There’s an emerging consensus that two of the three duplex cottages proposed for the expansion of Woodland Pond in New Paltz are not particularly controversial. Officials from the senior living facility have offered to scale back on the use of legacy lawns and pesticides, but are politely resisting the prospect that this third building may not comply with the settlement signed in the court case around building the compound in the first place. Polite resistance was also offered to the notion of paying a recreation fee for those buildings ultimately erected.
In settling the lawsuit, the parties agreed that future building wouldn’t encroach upon the buffers in one particular version of the plans, which proved hard to locate since it wasn’t the final, stamped copy. Once it was located, village consultants determined that it’s still not unambiguous how much of a buffer the wetlands there are expected to enjoy. Engineer Dennis Larios said that the language is “open to interpretation.”
Woodland Pond CEO Michelle Gramoglia discussed the specific wetland protections being offered. For one, Gramoglia was specific in referring only to “federal” wetlands, which speaks to what made this project controversial when it was first proposed: there was not in the mid-aughts, and there is not now, a village law protecting wetlands, meaning only those that fall under federal jurisdiction have any legal protection whatsoever. Federal protection does not include any sort of buffer, either. The steps Gramoglia proposed include the cessation of herbicide and pesticide use on that side of the campus, reducing the lawn size “to the minimum” for the most problematic of the cottages, and developing a planting plan for protection of the area buffering the wetlands.
Despite what may be good intentions when it comes to buffer protection, there’s no clear definition or designation of a buffer on the original documents. Board attorney Ashley Torre’s review of minutes suggests that the intent was a hundred feet, but with certain exceptions granted when complying with that standard was not commercially feasible.
Gramoglia, on the other hand, believes that regardless of intention, the settlement was not well-drafted, and as a result, the CEO is not sure “how comfortable we are agreeing to a poorly-drafted conclusion. . . . we’ll comply with what’s demarcated.”
Kevin Bernstein, an attorney who was involved in the original issues and was re-hired for this application, is of the opinion that “if it was intended not to be disturbed forever, it would have been marked.”
With the uncertainty centered on just one of three additional buildings, Torre agreed with Bernstein that approving the noncontroversial two is an option for board members.
Gramoglia offered a variety of reasons why paying a recreation fee should not be required. The fee is only a backup plan in the village code, for when a developer cannot provide appropriate recreation facilities to accommodate the residents. Among Gramoglia’s arguments were: that the existing trail network is sufficient recreation even with the additional residents, that in addition to trails there are regular bus trips to the Mohonk Preserve, that residents “tend to stay on our campus,” that many Woodland Pond residents were already living in New Paltz, and that allowing members of the public to enjoy the conserved lands around the facility is already required.
No decision on recreation fees was made at this meeting.