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Residents voice many concerns with Iron Star ‘glamping’ proposal

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ANCRAM—To hear more public comment on the proposed Iron Star Retreat Center and to determine what factors associated with the project will have significant impacts on the town were the focus of discussion when the Planning Board convened a continuation of the public hearing on this controversial “glamping” (glamorous camping) proposal, July 25.

Nan Stolzenburg, the Planning Board’s planning and environmental consultant; the board’s Attorney John Lyons and Planning Board Engineering Consultant George Schmitt were all present. Also there were Iron Star applicant and owner Stacey Shurgin and her attorney, Taylor M. Palmer. The board’s stated purpose for the evening was to review the list of potential adverse moderate to large impacts and discuss and determine information needed to address these potential impacts along with continued work toward completion of the Environmental Assessment Form Part 2.

Under consideration by the Planning Board are Iron Star applications for a Special Use Permit, Lot Line Adjustment (Subdivision) Approval, and for Site Plan Approval for a proposed retreat center on a 147-acre property at 2540 State Route 82. The project is on the south side of Route 82, south and west of Wiltsie Bridge Road, northwest of Roche Drive and east of Poole Hill Road, within the town and county agricultural districts.

The reduced development proposal submitted in February includes the adaptive reuse of an existing residence for a five-guest-room inn with a restaurant open to the public; an amenity building; and four creek houses, four A-frame cabins, and 11 seasonal tents to allow for “glamping.” All improvements will be to the east side of the property. The proposal continues to include a pool, rain gardens, proposed parking areas, access roads, private wells, sewage disposal systems, an infiltration basin, and stormwater management infrastructure that support the retreat center’s facilities.

There will be no development on the ridge.

Roche Drive property neighbor Joe Brown told the board the project will have an impact on groundwater. He said his well has already been negatively impacted by a nearby well recently tapped by a farmer. He said his once “great well… went to hell” and now he “may need to redrill.”

Resident Carol Falcetti expressed concern about the aquifer and asked if the board had the authority to hire a hydrologist.
Planning Board Chair John Ingram said the board has the authority to hire a hydrologist and also has the authority to require the applicant to conduct a water study.

Lucy Hayden of Cottontail Road spoke about how construction of the resort will impact the land by disturbing the soil and rendering it “unusable for agriculture” along with disturbing the “endangered” grassland habitat and the birds that nest there.

Increased traffic generated by the project was of concern to a Lake Shore Drive resident who said he has already counted 150 cars per hour on local roads and has the data to share. As a cyclist, he said he rides his bike early before the cars hit the road.

Emily Sommerhoff of Wiltsie Bridge Road, said the “traffic is out of control.” Wiltsie Bridge is loaded with blind spots and has a one-lane bridge—issues that will not be resolved easily. She said retreat center visitors will be there “to party” and “not care about my son on his bike on Wiltsie Bridge Road.”

Chairman Ingram agreed that traffic has been determined to be an issue of moderate to large impact and said the applicant will be asked to address it and other items to the board’s satisfaction.

Another Wiltsie Bridge Road resident said the area is a natural amphitheater, like a “big bowl.” He said he can deal with noise from an occasional graduation or wedding party, but does not want to hear people “getting carried away at their glamping spot” on a regular basis. “Sound is an issue,” he said.

Ancram Fire Chief David Boice asked the board to make sure the project meets New York State Fire Codes and the buildings are equipped with sprinklers. He also noted that visitors should be made aware of how to properly notify authorities of a fire by dialing 911, not by calling the local firehouse. The fire company is all volunteer and there is not always someone at the firehouse to answer the phone.

Resident Dave Hall asked the board to consider the current character of the area and said the retreat center would be a “really big departure from the present neighborhood.”

Consultant Stolzenburg advised the board that before any final decisions are made, it should consider how to determine if an issue proposes a significant impact.

Among the other issues discussed during the two and a half hour meeting were: increased demand on community services like the fire company and emergency medical services; compliance with the town’s Comprehensive Plan; an onsite wildlife inventory over multiple seasons; disagreement over the size of the acreage the project will disturb. Attorney Palmer said the amount is 10 acres.

The Planning Board will continue to discuss and finalize the information it will request from Iron Star to address areas of significant impact at the board’s August 4 meeting both in-person at Town Hall and via Zoom at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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