Resort’s not quite dead yet

COPAKE—The final decision on the Catamount resort project is still up in the air.

Last month the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) deadlocked two-to-two on whether to approve a special permit for the Berkshire Mountain Club at the Catamount Ski Area. That effectively halted plans for the $80-million, four-season resort project at the base of Catamount, because the law requires an affirmative vote of a majority of board members for permit approval.

Criticism of the ZBA’s failure to grant the special permit that would have allowed the resort project to move forward was voiced at the October 9 Town Board meeting. And it turns out there is still time to resolve the issue if the ZBA takes a new vote by November 26.

The much anticipated project proposed to build a hotel and time-share with 153 residential units (256 beds) in three phases over 10 years. Copake resident Mel Salberg told the Town Board that the ZBA result was “shocking to me and many of my friends.” He said the town’s attempts to invite new businesses in have failed and recounted the days when Copake had a hotel, a pharmacy and a grocery “all the attributes of a vibrant living town.”

He wanted to know what could be done about the tie vote and questioned “why should we be denied by a two-person vote?” He said the negative votes of the two ZBA members “cancelled out all the advantages” that the project would have brought to town and asked, “Did they take into account what their decision meant to the Town of Copake?”

Later in the meeting, Bob Haight, who chairs both the town Planning Board and Land Use Review Committee, called what the ZBA did “an embarrassment to the town.” Noting the nine months that the project was under review, and all the data that needed to be updated and provided, including a balloon test, he said the applicants “deserved more than they got.”

The Planning Board gave the Berkshire Mountain Club project site plan approval August 7, based on a number of conditions including that the project be granted a special permit by the ZBA.

Mr. Haight also wrote a letter to the Town Board asking that the law be changed to make the handling of special use permits the responsibility of the Planning Board instead of the ZBA.

During his comments, Mr. Haight accused some ZBA members of having their minds made up from the beginning and called for an Ethics Board investigation into “the behavior of some of the board members.”

Supervisor Jeff Nayer told Mr. Haight he should write a letter to the Ethics Board about his concerns and said anyone who is not happy with the vote outcome should contact the members that voted against the project and ask them to reconsider.

According to the provisions of New York State Town Law, section 267-A, subdivision 13, regarding voting requirements for a board decision: “every motion or resolution of a board of appeals shall require for its adoption the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members of the board of appeals as fully constituted regardless of vacancies or absences.”

On September 25, the date of the ZBA vote on Catamount, the normally five-member board was missing one member due to a death. That left the board with four voting members: Chair Hilarie Thomas and member Frank Peteroy voted against the motion to approve the project, calling it a condominium project and not a resort hotel. ZBA members Mike DiPeri and Jon Strom voted in favor.

Since there was no affirmative vote by a majority of members, there was no decision according to law.

State law regarding public hearings and the decision on special use permits says that after the public hearing is conducted: “The authorized board shall decide upon the application within sixty-two days after the hearing.” If the board does not make a decision within the prescribed timeframe—in this case, by November 26—it would be in violation of the law.

In a related development, the town has received at least two applications since the ZBA vote on Catamount from people wanting to fill the ZBA vacancy. Previously the town advertised for interested applicants for months without success. Town procedure calls for the applicants to be interviewed by the ZBA, which then makes its recommendation to the Town Board. The Town Board makes the appointment.

The ZBA could conduct interviews and come up with a recommendation at its October 23 meeting and the Town Board could make an appointment at its November 13 meeting.

In other business, the Town Board adopted a new local law last week amending the town’s Zoning Code to prohibit natural gas mining and associated uses and activities. Supervisor Nayer and Councilpersons Kelly Miller-Simmons and Susan Winchell-Sweeney voted in favor. Councilperson Jeanne Mettler was absent, but said at last month’s meeting she supports the measure.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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