The Gardiner Town Board dedicated a special meeting on September 20 to discussion of the waivers of Special Use Permit requirements requested by Lazy River, LLC in quest of a Campground Floating District for its Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Campground. While one of the most contentious issues pertinent to the site, how to regulate park model RVs, was tabled once again because councilwoman Laura Walls was absent from the meeting, the remaining members closed ranks on a number of other issues. By the end it became increasingly clear that Lazy River will not be getting many of the indulgences that it is seeking from the Town.
Shrinking the number of allowable campsites seemed to be the Board’s top priority, due to concerns about density and safety, with unanimity on any questions of granting waivers that would permit new sites in existing permanent buildings. One of Lazy River’s requests is to allow two structures to be used for staff housing, the otherwise unidentified Building #11 and one of the two structures on the former Lobster Pound restaurant property, acquired in 2018 and identified as Building #18. Lazy River already has approval to house site caretakers in a single structure known as Ranger’s Retreat (Building #5), but has shifted that building from staff housing to a camping unit sleeping up to 12 people, despite its having only five parking spaces.
The owners allege that this change of use was permitted under the last site plan review in 2014, but the Town Board has been unable to locate correspondence from Gardiner’s code enforcement officer verifying this claim. Town attorney Allyson Phillips of Young/Sommer, LLC was tasked with reviewing the Building Department’s records to discover the truth of the matter. Lazy River contends that Mountain View Lodge (Building #13), which sleeps 16 with parking for 13, was permitted as well.
Other buildings proposed for waivers for camping use, to the Town Board’s displeasure, include Bevier Lodge (Building # 20), which sleeps nine, and Cindy Bear’s Palace (Building #19), which sleeps 18. Both were acquired after the last site plan approval and neither has been previously recognized as part of the permitted campground. But the operator is making the argument that, because they are surrounded by the campground property, they should be allowed to be rented out “as opposed to demolishing the buildings or using them for commercial uses.” This rationale particularly irked councilman Franco Carucci, who said, “They’re gobbling up these properties and then make us out to be the bad guys if we say No, because they can’t use them. It’s like they made a bad investment. If I make a bad investment, I can’t blame it on someone else.”
In addition, Lazy River wants Bevier Lodge and Cindy Bear’s Palace, along with Ranger’s Retreat and Mountain View Lodge, to be allowed to operate year-round. This expectation was firmly shot down by the Board, along with the request for a waiver to extend the seven-month limit on the resort’s camping season so that it will always be open during Easter week, even when it falls early. Citing the ongoing complaints by neighbors about noise, light pollution and other impacts of seasonal camping on the site, councilwoman Carol Richman said, “We might consider it if there was a way to mitigate these – otherwise no.”
Besides disallowing any requests that would increase the number of overnighters at the campground in permanent structures, the Board also agreed to eliminate at least a few existing campsites that lie within the 50-foot buffer area of the Wallkill River floodplain, lot lines or roads. “Sites 400 to 402 are all in the buffer, they were built without approvals and they’re not on the 2014 site plan approved by the Planning Board. I think they have to go,” said Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “Everyone in agreement?” Everyone was.
Still on the table are campsites 77 to 81, which border recently acquired undeveloped agricultural land on the south side of the property and are described by Lazy River as “preexisting” nonconforming sites. Phillips will research the legality of denying permission for these to continue in use.
The attorney will also make recommendations to the Board on what measures can be taken to restrict use of the 200-foot buffer area of the undeveloped parcel for Lazy River’s Halloween Trail, a frequent target of noise complaints by neighbors. “The Halloween Trail might need to be more than 200 feet, because of the noise and light. We could require more vegetative buffering, more of a setback,” suggested Carucci.
Phillips noted that some usage limits might be placed on such previously unpermitted areas through the use of conditions imposed during the Special Use Permit process, if the Board decides to add them to the permitted areas of the campground under the requested Floating District designation. “The Board has some discretion,” she advised. “I’m making a list of what’s supposed to be Special Use Permit conditions,” said Majestic.
Inadequate parking continues to be a concern, especially at permanent structures, and the Board decided to instruct the code enforcement officer to perform inspections of those sites to verify the number of parking spaces available before granting any waivers of such requirements.
A site visit had already been performed by representatives of the Gardiner Highway and Fire Departments to determine whether internal roadways in the campground were adequate for emergency vehicle access. A memorandum from the Fire chief stated that the access road known as Third Avenue “did not follow the original site plan” and lacked proper signage. The chief offered Lazy River two alternatives: either to reconstruct the road as a through street as originally planned, or replace it with two dead-end roads connected by a hammerhead turnaround, which would require the elimination of two campsites on one side.
All in all, the more the Gardiner Town Board deliberates the wish list put forward by Lazy River, the less its members seem to be in a conciliatory mood. According to Majestic, “We made some headway.” No plans were made to schedule another special meeting, but discussion, including of the hot topic of park model RVs, will be on the agenda of a regular meeting in October.