The Planning Board is scheduled to continue its formal, late-stage review of the project’s site plan and special use permit (SUP) application — an SUP is required because Woodstock Commons is a multifamily development — at its meeting on Thursday, August 5. Meanwhile, the agenda for the agency’s July 29 meeting includes a slot designated for members’ comments on the project.
Some of the remaining procedural matters for the project, such as first obtaining state Department of Environmental Conservation permits and then a town-issued building permit, may prove routine. The required DEC permits relate to the provision of measures to control pollution from stormwater and wastewater. Compliance with the town’s Wetlands and Watercourse Act also entails a permit.
Other prospective hurdles could pose a greater challenge for the project’s developer, the Rural Ulster Preservation Company. In one instance, the Town Board must determine whether the project is eligible for service by the municipal water and sewer systems. The respective boundaries of the town’s water and hamlet sewer districts are closely aligned but do not exactly coincide. The districts are special taxation entities, whereby the services are funded by the property owners who use them.
On another front, Woodstock resident Robin Segal, a prominent opponent of the project, disclosed that she was prepared to file an Article 78 legal action against the town if its agencies, particularly the Planning Board, grant Woodstock Commons a green light. Under the terms of a New York State statute, an affected party may challenge the action of a government agency in State Supreme Court. An article 78 action would presumably seek an injunction halting the progress of the project.
In or out of sewer district?
Based on a preliminary inspection of district boundary maps, Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran and town assessor Marc Plate suggested in recent interviews that the project’s 28-acre site, located north and east of the Bradley Meadows shopping plaza, appeared to be eligible for town water service. The property’s current owner, EVK Realty, LLC, has been paying taxes to the water district. The most recent annual payment amounted to $36.81, which Plate deemed “about average” for a vacant lot.
The municipal water system’s capacity appeared adequate to serve the project if necessary, said Moran, although the use of town water is currently restricted while town officials conduct inspections to determine whether two municipal wells, whose pumps “were sucking air a couple of weeks ago,” require reconditioning.
The project’s eligibility for a connection to the town’s sewer system could prove more complicated, as the property appears to lie partly but not entirely within the boundaries of the hamlet sewer district. If the Town Board, the administrator of that district, were to rule Woodstock Commons ineligible for such a connection, RUPCO would presumably have two options: it could petition the town to extend the district so as to include the project site, or it could construct an on-site sewer facility at its own expense and, possibly, seek an arrangement whereby the town would contribute to the system’s maintenance.
As the administrator of the sewer district, the Town Board would review boundary maps and tax records in its consideration of a request by Woodstock Commons for service, said Moran. A review by the Town Board would occur only after the Planning Board had approved the project’s site plan and RUPCO had petitioned the Town Board for municipal sewer service.
For the town to extend the hamlet sewer district it would have to seek a waiver of a federal Environmental Protection Agency rule prohibiting district expansions across wetland areas, said Moran; the Woodstock Commons site includes such an area.
Before seeking a waiver of the EPA rule, the town would determine whether a waiver could adversely affect future applications for EPA grants, said the supervisor.
In addition to its single hamlet sewer district, Woodstock has two on-site districts — a central and an eastern district — which comprise 176 properties with individual septic systems that the town maintains. Although the undeveloped Woodstock Commons site currently has no septic system in place, EVK Realty has been paying taxes (totaling $19.22 in the last year) to the central on-site sewer district, thus preserving the option of constructing an on-site system in the future.
The town participates in a type of shared-maintenance arrangement with the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery at the top of Meads Mountain Road, which has an on-site sewer system, Moran said in a July 27 interview. The supervisor noted that the KTD monastery and the proposed Woodstock Commons project were similar, in that both are large-scale developments with considerable septic requirements.
The town’s sewer district was created in 1981. (The water district dates to the 1950s.) The bond through which the on-site sewer districts were funded is due to expire in 2011. As a result, the town must devise a plan for the funding and maintenance of on-site systems after the retirement of the bond, posing an element of temporary uncertainty for property owners with on-site systems.
RUPCO says it’s in
In a July 27 interview, RUPCO’s executive director, Kevin O’Connor, expressed confidence that Woodstock Commons would obtain the required DEC and town permits and receive clearance for municipal water and sewer service. “I think we have made it abundantly clear that the project is in the (town’s) water and sewer districts and is served by both,” said O’Connor. Asked when, barring unforeseen developments, construction might get under way, he replied, “We would love to start at the beginning of spring next year, which would allow time to obtain the permits and get through the winter.”
The RUPCO official said that his company planned to purchase the 28-acre property from EVK Realty “once we feel that we have a final approval in place.” The parties had agreed on a purchase price, which O’Connor declined to disclose. (O’Connor referred detailed questions about the project’s plans for water and sewer service to RUPCO’s attorney, Michael Moriello, who did not return a July 28 call seeking comment.)
On July 28, the day after the interview, O’Connor submitted the following “clarification” via e-mail: “The contract of sale is not contingent upon local approvals in that we can move forward and purchase the property without local approvals. The amount of the purchase price is based on the number of approved units.
“We maintain that the property enjoys a statutorily granted right to connect to the Town of Woodstock’s Municipal Sewer system. It is established that the sewer district boundary crosses the property. Woodstock’s local law states that properties ‘divided by the District boundaries shall be considered to (be) wholly serviced by the District.’”
Blog with detail
Segal, who opposes the project, declared in a July 19 interview that she was prepared to file an Article 78 action against the town, if necessary. “I would rather not, but I’m not ruling it out. It could be my next step,” said the Evergreen Lane resident, whose property lies in close proximity to the Woodstock Commons site. (Iris York, who is president of Sensible Action for Growth and Environment [SAGE], a leading opponent of the project, declined to comment on her organization’s plans should the project receive Planning Board approval.)
Segal has posted a continuing critique of the Woodstock Commons proposal and its review by the Planning Board in a blog, thetroublewithrupco.blogspot.com. The blog cites what it sees as multiple instances of negligence, inaccuracy, or misrepresentation by RUPCO and its consultants, involving matters such as traffic safety and even the actual width of Playhouse Lane, which would serve as the main access road to the project.
“The blog is between 50,000 and 60,000 words long,” said Segal. “I would try to make a filing or complaint as long and as detailed as possible. Basically, I’ve already done all the work through the blog. The Planning Board has ignored most of what I’ve written. Perhaps a judge would pay closer attention. Let a judge decide.”
Would a legal action involve the retention of a lawyer, with its attendant expenses? “That’s not going to be a problem,” said Segal. “It could be (accomplished through) a combination of myself and a lawyer. My blog amounts to what a paralegal would do. It represents a huge savings in money and time.”++