Two vastly different projects with potentially substantial effects on Woodstock development and quality of life are under review by the town planning board. One, a 147-acre, eleven-home subdivision off Glasco Turnpike, was lauded as an example of the kind of development that fits in with future zoning changes. The other, a proposed seven-unit motel on Calamar Lane near the center of town, came under withering criticism about its alleged incompatibility with other neighborhood uses.
The Fam Acres subdivision will split a single giant lot into twelve lots, with one 27-acre lot remaining undeveloped. One home exists on the property, and ten more dwellings are proposed. Deed restrictions will place large areas of the buildable lots off limits to construction, and 101 acres will remain under some form of conservation protection.
“This is the largest subdivision major subdivision that the planning board has had in many, many years.” board chair Peter Cross said at the January 5 meeting of the planning board. “We have been working on this for over a year. We’ve included the Woodstock Environmental Commission to do site visits. We’ve been out there almost a year ago doing site visits, looking at the proposed road, proposed lots. We have gone over everything from traffic to roads, and everything is pretty much been gone through and approved up to the point where we’re looking at the conservation easement areas. Now is the final sprint to the finish line.”
Much of the land contains the remains of past bluestone quarry operations.
The development will protect areas not included in the town wetlands regulations through other means, explained zoning attorney Alec Gladd, who represents the developers.
“Instead of reinventing the wheel, basically what we did is we just took the existing town of Woodstock wetland regulations, turned it into a declaration of restrictions which will be filed in the county clerk’s office, and apply that to the conservation areas,” Gladd said.
Enforcement mechanisms will make sure that what is contained in the declaration will be followed. The restrictions will appear in the chain of title of each lot in perpetuity.
A homeowners’ association (HOA) formed to maintain the private road will have enforcement oversight over the conservation areas. “Now you have what is basically a third party monitoring and maintaining the conservation areas,” Gladd said. The HOA will provide an annual report to the town certifying an inspection showing the conservation restrictions were being obeyed.
Town planning attorney John Lyons suggested the deeds include the town’s right to enforce the restrictions. Gladd had no issue with that.
“In some of the large lots, the building area is in front and the wetlands are in the back,” planning board chair Cross said. “So the issue that we were trying to deal with is five, ten years from now, is how do we keep those buildings from sprawling out into the wetlands. And the idea was that they will create a building envelope, an area which only you can build in and develop, and therefore can’t spread into the rest of the protected areas.”
In a normal subdivision plan, the planning board does not dictate where on each lot the buildings should be placed. The lot owner can build wherever they want as long as they can get the septic in. “In this case,” Cross said, “we’re actually trying to restrict where you can build in the building envelope.”
Cross lauded Fam Acres. “Their presentation is what we want to see. Some applications for subdivisions that don’t show any of that. They just draw a circle .… ‘Oh, there might be some wetlands over here.’ [Fam’s] application is very good.”
Next for the project are wetlands permits, state environmental review and a public hearing.
A pastiche of uses
The developers of a motel proposed for Calamar Lane made a detailed argument to the planning board as to why the project was consistent with the town zoning. The property is the scene of a 2018 fire that burned a home to the ground and damaged several apartment structures beyond repair.
Architect Brad Will spoke to the diversity of the Hamlet Commercial District, where the project is located and where hotels and motels are permitted.
“For instance, we have a lot of shops,” said Will. “We have a lot of commercial use, mixed uses with a mixture of commercial and residential, we have straight residential we have religious and cultural [uses], so it’s a real pastiche of uses along the spine of Woodstock kind of like the main street.”
The zoning codes describe 66 different types of uses allowed in Hamlet Commercial. “This is far more than any other district allows,” said Will. “So it’s encouraged, and it’s meant to be a dense and diverse district, and it’s in a walkable section of town.”
Will pointed to the success of Woodstock Way, a 23-unit hotel. Though at the time Woodstock Way was proposed, its Neher Street neighbors complained about the disturbance to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Will said he had checked with the police, who told him they hadn’t fielded noise complaints about Woodstock Way.
“I think it’s a fair comparison and precedent to what we’re proposing, which is less than a third the number of units,” continued Will. “These buildings themselves are the sizes of modest small to moderate-sized houses, each one, and are right off Tinker Street.”
Will noted some hotels and motels have conference rooms, banquet halls, restaurants and swimming pools. “We’re not doing any of that,” he said. “These are units where business people, families, musicians, artists can come and stay for anywhere from a weekend to a whole season.”
The project was really about people spending time getting to know Woodstock and enjoying it, much as the owner and his family have done, Will argued. “For decades, he’s been coming to Woodstock, and he, ironically, had some difficulties finding places to stay.”
Architectural renderings show open space where gardens, fruit trees and vegetables could be grown. Buildings are proposed on the edges of the property, giving access to the open spaces and to the foot bridges crossing the Tannery Brook.
Owner Michael Arnstein encountered complete devastation when he purchased the three-parcel property. All the destroyed buildings have now been cleared, giving Arnstein a clean slate.
Though Will argued the proposed use differs little from the previous use in the way of number of occupants, they will be temporary as opposed to full-time residents. Therein lies the rub.
Planning board member Brian Normoyle questioned the water use required by the cultivated green space, Will responded it would be handled through rainwater recovery systems.
Members of the public, through the chat feature of Zoom videoconferencing, expressed concerns ranging from access to the town Comeau property to noise to outdoor music. Participants were told those concerns should be aired when the public hearing for the project was scheduled. Impacts to community character will be looked at during SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) review of the project.
Will argued against planning-board member James Conrad’s concern that the large open space with garden areas made him think of weddings and events and that might draw large numbers of people. “There’s been no discussion whatsoever about events here .… That would be shut down pretty quickly, anyway, so we’re not even going there,” Will said.
Planning board member Judith Kerman expressed concern about how access to Comeau would be different with constantly changing groups of people as opposed to full-time residents. “I can easily imagine somebody saying, Oh, let’s go walk on the Comeau and kind of bushwhacking,” she said. “So it may be something that you need to consult with the Comeau advisory committee about some kind of trail that is marked and safe and does not encourage people to go up there just wherever they happen to want to grab a tree and climb.”
Kerman was also concerned about the foot bridges.
“I’ll be frank with you. If we had known this was going to be transient and not residential, in the sense we normally understand it, I don’t know if I would have voted in favor of those bridges,” Kerman said. “Because the amount of use they’re going to get and the amount of use that Comeau is going get with a hotel application as opposed to permanent housing for people, I think is considerably more.”
Planning board member Brian Normoyle was unhappy with the change of use, too. “I thought there was a bait-and-switch,” he said. “And that’s my language. So now we’re very cautious, because one thing was presented and something else is now happening.”
Kerman suggested one bridge instead of two might make it less inviting for guests to trample through the Comeau grounds.
“Because that looks like, ‘Y’all come,’ the way it’s designed now. I’m sure you understand that we don’t want to deny the owner the right to use property he purchased, but on the other hand, we need to protect it. We need to protect the Comeau,” Kerman said. “Just let’s not make it an attractive nuisance.”
The future of the project will continue to be discussed.