre of a 38-acre parcel into five lots, which would vary from 6,800 square feet to 17,000 square feet. Four would have townhouses on them. Architect John Sullivan explained at a public hearing on the project at the June 21 meeting of the Saugerties Planning Board that the individual lot lines are not shown because when a building contains attached units, the lot lines are filled in after the buildings are constructed.
Each building would have a garage and a separate driveway. Each building would also have a separate deck, Sullivan said.
One of the speakers at the public hearing asked specifically where the houses are to be. Sullivan pointed out the one acre parcel being cut from the larger property, The speaker also asked where cars would be parked. Sullivan said each unit would have space for one car in a garage and space for one on the driveway. Board Secretary Becky Bertorelli said she could provide him with the plans if he would fill out a freedom of information law [FOIL] request. The questioner said his concern about the exact placement of the driveways and parking is that his home is near the development. “Are they going to be across from my front door?” he asked.
Paula Masasi asked why the plan is referred to as a five-lot subdivision. Sullivan explained that the final lines for each lot would be determined after the buildings were completed, at which time the lines between the sections of the building would be established, and there would be some land left; the fifth lot. This is procedure that is often used when attached buildings are set on separate lots. Masasi asked if the method meant there would be more than four buildings; Planning Board Chairman Howard Post said there were just the four sections, each essentially a single family home. Any further subdivision would require further Planning Board action. Masasi said she is concerned the narrow road into the subdivision would be hard to navigate with the extra traffic.
Another area resident asked what the ultimate goal for the development is. Sullivan said he does not have that information. “You know he won’t stop here,” the questioner said.
The board is still waiting for some information from the town engineer, so the public hearing will remain open through next month’s meeting, set for July 19.
Planning Board Member Michael Tiano said the fire department had not received the plans, and asked that they be sent. He foresaw a possible problem in that while the building is two stories at the back, the front of the building is not built into the hillside, so with the basement included it shows as a three story building. The Fire Department is not equipped to fight a fire in a three story building, he said.
Ravensbeard Wildlife Center site plan draws applause
The crowd at the June 21 Saugerties Planning Board meeting greeted Ellen Kalish, the founder and Executive Director of the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center with cheers when the public hearing on a site plan for the center’s new property at 131 Van Buskirk Road came up.
The center’s mission is to care for injured animals in order to return them to the wild, Kalish said. The center offers volunteers the opportunity to work with many different species.
The center is a non-profit corporation, known as a 501C-3. It raises funds through donations from the public, she said. “We are planning to purchase the property at 131 Van Buskirk Road to be our forever home and emergency wildlife clinic.” The center’s current home is rented.
Ravensbeard began in 2000 at a property on Turkey Point, Kalish said. She served on the board of the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and served from 2012 to 2020. In 2012 the center received the Ginsberg stewardship award from the Woodstock Nature Conservancy, Kalish said, and in 2019 an appreciation award from the Catskill Exotic Bird Club.
The center’s work is important because development is placing stress on bird populations around the world. Birds play a role in eating insects and carrion, “and birds will play an increasingly important role as the number of insects and carrion increase,” she said.
Ravensbeard has recently gained an international following, Kalish said. “In 2020 we rescued Rocky, a little saw-white owl from the most famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center,” Kalish said. Rocky has gained international attention, and was the subject of a children’s book, The Christmas Owl, which she co-wrote. This year, Rocky is the inspiration for Saugerties’s summer street art.
Ravensbeard has no corporate donors and no alliance to any political or social groups, Kalish said. “We are not a zoo, and we will not be open to the public. We have an educational birds of prey program that is off site. We go to schools, libraries, senior centers, scouts, state and county fairs; we just did a program for the Saugerties Garden Club.”
Ravensbeard has been working for 20 years to help build the Saugerties community and to help protect its animals. “We love the Hudson Valley and hope to continue our work for many years to come,” Kalish said.
In response to a question from Gaetana Ciarlante about the building and plans, Kalish said the center is buying a 13½ acre property of which about one third is usable. Water runs through the middle of the property. Some slatted wooden flight cages will be placed on the property.
A two-story house on the property would house a clinic for birds on the lower story, and Kalish would live upstairs. The birds need 24/7 oversight, she said, so she needs to live on the premises.
In response to a question about her qualifications, Kalish said she is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and also works at the Ashokan Center as an outdoor educator.
“Do you have veterinarian training?” Ciarlante asked. Kalish responded that while she is not a trained veterinarian, the center works closely with a few veterinarians. “Our job really begins when we bring the birds back to the center and care for them. Administer medications from the vet, give them habitat housing, and give them appropriate food and care.”
“You’re not open to the public?” Ciarlante asked. State law forbids public contact with birds and animals that are to be returned to the wild; contact with humans can interfere with their rehabilitation, Kalish said. “We are trained to basically handle them as wild animals, and that’s what we do.”
Several speakers referred to the wildlife demonstrations they had attended, and the informative lectures and classes sponsored by the center.
One person commented that she has known Kalish for several years. With all the war and violence in the world, “here is someone who has been devoting herself to creatures who don’t have checking accounts. They come to her and go back into the wild to continue their life.”
A neighbor who lives across the street from the present center reassured neighbors that they “won’t have birds of prey scooping up your pets.”
After another half dozen comments, mostly in praise of the center’s work, the board voted to approve the necessary special use permit for the facility. As is usual, the permit will be reviewed after one year, Post said.