Copake zoners nix new resort

Tie vote by ZBA stymies $80M project
COPAKE—No one will be skiing off the slope and into their room at the Berkshire Mountain Club at Catamount Ski Area anytime in the foreseeable future.

At its September 25 meeting, the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied project developers, Rock Solid Development, LLC, the special permit necessary for the $80-million, four-season-resort project at the base of Catamount to move forward.

The much anticipated project proposed to build a hotel and time-share with 153 residential units (256 beds) in three phases over 10 years.

The ZBA, made up of five members and an alternate, is currently down by one member due to the death of member Ralph Shadic in June. A vote by the four remaining members on granting the special permit ended in a tie. Chair Hillarie Thomas and Frank Peteroy opposed the measure; Michael DiPeri and Jon Strom were in favor. Because of the stalemate, the permit is denied.

Alternate member Adam Resnikoff is only authorized to vote in the absence of a ZBA member not in the event of a board vacancy, as is currently the case.

The town has been advertising for several months to recruit a new ZBA member without success.

In a recording of last week’s meeting obtained by The Columbia Paper through a Freedom of Information Law request, Town Attorney Ken Dow advised the ZBA during the meeting that a resort hotel is a permitted use in a residential zoning district and that a previous finding by the ZBA in connection with an earlier approval of a similar project at Catamount determined that use of the property as a resort hotel, no matter how the units are owned—by time share or condominium—is still a legal use.

He said that although the current ZBA does not absolutely have to follow the prior ZBA finding it does have to establish a rational basis for departing from it and that would be by a majority decision.

In explaining his “no” vote, Mr. Peteroy said the current application is a “condo arrangement” and the applicant should apply for a variance filing for a multiple dwelling.

Ms. Thomas said in her recorded explanation that the current project is substantially different from the 2003-05 project and that she is not bound by the earlier ZBA decision. She said the current application is not a resort hotel as set forth in the town zoning code but is a condominium or multiple dwelling. She said the application is an “attempt to bypass our code.”

Mr. DiPeri said he believed the resort hotel was in the proper zone and that safety considerations have been addressed.

Mr. Strom said that the project will be a hotel with a lobby and a dining room, whether or not the units will be owned as condos. He said the project will be good for the community and neighboring property values will go up because of it.

When the vote resulted in a tie, a spokesperson for the applicant asked board members to reconsider their votes, but none were willing.

The Berkshire Mountain Club project received site plan approval from the Town Planning Board August 7 provided a list of conditions were met, including, among other things: receipt of the special permit from the ZBA; receipt of road-related permits from the state Department of Transportation; additional trees for screening on neighboring property; conditions set forth in letter from the Hillsdale-Copake Fire District; sign-off by the town highway superintendent on the widening of Catamount Road; bond for the road; and mitigation measures for construction hours and tractor trailer deliveries.

Contacted by phone this week, Harry Freeman, a principal in Rock Solid Development, said, “The project is done.” As for altering the plan and reapplying, Mr. Freeman said it is “our strong belief that the application already meets the requirements” for a resort hotel. He said it will now be up to the court to interpret the law, “if we decide to go that route.”

Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) Executive Director and Columbia County Planning Commissioner Ken Flood said by phone this week that he was at the ZBA meeting to support the Catamount project. He said the CEDC provided resources and wrote the project’s grant application to the New York State Consolidated Funding program, which resulted in a $1.2 million grant award for infrastructure and sewage treatment.

He said the funding was sought on the basis that a similar project at that location had earlier received approval and this project was smaller, of lesser impact and was looked upon favorably by the town.

Mr. Flood said the project would be economically beneficial to Copake and surrounding local towns and also to the region—New York and Massachusetts. He said it would bring construction jobs and pay property taxes, estimating that amount at between $650,000 and $700,000 just in the first phase. The project is not eligible for tax abatement.

“We are encouraging the developer to move forward to challenge this vote,” said Mr. Flood, adding, “I don’t think it was a disapproval, it was really a nothing vote as three votes were needed to approve or disapprove.”

Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer said by phone, “I’m disappointed with the outcome. I thought the project would be good for the local economy, would generate jobs and was in a good location.” Though the project had the support of the fire companies, the town engineer and the building department, he noted, “It is a ZBA decision.”

If the applicant/developer sues to overturn the ZBA decision, “the town is obligated to defend the case,” the supervisor said.

The ZBA decision must be filed with the Town Clerk within five days after it is rendered and then the applicant has 30 days after that to file suit in county court.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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