A plan to expand the size of Kimlin Energy’s parking lot sparked a dispute about the protection of bog turtles, an endangered species suspected to inhabit the desired lot, at the Town of Gardiner Planning Board’s Aug. 4 meeting.
“It seems like every time we start talking about environmental issues or endangered species, it becomes something that we want to sweep under the table,” said Carol Richman, a claim disputed by Chairperson Paul Colucci.
Richman was urging her fellow board mates to reject a study conducted to determine whether the 14 Steves Lane site is habitable for the small reptiles. The study, conducted by Ecological Solutions biologist Michael Nowicki a month prior, evaluated the wetlands area for three aspects consistent with bog turtle residencies: suitable hydrology, suitable soils and suitable vegetation. Despite finding groundwater discharge and sedges, foliage Raymond Sokolov argued fit the characteristics of bog turtle habitats, Nowicki concluded that “there is no potential bog turtle habitat at this location.”
“We have water and we have sedge and that’s the minimum requirement, so it seems to me that we’re not getting a straight account here,” said Sokolov before adding, “He’s reached this insane conclusion after describing vegetation and water that has previously been defined as typical of a bog turtle habitat.”
A motion made by Richman at the July 28 meeting, the first half of the Aug. 4 meeting, to have a second biologist assess the wetland in order to determine the authenticity of Nowicki’s report. Richman admitted that she could be wrong in doubting Nowicki’s conclusion, but she figured it would be better to be safe than sorry. Colucci, however, felt the second assessment at cost to the applicant was an unfair additional requirement in its effort to expand it’s parking lot.
“For us to tell the applicant that we do not accept this report I think is not right,” said the chairperson. “It’s not our job to challenge a certified consultant in the field, a recognized biologist that I told you in the last meeting that this town uses as well as every other town in this county uses ... we have this document in front of us that says he believes that there is not a habitat, or that the bog turtle does not exist. What are we going to do?”
Kimlin Energy’s application to expand its parking lot also raised concerns over noise, safety and traffic flow, which Colucci noted were aspects that were just as important when considering the process, but which attention was being diverted from over the issue of turtles.
In the end, Colucci suggested that Nowicki join the Planning Board at its next meeting in order to present and explain his conclusion in an effort to alleviate Richman and Sokolov’s concerns for the endangered species. If still unsatisfied following the biologist’s explanation, Richman’s original motion to send another biologist from an organization of her recommendation would be revisited.
The Town of Gardiner Planning Board also heard an application from Heartwood Wildflower Farms for its site plan review. The proposal for the eco-resort development seeks to feature a 70-room hotel complete with a spa, farm, restaurant and goat farm while remaining net-zero energy and sustainable. The Planning Board previously granted a special permit to developer Phillip Rappaport.
The proposal faced controversy after the Friends of Gardiner sought to overturn the entire project, providing 13 causes of action cited in an Article 78 petition, but the State of New York Supreme Court in the County of Ulster ordered the complaint to be adjourned in February.
Rappaport provided the board with current updates, including the dimensions of the goat house set to be 480-square-feet, its current plans to only admit 60 guests to accommodate social distancing guidelines in the era of the pandemic and a timeline that has the facility opening in summer 2022 - the crew broke ground for construction in June. A public hearing for the Heartwood Wildflower Farm is expected later in the month.
In other board business, the Planning Board scheduled two site visits - for a special permit application on Sparking Ridge Road to allow for a kitchenette in a garage apartment and for a Shelton Road residence to build a single family home. All applications heard in the nearly four hour meeting will follow up in some form in future meetings.