In gaining the town Planning Board’s approval on March 4 of its final environmental impact statement, the proposed Woodstock Commons affordable housing development moved closer to fruition, but the project still faces objections from critics as well as remaining steps in an application process that began in 2004.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to adopt the FEIS, which had undergone textual revisions since the board’s last review of the project, two weeks earlier. The vote followed an hourlong discussion of the revisions and of criticisms raised in a series of March 1 letters to board members by a prominent opponent of the 53-unit project, Woodstock resident Robin Segal.
“The Planning Board took a hard look at the FEIS and left no stone unturned,” said Guy Kempe, who is director of community development for the project’s developer, the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), at the conclusion of the meeting. “They are continuing to ask smart questions and we are attempting to answer them. We are one step closer to affordable housing in Woodstock.”
State law requires the project’s developer to make the FEIS available for public inspection and comment for a minimum of ten business days following its adoption. At the March 4 meeting, RUPCO representatives announced that the FEIS would be posted promptly on the organization’s website, initiating a public comment period that would begin on March 5 and end on March 26, thus extending well beyond the legal requirement.
The FEIS, in digital form, became available on RUPCO’s website, rupco.org, on the morning of March 10, yielding a period of 13 business days for public comment until the March 26 deadline, rather than the 21 days originally announced by RUPCO representatives. Kempe, alluding to the delayed posting in a March 9 interview, said, “The reason that you leave time to distribute these things is that they are big documents, which take time to create.” The town of Woodstock’s website will link to the FEIS following its posting on RUPCO’s site, he noted.
Kempe added that printed copies of the FEIS will be available by the end of the week at four locations in Woodstock: the offices of the town supervisor, clerk, and planning department, respectively, and the public library. In all, 60 computer-disk copies of the FEIS will be distributed to interested agencies, he said.
In the next stage of the Woodstock Commons application process, commencing at the Planning Board’s March 18 meeting, RUPCO plans to present its first draft of a “findings statement” on the entire environmental review of the project, as required by state law. The board will also continue its review of the project’s site plan. The proposed site is a 28-acre parcel behind the Bradley Meadows shopping complex. RUPCO’s attorney, Michael Moriello, and its planner, Art Brod, are preparing the draft of the findings statement, which will be submitted to the Planning Board for possible adoption at some point after the public comment period on the FEIS has expired.
Woodstock’s planning specialist, Dara Trahan, and its land use attorney, Drayton Grant, will also contribute to the findings statement. If the Planning Board adopts the findings statement and approves the site plan, all that would remain for the Woodstock Commons application to gain the town’s formal approval is a final resolution by the Planning Board.
Who owns Playhouse Lane?
In each of seven letters she sent to the Planning Board on March 1, Segal detailed either a prospective drawback of the project or an instance of what she believes to be flawed research or claims by RUPCO or its consultants. The letters dealt with potential noise levels associated with the drilling of geothermal wells at the proposed site; RUPCO’s alleged overstatement of the amount that Woodstock Commons would pay in local property taxes; the vague definition of “artist” as it relates to eligibility for housing at Woodstock Commons; noise levels likely to issue from events held at a gazebo or bandstand on the site; the developer’s allegedly inaccurate measurement of the width of Playhouse Lane, the main access road connecting Route 212 with the project’s entrance; traffic safety hazards involving the so-called Playhouse Plaza parking lot (see Woodstock Times, January 14, 2010); and RUPCO’s improper use of a name for the legal entity that will own Woodstock Commons (see Woodstock Times, February 25, 2010).
At the March 4 meeting the Planning Board cursorily discussed some the concerns cited in the letters. The board accepted Kempe’s declaration that RUPCO had registered a new name (Playhouse and Elwynn Associates, LLC) for the legal ownership entity and substituted it for the old name in relevant documents. Kempe also presented a circa 1933 map that purportedly showed that New York State owned the Playhouse Plaza parking lot and was therefore responsible for remedying any unsafe conditions at that location.
In reviewing Segal’s contention that Playhouse Lane was significantly narrower than claimed, and would need to be widened and paved in order to meet prevailing standards, the planners appeared satisfied with the response that two or more trucks were unlikely to be traveling in opposite directions on the road during the project’s construction. The Woodstock Commons site plan posits a bridge over Ferguson Creek, at the northern end of Playhouse Lane, as the entryway to the housing complex.
According to Segal, RUPCO’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the project erroneously claims that Playhouse Lane has a roadway width of 23 feet, with gravel shoulders 2 to 3 feet wide on either side; as such, the road would exceed the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standard of a total width of 18 feet for a so-called Low Volume Roadway.
Contrary to that claim in the DEIS, writes Segal her blog site, thetroublewithrupco.blogspot.com, the AASHTO standard is actually two paved lanes, each 9 feet wide, with shoulders on either side, for a total prescribed width of 22 feet. In many places, says Segal, Playhouse Lane is less than 18 feet wide. In addition, she maintains, RUPCO’s traffic engineer, Creighton Manning Engineering, classified Playhouse Lane as a Low Volume Roadway based on a miscalculation of traffic volume.
The matter of the road’s actual width could be significant. Although it has been widely assumed that the town would have to bear the expense of widening the road if that were necessary to accommodate the needs of the housing project, it appears that Playhouse Lane is not a town-owned road. According to a local resident, current and previous town officials and two lawyers have confirmed that Playhouse Lane is actually a “user road,” parts of which are owned by the Woodstock Playhouse and nearby private property owners. In that case, said the resident, the town could assume ownership of the road only through a condemnation procedure.
Before the climactic vote on the FEIS, Planning Board members Laurie Ylvisaker and Paul Henderson sought assurance that the board could reconsider its approval of the document if new information subsequently came to light. Trahan replied that the board could reconsider and even rescind its adoption of the FEIS “if new and substantial information materializes.” Whether such information will emerge while the planning agency completes its review remains to be seen.++