By Katherine Donlevy
The vote for a site plan and special permit application was nearly delayed for another month after a Town of Gardiner Planning Board member argued there was insufficient evidence the project was safe for the environment. After lengthy debate during its Nov. 24 meeting, the rest of the board ultimately decided to vote in favor without additional inspections or evaluation.
The proposal to build a family home on the 110 Sheldon Rd. property first caused concern at previous Planning Board meetings after it was revealed that as many as 50 maple trees across a 0.5-acre stretch would be demolished. A site plan revision preserved at least five trees, and the plan was approved by the Shawangunk Valley Fire District. Additionally, an Environmental Assessment Form found that the construction would not damage or alter the surrounding wildlife or their habitat.
“When I look at the conservation analysis, it looks like there’s some things that are missing,” said board member Carol Richman. “There really needs to be more of a discussion in the applicant’s conservation analysis about the wildlife corridor. There’s nothing about endangered or threatened species or habitat ... I believe this conversation analysis is missing a lot of information. I’d like to see a lot more.”
The EAF stated that the site does not contain any endangered or threatened animals or plants and is not a property that condones hunting or fishing. The analysis found that deer and squirrels are the only wildlife that live on the grounds.
Board Chairperson Paul Colucci accused Richman of waiting until the “eleventh and a half hour” to raise environmental concerns, considering the board had conducted a site visit two months earlier, which Richman was not available for. The public hearing for the application had been open since the board’s October meeting.
“It’s incumbent upon you to take your time and use your time wisely while you’re on this board for getting yourself involved in the site visits,” he said.
The debate was sparked after board alternate Rebecca Fullan asked whether they would hear the Environmental Conservation Commission’s comments before taking a final vote to approve the application.
The ECC did not have any comments, however, because it was unable to visit the site and make any of its own determinations. The commission had been defunct over the last several months due to the Town Board’s attempts to dismantle it in hopes of building it back stronger. The ECC was dissolved for several weeks before the Town Board reversed its decision, citing legal uncertainties. The Town Board is now in the process of transforming the ECC into a Conservation Advisory Committee.
“I take issue that the ECC is not being involved. I think one more month would not hurt to wait and see their findings. This is a requirement in our zoning law,” said Richman, citing code that allows the commission to provide comments at the public hearing.
ECC Chairperson Roberta Clements spoke up and revealed she had made attempts to visit the site and to craft comments within the last week, but her requests went unanswered. The applicant, Dylan D’Altri, said the lapse in connection was due to his dealings with a family emergency.
“We certainly want to have our input accounted for before a decision is made,” said Roberta. “This conversation analysis was very cursory. We want to have a site visit and see what we see.”
Colucci argued that the ECC’s opportunity to share comments had passed after the public hearing had closed. Board lawyer Dave Brennan said that not only was it completely legal to move forward without ECC comments, but prudent considering the application as filed in July and the public hearing left open from October.
“There’s nothing environmentally sensitive about this site at all,” Colucci said.
Vice Chairperson Kieth Lipolt made a motion to accept the conservation analysis, issue a special permit and approve the application subject to filing of all required maps and paying of all fees. No mention of the ECC was included.
The board voted in favor of the motion 6 to 1. Richman was the only vote to disapprove.