Background On the Fight Over Development of Gardiner’s Open Spaces
For those who are new to Gardiner or are not “plugged -in” to the local political scene, a long-standing dispute in town surrounds the issue of development of lands within the town’s borders. Local Democrats and environmentalists always seem to be fighting with contractor-dominated groups and Republicans about protecting (or not) the open-space in Gardiner and the town’s rural character. Proponents of “smart development,” including the current Democratic Town Board and Supervisor candidates, fear a day when Gardiner looks more like Paramus than Gardiner. Here’s a little recent history.
In the early 2000’s there was a battle-royal over the proposed development, on 2700 acres of one of the most pristine and iconic sections of the Shawangunk Ridge, of a massive project of expensive homes. The grassroots “Save the Ridge” campaign was organized and, in the end, prevailed in protecting the land. The lion’s share of that land is now part of Minnewaska State Park.
2008 brought the Great Recession and pressure for development in Gardiner eased somewhat. Now that the economy has rebounded, local land owners and developers are more eager to cash in on turning acres of open-space into lucrative business opportunities. Perhaps more ominously, outside business interests are buying up Gardiner land and putting up high-end housing and resorts.
One project under consideration is threatening to develop an 86-acre property owned by Philadelphia investors between Shaft Road and South Mountain Road into a ten-lot major subdivision. The land is a sensitive and ecologically-unique wetland. A second project, Heartwood, consists of 141 acres, sandwiched between Route 44/55 and the Shawangunk Kill, directly adjoining the western boundary of the Tuthilltown Spirits property. The developers, a Wall Street couple with California investors, want to build a 70-unit year-round ecotourism resort. Neighbors, fearing noise, groundwater and other problems, have organized to oppose the project. (You may have seen the “Stop Heartwood” lawn signs near the area.)
The Gardiner Planning Board
The approval of these and all proposed developments in town is done by the Gardiner Planning Board. The nature of this body is such that it attracts membership (seven members and one alternate) that have a vested interest in development. For as long as anyone can remember, the Planning Board has been dominated by the construction industry and large land owners in town who have a direct interest in approving development projects. Its current chairman is Paul Colucci, the owner of the largest construction company in Gardiner. The board’s other seven members include two more contractors and a hydrologist. Gardiner Dems have succeeded, despite the bitter opposition of the current Town Supervisor, in having two environmental attorneys appointed in recent years to bring more balance to the board. However, environmental interests are still outnumbered and their concerns are frequently ignored and, worse, mocked by the contractors and their allies on the board.
Two letters, set to appear in the New Paltz Times this coming week, center on an especially controversial Planning Board meeting last Tuesday, September 19 during which the Board voted to approve a negative declaration on the development of the Shaft Road property. The authors of these letters, David and Barbara Sides, were both in attendance at that meeting of the Planning Board. David is a volunteer member of the Gardiner’s Environmental Conservation Commission, which weighs in on projects like this. Barbara is Vice-Chair of the Gardiner Democratic Committee. Both are long-time Gardiner residents.
Shame on You!
Shame on the perpetrators. Shame on the enablers. Shame on the Gardiner Planning Board (PB) for shirking their responsibility to the citizens, the environment, and common decency to their own peers and the public regarding the Shaft Road development. Special shame on board member John Friedle, who once again demonstrated his ignorance, misogyny, arrogance, condescension, and just plain nastiness. PB members as well as the public were intimidated and bullied into submission yet again. At one point the harassment became so bad that a member of the audience shouted out for it to stop!
What happened? To explain I need to back up a bit…
First there was a “secret” meeting. While minimal notification was made in the Middletown newspaper, normal posting on the Gardiner website was not. Therefore, most residents were not informed and the meeting was poorly attended. It appears that these sneaky tactics were used to make an early decision on the Shaft Road project without any public opinion.
Fast forward to this week’s public meeting. The PB ignored their own hired experts, including their paid advisor, attorney Dave Brennan. They ignored the town’s Environmental Conservation Commission’s (ECC) reports. They ignored their own Master Plan’s water and habitat preservation clauses. They ignored numerous residents concerned about the degradation of their environment. They ignored fellow board member Carol Richman, an environmental attorney, who pleaded her case to consider the correct map. Friedle even went so far as to accuse her of “doctoring the map” to make her case. They ignored the facts. Instead they listened (as usual) to Jim Freiband, the Town Planner, who for many years has followed his own agenda to the detriment of our town. Clearly all but the ecologically conscious had already made up their minds at the “secret” meeting.
According to the experts, the ECC, and many local residents the Shaft Road development should be pared down to mitigate the water and habitat issues due to sensitive wetlands on the property. This is not about stopping all development. It is about reasonable and responsible development which enhances our town as opposed to damaging it. In fact, removing one lot would have helped considerably. However in spite of the facts, the PB pushed to a vote for a “Neg Dec”, which “is a determination that an action will not result in a significant adverse environmental impact…”
As a volunteer member of the ECC, partner with Riverkeeper, climate tracker at the Mohonk Preserve, and someone who truly cares about our town, I take great offense at having our carefully researched reports summarily disregarded. Shame on you, Gardiner Planning Board!
David Sides, Gardiner
To the Editor:
Several years ago current Supervisor Marybeth Majestic’s controversial project to construct a driveway to property up on the ridge was before the Planning Board. Chairman Mike Boylan threatened to have police remove then Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission Chair Carol Richman from the meeting. Carol was attempting to deliver a required report to the Planning Board making the ECC’s case for further environmental scrutiny of the proposed driveway. The driveway was being constructed on the most ecologically sensitive, “protected” and iconic land in the Town of Gardiner.
That night, Carol was shouted down and silenced. Last Tuesday night at the Planning Board meeting as in several prior meetings, it happened again. Carol Richman, environmental attorney and Planning Board member was shouted at, most egregiously by John Friedle, intimidated by other board members, and, finally, ignored. The Planning Board issued a “negative declaration” on the Shaft Road development meaning that any action taken on that property will not result in an adverse environmental impact. To reach this conclusion, the Planning Board ignored two of its own members, paid ecological experts, the Gardiner Conservation Commission and the town’s Open Space Plan.
The Planning Board chose, once again, to defer to its consulting planner, Jim Freiband as it has so often in the past, which brings into question its judgment as well as the integrity of its processes.
Misogyny, bullying and disrespect have no place on our Gardiner volunteer boards. We can do better!
Barbara Sides, Gardiner
Stay tuned to this space for more information on the development battles in town and the implications of the November 7 local election for those concerns.