Some Woodstock property owners have challenged the need for designating a large portion of the Zena hamlet as a Critical Environmental Area and have expressed concern it will lead to more restrictions.
“You can’t make recommendations,” said Jeff DeLisio, who owns 95 acres in Zena. “Nor should you suggest changes to the zoning ordinance. That’s not the purpose of a CEA and it shouldn’t be included.”
DeLisio also took issue with lack of notice for the public hearing at the June 21 Town Board meeting. “If you call most of the people in the CEA they would tell you they had no idea that this was tonight,” he said.
Zena resident and former Planning Board chair Paul Shultis Jr., referred to a different proposed law. “I really think you should adopt the aquifer law and protect the Sawkill watershed before we go to Zena and try to protect an aquifer there,” he said, pointing to an unpassed statute aimed at protecting the Bearsville aquifer that feeds the town wells. “So why is one side more important than the other if we’re there to protect the aquifer, but I think it should be proven to us in some fashion that there is an aquifer there.”
But Ingrid Haeckel, conservation and land use specialist for the Hudson River Estuary Program, touted the benefits of a CEA, which encompasses the Thorn Preserve, pairs of Bluestone Wild Forest and other environmentally sensitive areas. While it doesn’t impose more regulations, a CEA requires planning and zoning boards to take into account environmentally sensitive areas and habitats when ruling on applications.
“The Zena Woods area contains exceptional forest and wetland resources on a town scale, and from a regional perspective, most of the CEA ranks within the top 5% of Hudson Valley forests in terms of size and relatively intact unfragmented condition,” she said.
“Ulster County also identified most of this area as within an intact habitat with high condition. And the Nature Conservancy’s resilient and connected landscape initiative furthermore identifies this as an area of high resilience value for biodiversity in the face of climate change.”
She said the designation would not impact regular building permits.
“While the CEA is not something that is really going to create a huge wide swath of change across the board, it is going to provide educational tools for not only landowners, but also [for] the Town Board and Planning Board to make better decisions for developmental processes,” said Woodstock Land Conservancy Executive Director Andy Mossey. “As we go through those checklists, it’s important to have as many tools in our box to give us the correct information to make changes that are best for the future, and for habitat and climate,” he said.
“As a member of the Planning Board, it was incredibly useful to me to have my attention drawn to the Zena Woods area. It’s very easy not to notice. I drive down Sawkilll Road all the time, and I don’t think about it as the kind of really valuable resource that it is,” said Judith Kerman, who also served on the CEA working group.
Supervisor Bill McKenna recessed the public hearing to a later date pending completion of an environmental assessment.