“This isn’t a personal vendetta. It’s not about business. This is not about charity. This is, unfortunately, about one man’s financial gain and he’s hoodwinking everybody,” said Phillip Rodriguez, a resident of Christmas Tree Lane in the hamlet of Wallkill. “Unfortunately the people who are not responsible for this are the ones getting dragged through the mud because of it.”
In recent weeks, a debate over the fate of the Pallet Barn at the Christmas Tree Farm has quietly raged in the hamlet of Wallkill, spreading with an online petition by the owner, Joe DeGroodt.
Rodriguez approached the Shawangunk Town Board at their regular meeting on Thursday, hoping to clarify the issue after seeing misinformation and “ugly” attacks on his family circulating on social media.
The barn is located on a small residential cul-de-sac known as Christmas Tree Lane. When the street was subdivided, it was laid out for five residential single-family homes. The lot where the barn is constructed has a building permit for a single-family dwelling, one bedroom and one bath, and barn/shop, on 1.09 acres.
“When he set up the initial permit with that barn, it was the town’s understanding that the barn was to be used for storage only, and for an attached apartment,” said Rodriguez. “Nowhere does it say that it’s going to be a venue for weddings, banquets, parties, sweet 16s and psychic readings; where people are going to be charged $50 a head and alcohol is going to be served. This is 100 percent ridiculous.”
Rodriguez said he chose to purchase his home in Wallkill more than 10 years ago because of the “quiet and peaceful place that it is.” That peace was shattered after suddenly loud parties and music began at the barn, long into the night, with drunken revelers and cars “zipping up and down a street that was never meant for this.”
“This is about maintaining quality of life and maintaining the safety and security of my family,” said Rodriguez.
After the town investigated complaints from the neighbors, they shut down the barn, as it was never approved for that use.
DeGroodt has stated that the barn was built to help sustain the farm and he has big plans for it if it is opened again. He believes it is good for the community and will reopen once he obtains a special use permit or country inn permit.
Rodriguez advised the board that claims the events are for charity are false, with weddings and DJs having been booked before the barn’s closure. He also pointed out that only about a third of the signatures on the online petition are from local Wallkill residents.
“It’s going to be a very difficult thing,” said Valk, admitting that some perceive the situation as the town picking on Degroodt. “We put zoning in effect for just the reasons you’re saying.”
According to Town Supervisor John Valk, Degroodt approached him for a zoning change and was advised of the process and his rights.
“The Planning Board didn’t feel that it would fit our zoning,” said Valk.
Valk explained that the town board can only create new zoning, so the fate of the pallet barn and any possible zoning changes rest with the town’s planning board and zoning board of appeals.
“They have a difficult task because they have to make those decisions. It’s very serious and it’s not easy,” said Valk.
Degroodt can apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals and has stated that he plans to do so, however the ZBA has not received any applications to date. Degroodt has until the end of January to submit that application.
In other business, the town will soon be getting a new website, offering visitors a wealth of information, from town events to online forms, to information on local organizations.
“Our original website was done back when we were in the old town hall, about ten years ago, so it’s been a while,” said Town Councilman Brian Amthor. “We’ve been budgeting now for a year or two [and] we’re finally able to get the project moving forward.”
The town partnered with Devine Design in Chester to create a new website hosted through WordPress. Amthor said the town will be able do about 90 percent of the maintenance and updates in house, and much more quickly than in the past. The new website is expected to be more user-friendly, with features like social media tie-ins and accessibility options.
Applications for local volunteer organizations such as the Ambulance Corps will also be available.
Amthor said it will be a “more progressive site” with a modern look and brighter photos. The town can also create messages on the website that will broadcast through the social media channels, in a cheaper alternative to the popular CodeRed system.
Amthor said they anticipate the new website will be up by their next regular meeting, or the end of January.
The meeting on Thursday was also the town’s reorganizational meeting. The board welcomed Susan Wiand back to the ZBA for a 4 year term, after a 15-year hiatus. They also appointed Richard Barnhart and John Russo for 5 year terms. The chairman is Archibald Reid.
Catherine Terrizzi and Salvatore Patella were appointed to the planning board for 3 year terms, and Julie Craner and David Thompkins were appointed to 2 year terms on the Environmental Management Commission.
The board also voted to hire Christine Rose as a part-time deputy clerk at $14.58/hour.