Ski hotel’s fate hangs on newest member

COPAKE—The stage is set for a Zoning Board of Appeals vote again on the $80-million Berkshire Mountain Club at the Catamount Ski Area project, this time with the tie-breaking vote in place.

On September 25, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) deadlocked two-to-two on whether to approve a special permit for the four-season resort project at the base of Catamount. Project developers proposed building a hotel and time-share with 153 residential units (256 beds) in three-phases over 10 years.

Because approval of the permit required a majority vote of board members, the project was not denied but could not move forward. At the time of the vote, the five-member board was down by one person due a death. Under the law, the board’s alternate member may not vote unless a permanent board member recuses him- or herself.

But things have changed since September and after more than two hours in a closed-door session Thursday night, the Town Board emerged to unanimously appoint Jeffrey Judd as the fifth and newest member of the town’s ZBA.

The board convened in executive session at the November 13 regular town meeting after most of the board’s other business was completed around 7:40 p.m.

Earlier in the meeting, the Town Board received a letter from ZBA Chair Hilarie Thomas advising that after interviewing the four candidates who applied to fill the vacancy, the ZBA recommended Adam Reznikoff, who currently serves as alternate.

But the Town Board rejected the ZBA recommendation in favor of Mr. Judd, who was also one of the applicants.

Reached by phone Saturday, Mr. Judd told The Columbia Paper he has been practicing law for nearly 25 years, mostly in New York City, and that he and his wife purchased their home at Copake Lake eight or nine years ago.

He said he has always been interested in “local politics, if you can call it that” and when he heard there was a ZBA opening decided with the encouragement of friends to “throw his hat in the ring.”

Asked if he has a position on the Berkshire Mountain Club project at Catamount Ski Area he said, “No, I do not, but I will on Thursday.”

Mr. Judd said he has already spent many hours since his appointment reviewing historic and current documents related to the project and plans to make a site visit there accompanied by an engineer. He said he will “reach out to other board members and anybody who will talk to me” about the project before coming to a decision.

He said he loves the Swiss Hutte, skis at Catamount every Saturday during the season and has not taken a side.

The ZBA was scheduled to meet Thursday, November 20, at which time any board member may make a motion for a new vote on the project.

A re-vote is possible, according to a legal opinion from attorney Ken Dow, who represents the Town Board, the Planning Board and the ZBA, because the tie vote was a “non-action, constituting neither an approval nor denial, which leaves the matter open.” The ZBA can take up the matter again and vote again within 62 days of the original vote. If an affirmative majority vote is achieved, the project would be approved, if not, it is denied, Mr. Dow concluded.

ZBA Chair Thomas and member Frank Peteroy voted against the project permit in September because they believed it was not a resort hotel but a condominium. Members Jon Strom and Mike DiPeri voted in favor.

Attorneys Dan Tuczinski and Andrew Gilchrist, who represent Swiss Hutte owners Cindy and Gert Alper, wrote in a November 10 letter to the Town Board that their clients do not object to the Catamount expansion, but believe that current developer, Rock Solid Development LLC, should be required to adhere to prior project approvals and conditions—most notably the construction of an emergency access road that would reroute construction-related traffic away from close proximity to the Swiss Hutte. The prolonged 10-year construction period and resulting heavy equipment traffic will negatively impact the Alper’s inn and restaurant business, their attorneys contend.

Mr. Tuczinski and Mr. Gilchrist have spoken publicly and via letter about their position that the tie-vote was a denial, and their clients have asked the state court to overturn the Copake Planning Board’s approval of the project’s site plan. The attorneys for the restaurant owners also say that Mr. Dow has a conflict of interest by representing all three boards–town, planning and ZBA.

At last week’s Town Board meeting, ZBA Chair Thomas again requested that Mr. Dow be removed as ZBA counsel and independent counsel be appointed. Ms. Thomas made her initial request during the October 23 ZBA meeting. At that time, when ZBA member Strom asked whether the request for a new attorney required a vote, he was ignored by the chair.

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer told Ms. Thomas at last week’s Town Board meeting that he had consulted an attorney at the Association of Towns and found that a “unilateral” request for a new lawyer is not valid; a vote must be taken and a majority must vote in favor of the request. Town Board members Jeanne Mettler, Susan Winchell-Sweeney and Kelly Miller-Simmons all supported the supervisor’s decision not to consider Ms. Thomas’ request.

In other business the board:
*Received a notice from the Columbia County Department of Public Works that the Dinehart Bridge, also called the Singing Bridge, which carries County Route 7A over the Roe Jan Kill between the Copake hamlet and West Copake, has been posted with a reduced five-ton weight limit because a recent inspection “revealed significant and increased steel I-beam deterioration near the bridge abutments at four of the bridge’s seven main steel members.” The state Department of Transportation did the inspection and issued “a red structural flag.” A detailed structural engineering study must be done to determine the overall condition of the bridge and options for repair. It is not known how long this will take

*Agreed to hire Place Alliance to create a plan for the Copake hamlet in accordance with a recommendation by the Hamlet Revitalization Task Force. The cost will not exceed $30,000 and the task force has already raised $14,000 in grant money toward paying the firm

*Heard from Agriculture and Farmland Protection Committee Co-chair Edgar Masters that the committee has completed the final draft of an agriculture and farmland protection plan, including maps and charts, as an addendum to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan is posted on the town’s website and awaits a public hearing and Town Board approval.

The next Town Board meeting is December 11 at 7 p.m. with public hearings on a local law to amend the town Code of Ethics at 6:40 p.m. and the Ag and Farmland Protection Plan at 6:45 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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