Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Glamping plan gets less ambitious

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ANCRAM—Iron Star Retreat Center applicant and owner Stacey Shurgin wants to be a “good neighbor.”

To prove it she has shrunken her planned development on 147 acres down to 36 acres in response to public comment, board and consultant input.

At the March 3 Ancram Planning Board meeting Ms. Shurgin, speaking via Zoom, gave the board and audience an overall rundown of her revised “reduced development proposal.”

Originally, the proposed retreat center was to include the adaptive reuse of an existing residence for a five guestroom inn, and the development of four separate lodging cottages (creek houses) for overnight accommodations, along with three separate buildings for associated recreational support uses on the east side of the property.

Initially, development proposed for the west side of the property consisted of a “glamping” area with 22 individual camping structures. The inn will also have a restaurant for patrons utilizing produce from the onsite organic farming operation. Recreational amenities for the commercial retreat will include massage, horseback riding, swimming (an indoor pool), exercise and art. The camping use will be glamorous camping (glamping) and will be provided in individual cabins and rustic buildings. Organic farming will use open space on the site that has been used historically for farming operations and will also include the construction of two farm-related buildings to support produce processing and equipment storage.

A local group called “Rural Ancram” has come out against the project, saying it “would permanently change the rural character of Ancram.” The group’s website (www.rural-ancram.org) says, “Ancram residents have spent decades carefully planning a future that protects the Town’s most important resources: farmland, active agriculture, clean water, natural habitats, scenic views, and distinct hamlets with historic character.

“These irreplaceable assets and the rural character of our community are threatened by one big private development, right now, in the valley at the heart of our town.

“Iron Star violates every value expressed by Ancram’s Comprehensive Plan.”

Describing the Iron Star Retreat Center as a “quiet place” for families and individuals to come and enjoy the outdoors and open spaces, engage in reflection and relaxation and basically retreat from the busy world, Ms. Shurgin said her aim is to give guests “a small farm and outdoor experience” where they can collect eggs from chickens, honey from bees, pick vegetables and fruits, hike and walk. Guests can spend a few days in small cabins, patronize local businesses and take cooking, yoga and art classes.

In view of residents’ and neighbors’ concern over development of the western ridge, Ms. Shurgin said in the interest of “preserving that special area, making peace and being a good neighbor and community member” that area will not be developed.

The new and scaled back version of the Iron Star site plan calls for a total shift of the development from both sides of the stream to the east side only and development on only one (lot #3) of the four lots that make up the total property.

The reduced development now lessens environmental and other impacts, she said.

The overall land disturbance has been cut by 50%, with the proposed project now occupying 36 acres instead of 147. The revamp also eliminates the need for a change in town zoning law to accommodate the project.

The revised plan calls for 12 small permanent structures, including four 2-bedroom family units of 1,200 square feet each; 4 A-frame structures of 225 square feet each. Five rooms in addition to the original five rooms (units) will be added to the inn.

She said the total permanent units number 17 in the new plan as opposed to 33 in the original, for a reduction of 50%.

From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, 11 temporary tent sites on wooden platforms will be available.

An event space has been removed from the project and three recreational structures have been condensed into one.

The restaurant, which was originally reserved for retreat guests, will now be redesigned to become a 40-seat eatery open to the public. A patio area, originally set to face Route 82 and a neighbor’s house across the road, will now face Ms. Sturgin’s residence instead.

All structures will be of modular construction—90% built off-site to limit noise and disturbance caused by building onsite.

She said the earth will be less disturbed through the use of helical piles as opposed to digging foundations.

Since the project is smaller, the need for as much staff is also less and housing will be provided for an innkeeper and other staff as the project is phased in, she said.

Lighting, which was a big concern among neighbors, will be dark-sky compliant, with no lighting on the ridge. Lighting will be placed along Route 82 and be hidden by landscaping.

“Our goal is to make guests feel they are alone in the woods and large lights and noise defeat this objective,” she said.

Also, project consultants spoke at the March 3 meeting, a landscape designer, engineer, traffic consultant and someone from Hudson Valley Cultural Resource Consultants.

They all added bits of information about how their parts of the project will change.

Public comment was not allowed at the March 3 meeting.

The Planning Board scheduled a public workshop meeting for the board and its consultants to review the revised project. The public can attend but their comments will not be allowed.

The workshop is set for Thursday, March 31 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

An email request for comment from Rural Ancram on the revised Iron Star project was not answered by press time.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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