Migdale Castle developer asks town to drop neighbors’ petition

WASHINGTON — The Town of Washington (TOW) Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) held a routine meeting on Tuesday, March 16, with a small number of the public attending via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the meeting started with a discussion about a lighting and signage issue at the Route 44 Gulf gas station, it was shortly interrupted by attorney Charles Gottlieb, who said another meeting was simultaneously going on via Zoom, accessible via the TOW website, with about 80 people in attendance expecting to speak about the Second Mountain project. 

Gottlieb is representing one of the groups opposing the Second Mountain project that seeks to convert Migdale Castle in Mabbettsville into a luxury hotel/spa/getaway with condos and a slew of recreational amenities on roughly 350 acres. Second Mountain is facing legal challenges from two groups of neighbors thus far, along with vocal opposition for countless others in the community (for more, go to www.tricornernews.com).

The two simultaneous Zoom meetings occurred in error, without the ZBA realizing it. The smaller meeting that was discussing the gas station had extremely poor audio, so ZBA Chair John Parisi decided those who wanted to could sign out of that meeting and join the other one could. Resident Howard Schuman asked first that his recommendations on the Gulf lighting matter be entered into the official ZBA minutes, which was done.  

ZBA meeting consolidated

The single ZBA Zoom meeting then continued, focusing on a request for the ZBA’s blessing from the Town Board to be lead agency on the Second Mountain State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. 

Close to 100 people signed in, and both lawyers for the groups opposing the project, Gottlieb and John Lyons, attended virtually. 

The request was from Will Guidara, the developer of the property. It was merely ceremonial, as the Town Board does not officially need the ZBA’s permission to become the lead agency in the mandated review process.

Many residents oppose Guidara’s application for a Spa Overlay District, which was to be discussed at a Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, March 30. 

Gottlieb represents the three property owners who live closest to the Migdale Castle, while Lyons represents more than 258 other residents, who call their group the Friends of the Town of Washington.

Gottlieb stated that he had never seen a project so inconsistent with a community’s Comprehensive Plan as that of Second Mountain. He asked why the application is even being entertained by the town, and repeated his claim that a complete site plan has not been submitted as required. 

On Monday, March 29, Washington Town Clerk Mary Alex confirmed the town does not have a complete site plan on file.

Gottlieb also charges if the zoning variance is approved, it will open up the town up to uncontrollable future development.

Both attorneys agree that the Town Board should not be named lead agency for the project, as it is a legislative body. They also noted that just because the application process had begun doesn’t mean it can’t be stopped. He and Lyons both asked that the town to slow down for now. Lyons added those who oppose the project are doing so with their own money.

Others challenged the Town Board, including resident Doug Tardle, who asked that the project be put off for a year and a half, until after the pandemic.

“So there can be an open dialogue with transparency,” he said.

Many residents charged that the project began in secret, with only the Town Board knowing about it until it was finally brought up at a meeting in February, after Guidara made a presentation before the board.

Eliza Dyson repeated concerns she voiced at other meetings, stating she’s lived in the area for more than 60 years.

“It’s so wholly against what our comprehensive plan says,” she said, adding “the developer is not a resident, not a part of our town.”

The ZBA voted against naming the Town Board lead agency, though the Town Board could name itself such at its next meeting on its own. The ZBA meeting then ended.

Cease review of petition?

On Thursday, March 25, Mackey, Butts & Wise LLP, which represents the applicant, sent a letter to Washington town Supervisor Gary Ciferri, that Guidara is reportedly aware of the many concerns of residents, but is asking the town to “immediately cease any further review of the merits of the petition and the project.”  

The law firm asserted that it always assumed that the town would contemplate an iterative process to examine the virtues of the plan, and acknowledged that the town has no legal obligation to consider or adopt the petition for the overlay, but that legally it may do so. 

They attorneys added that the review process is compliant with SEQRA. They outlined some of the pros involved with the project going forward, mentioned several of the objections previously voiced and answered those objections. They then noted that their client is awaiting the answer as to whether the Town Board will be the lead agency.

Although the application is pending, Gottlieb believes there may be a time constriction between Guidara and the current owners  of Migdale Castle. 

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