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Tense debates aside, restaurant approved by Gardiner Planning Board

by Mike Townshend
July 28, 2011 01:34 PM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Susan Eckhardt on the front steps at 128 Main Street in Gardiner.
Photo by Lauren Thomas
Susan Eckhardt on the front steps at 128 Main Street in Gardiner. Photo by Lauren Thomas
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After a tense and spirited public hearing -- the third hearing, by some counts -- Susan Eckhardt and Johannes Knoops will get the go ahead with their restaurant at 128 Main Street in Gardiner after all.

Gardiner Planning Board members unanimously approved the plan to turn the old abandoned house into a restaurant during their meeting last week. Eckhardt, who co-owns Brykill Farm with Knoops, had faced more than two years’ worth of Planning Board meetings.

“I’m obviously incredibly happy,” Eckhardt said.

Behind the yes vote

The new restaurant didn’t come without trying. Even as little as two weeks ago, the couple was convinced that their project would die on the Planning Board table.

During the July 19 meeting, the couple called in an army of supporters -- they even called in Mike Hein, the Ulster County executive. Hein was a no-show, but a number of other people spoke on their behalf.

Ralph Erenzo, of Tuthilltown Spirits distillery, said that the restaurant wasn’t the only project caught up in a seemingly endless loop of being before the Planning Board. Sometimes his own projects would languish before the board for years, mostly having to do with their indecision over hypothetical problems they couldn’t solve.

“And none of them had the ability to foretell the future,” Erenzo said.

Gardiner resident Robin Hayes said she felt it would be unfair for the Planning Board not to allow the restaurant to go ahead. On a street where people should be doing everything in their power to rehabilitate old buildings, instead the 128 Main St. project got stalled out.

“We have someone who is willing to invest in Main Street,” Hayes said, adding that people should applaud Eckhardt and Knoops.

Carl Zatz, a candidate running for town supervisor, criticized Planning Board member Paul Colucci for bringing up questions about parking during the meeting. Colucci, who eventually voted to approve the restaurant project, wanted to know how Eckhardt and Knoops would deal with the fact that the formerly residential home would have little if any parking.

The Brykill Farm owners plan to use parking throughout town, including spots at HiHo Home Market and Antiques Center and many other public spots.

“There’s tons of parking in the hamlet,” Zatz said, defending the restaurant. He said that looking at parking now was very counterproductive. “And now Paul Colucci has to be brought back six months.”

Vicki Morgan, of Gardiner, also came out to support the couple. She said that the Planning Board seemed to be overly critical and negative of the project.

“I would really like to see this board be supportive of this,” she said. “Susan is trying to make a derelict building viable again.”

Planning Board member Joe Hayes also seemed a bit frustrated with his colleagues on the board.

“We have a dead spot in the middle of Main Street,” he said. “This is what we’re looking for.”

One thing that seemed to win over the Planning Board was the results of a hydrogeologist’s well pump test. The results of that test did not show any draw down or negative effect to neighboring wells around the restaurant. Changing the old house into an eatery also was not a big deal for the folks up at the Ulster County Planning Board -- they deemed the project to have no county impact.

In the end, the board voted that converting the house into a restaurant would not harm the environment. They also granted final approval to the project. The people gathered for the public hearing applauded the board’s vote.

Moving forward

Susan Eckhardt had hoped to have the house renovated and converted into a restaurant several months ago. The delays at the Planning Board have slowed her down, but they haven’t knocked her out.

As far as how she feels about how well the Planning Board process works, she remained a skeptic still. Eckhardt would like to participate in future discussions about how the process could be smoothed out of future entrepreneurs. “I haven’t given up on Gardiner,” she said.

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