COPAKE—The proposed Berkshire Mountain Club at the Catamount Ski Area got a do-over vote by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals November 20 and this time the special permit the project needed was approved by a vote of three to two.
After conducting two public hearings and discussing a chicken coop, a fence and a new house with two new applicants at its meeting last Thursday night, it was past 9 p.m. when the ZBA finally got around to the matter most of the 50 people there were waiting for—the $80-million four-season resort proposed at the base of Catamount.
On September 25, the ZBA deadlocked 2-to-2 on whether to approve the special permit for the proposed hotel and time-share with 153 residential units (256 beds) to be built in three phases over 10 years.
Because approval of the permit required a majority vote of board members, the tie vote was essentially a “non-action” that was neither an approval or a denial of the project, according to a legal opinion prepared by attorney Ken Dow, who represents the ZBA, Planning Board and Town Board.
The ZBA had the option of taking up the issue again within 62 days of the first vote and could either confirm or deny the project with a majority vote of the five-member board. But at the time of the September vote, the ZBA was short one member due a death. Under the law, the board’s alternate member could not vote under these circumstances.
When the ZBA met last Thursday night, there was a fifth board member, Jeffrey Judd, newly appointed by the Town Board.
ZBA member Jon Strom called for another vote and member Mike DiPeri seconded the motion. But ZBA Chair Hilarie Thomas argued that the board was already asked to revote the night of the first vote and declined. She said the board’s initial vote was a “default denial.”
Andrew Howard, attorney for project developer Rock Solid Development LLC, agreed with Mr. Dow that the tie vote was a non-action.
Mr. Dow said a default denial would only come into play if the ZBA was unable to approve the project attain a Yes vote within 62 days.
Town Board member Susan Winchell-Sweeney, who serves as the Town Board liaison to the ZBA, addressed Ms. Thomas from the audience, saying the meeting lacked control, that there was a motion on the floor and the board should move on.
Apparently angered, Ms. Thomas accused Ms. Winchell-Sweeney of trying to take over the meeting.
ZBA member Frank Peteroy disagreed with Mr. Dow over the role of a liaison and Mr. Strom and Mr. DiPeri continued to ask for a vote on the motion.
Later, at Ms. Thomas’ insistence, the ZBA voted on whether to revote on the Berkshire Mountain Club issue. Three members, Mr. Strom, Mr. DiPeri and Mr. Judd voted in favor, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Peteroy voted No.
Mr. Dow read a three-page resolution that he had drafted to approve the special use permit for the resort hotel. He said he had also drafted a resolution to deny the permit if that was the board’s inclination.
After some revision to the resolution to omit mention of the Alpers, owners of the Swiss Hutte Restaurant and Inn, which abuts the Catamount project, a vote on the resolution to approve the project permit was taken. Again Mr. Strom, Mr. DiPeri and Mr. Judd voted in favor. Ms. Thomas and Mr. Peteroy opposed.
After the vote Mr. Judd gave a detailed explanation of everything he had done to learn about the issue before he voted.
When all was said and done, the project applicants thanked the ZBA and the audience applauded heartily.
Reached after last week’s meeting, Harry H. Freeman, a principal in the project’s development firm, told The Columbia Paper that he was pleased with the outcome and has “believed from the beginning that it was a great project for the area.” Given the approval of a similar, larger project in the early 2000s, Mr. Freeman said he was surprised there was even discussion about whether to approve this smaller plan.
After the September vote the developers considered abandoning the project, but an outpouring of support from the community led to a renewed commitment to move forward, Mr. Freeman said.
The project still faces pending litigation by the Alpers, who are seeking to have a judge overturn the Planning Board’s approval of the project site plan. Filings with other government agencies associated with a project of this scale must be completed as well. He said delays in breaking ground on the project have already cost Copake taxpayers one or two year’s worth of property taxes that would have been paid by the resort.
Attorney Andrew W. Gilchrist, whose firm that represents the Alpers, said by email that the ZBA’s September 25 vote was a denial of the project’s permit and the applicant’s first request to reconsider the denial was rejected by the ZBA.
Calling the ZBA’s revote on November 20 “illegal,” Mr. Gilchrist added, the action “can only expose the Town of Copake to litigation risk and expenses which were totally unnecessary.”
Addressing the issue of construction traffic near the Swiss Hutte restaurant, which was resolved when the project was first proposed but is not addressed in the new project, Mr. Gilchrist said that Copake officials who “advocated for this project, have ignored the previous agreement.” He added, “If members of the community can’t trust their government to honor prior agreements and to protect the interests of long-standing members of this community, who can they trust?”
To contact Diane Valden email