A long and controversial chapter in modern Gardiner history is coming to a close: The applications by Lazy River Resorts, LLC for the creation of a Campground Floating District (CFD) and the issuance of a Special Use Permit have received conditional approval by the Town Board. The Board voted to approve the 37-page resolution 4-1, with councilwoman Carol Richman in opposition, at its March 7 meeting. Also addressed in the vote was a long list of waivers requested by the campground operators, with some approved and some denied. “The Town Board is aware that there are existing violations on the Property and finds the instant application for a CFD on the Expanded Campground, special permit and site plan amendment will remedy existing violations and provide a basis for the Town to better regulate the Campground use going forward,” the resolution states.
Still to be resolved is Lazy River’s request for license approval for operation during the 2023 camping season. The vote was originally scheduled for the March 14 Town Board meeting, but tabled because the applicant has not yet had time to make certain changes stipulated in the conditions of the CFD approval that are pertinent to licensing, such as creation of a flood evacuation plan and appointment of an emergency operations officer, according to Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic. Lazy River will also still have to go before the Gardiner Planning Board for Site Plan Review after it amends its site plan to incorporate the changes mandated by the Town Board.
Nevertheless, a sense of great relief prevailed as the Town Board essentially declared a truce in this long-running community battle, in which both sides had to make concessions in order to avoid endless and costly litigation. “We inherited this problem, but we have truly listened to our community,” said Majestic following the March 7 vote. “Everybody has to bend a little. We ended up with a good product, and good enforcement is going to be key to making it happen. It really has been a bear to get here.”
Some of the campground’s near neighbors, who have been advocating for a crackdown on noise and other negative impacts for more than three years, also seemed glad to have the ordeal come to an end. Suzanne Levirne, a consistent critic of Lazy River, said, “I’m pleased. I never thought we’d get here.”
The newly designated 104-acre Campground Floating District will encompass the previously approved 70.8-acre Existing Campground, and some of the expansions and improvements undertaken without official Town approval will be allowed to remain, including a number of primitive campsites. But the Town Board laid down the law that no additional expansion will be tolerated. “There shall be no further development or improvements constructed, erected or maintained in the Expanded Campground,” according to the new Local Law adopted to create the CFD.
In particular, that means that Lazy River will have to scrap its plans to add a total of 221 more Park Model RVs to the Expanded Campground in several phases in the future. However, despite the fact that their width, ranging from about 11 to 13 feet, exceeds the 8.5-foot maximum specified in Gardiner’s zoning code, the existing 131 Park Model RVs will be allowed to remain. The campground will be required to add landscaping to mitigate the visual impact of those units that are located along the crestline of the hill, and all of them must have their hitches put back on their chassis so that they are movable in an emergency. “The Town Board finds a partial waiver…strikes the right balance between maintaining the historic character of the property as a campground and accommodating the Applicant’s desire to provide a wider array of accommodations for visiting guests,” reads the resolution.
Lazy River’s request to operate year-round accommodations in the permanent buildings on the site — Cindy Bear’s Palace, Bevier Lodge, Mountain View Lodge and Ranger’s Retreat — was flatly denied. Their rental use will be restricted to a seven-month camping season only.
Several campsites that were illegally established within the 50-foot buffer zone along the southern property boundary will have to be relocated or eliminated: camp spaces 75, 76, 400, 401 and 402. New landscaping will be required to allow sites 77 through 80 to remain in the southern buffer area, and 50 feet of vegetated buffer must be added as part of the 200-foot buffer of the former Lobster Pound property on the south and west sides. Application of herbicides or fertilizer, storage of chemicals and removal of vegetation are all now prohibited within 100 feet of the top of the bank of the Wallkill River. Trees of eight or more inches in diameter at breast height are not to be removed unless absolutely necessary.
For most near neighbors of the campground, noise and light pollution have been the biggest headaches. The new rules prohibit exterior amplified sound, including from a deejay, wagon or hayrides or the public announcement system. There are a few exceptions: limited use of the PA to announce evacuation orders, locate missing persons or identify vehicle owners; a portable speaker used for sound effects during strictly limited hours when the Halloween Trail is in use; and sound from laser tag devices affixed to individual players. One oddly specific condition prohibits the use of chainsaw noises as part of the Halloween Trail sound effects. Speakers used for outdoor movies must be pointed away from the Wallkill River, and movie screenings must end by 10 p.m., after which quiet hours will be enforced.
With regard to lighting, CFD approval is conditioned on there being no exterior lighting on parcels that have been added to the campground, except for string lights used to illuminate the Halloween Trail when in use, or lights necessary to provide safe travel along roadways on these parcels or to and from single-family residences. Lazy River is to shut off exterior lights associated with the pump houses near the Wallkill River and dim two lights in the pool area and two near the basketball court/play area.
Traffic issues have been addressed, specifically implementation of recommendations by Town Highway superintendent Brian Stiscia that Third Avenue be made into a through street in order to comply with Fire Code and Town requirements for turnarounds, and that reflective signage be installed. Special events at the campground that might negatively impact local traffic, such as food truck rallies, must receive advance permission from Town officials.
Other public health and safety considerations include the ability to evacuate the site efficiently, especially in the event of flooding. Lazy River must update safety protocols and emergency action plans, including filing an evacuation plan as part of its site plan and appointing a staff member to monitor the Wallkill River flood gauge and oversee evacuations. Annual staff trainings and practice drills in coordination with emergency service responders will be required, as well as annual inspections by the Gardiner building inspector/code enforcement officer to confirm compliance with the New York State Uniform Building and Fire Code. It was announced at the March 14 Town Board meeting that Trevor Hults has been hired as Gardiner’s new BI/CEO.
Going forward, Lazy River will be required to submit its application for its annual license shall be submitted at least 150 days prior to the season commencement date. To review the new local law establishing the CFD and the more detailed resolution passed by the Town Board, visit www.townofgardiner.org/public-documents-and-issues.