CATSKILL — The county planning board disapproved of a proposed festival at the former Friar Tuck Inn.
The applicants, represented by Ruben Lindo, requested to hold a Hello Panda Lantern Festival. With over 120 lantern exhibits, the festival is considered the largest of its kind in North America, according to hellopandafest.com.
The festival will be on display at Citi Field in New York City from Dec. 6 through Jan. 26, and at Lake Glenwood in Vernon, New Jersey, from Nov. 29 through Jan. 5.
Although the festival is before the town planning board, because of its proximity to Route 32, it was also referred to the county planning board.
The county rejected the proposal, citing the former resort’s poor condition.
The property where the festival is proposed was owned by Greene County in 2013. It is currently owned by Friar Tuck Resorts Inc. There are several adjacent parcels owned by L&H Resort Systems LP.
“The site is in significant disrepair, unattractive and constitutes a nuisance that presents dangerous conditions to the users of the site,” according to the denial letter from the county dated Nov. 15.
The site contains several dilapidated structures and the buildings on or contiguous to the site are condemned, unsecured, dangerous and may constitute an unattractive nuisance, according to the letter.
Adjacent parcels are littered with glass, debris, tiles, shingles and wood, according to the letter.
When Lindo discussed the festival with the county, the primary issue seemed to be back taxes.
“Before the county wanted to have a conversation about the festival, they wanted to talk about tax implications,” Lindo said. “My clients have no issue rectifying the tax issue.”
Greene County Treasurer Peter Markou, who attended the meeting, said the property is behind $698,000 in taxes.
To override the county’s decision, the town planning board needs five votes, Izzo said.
The county made several recommendations if the town chooses to override the denial.
The recommendations include restricting visitor access to the adjacent parcels, ensuring highly trained technicians set up the festival and see that it meets all electrical and fire safety codes, making sure parking areas are safe for visitors and that there are no more than 100 visitors per day.
Other recommendations include a first-aid station and medical personnel on site, four portalets, eight security officers and four traffic control staff. The applicants must have proper liability insurance and no food vendors other than food trucks will be allowed, according to the letter.
Lindo disagreed with the county’s assessment of the site.
“I walked the parcel,” he said. “The county saying the structure was an eyesore and a nuisance is almost laughable.”
Lindo said he saw dozens of dilapidated buildings along Route 23 as he drove from Cairo up the mountain.
“[The letter] is a barrier to having this festival, which could lead to economic development,” Lindo said. “They’re not asking for thousands of people to come through. It’s a good first step in getting the building in good standing and back on the tax roll.”
The applicants must also define when exactly the festival will be held. The current application lists November to March, according to the letter.
The town contacted Kiskatom Fire Chief Joseph Caputo and asked if the fire department could respond to emergencies at the festival, Izzo said.
“[Caputo] would not sign the letter until he reviewed it with the fire commissioners and the fire company,” Izzo said.
Caputo’s reluctance to sign the letter is likely due to a bridge that is on site and whether the bridge is able to support the weight of fire trucks, Izzo said.
Lindo said he has been in contact with Paul Colarusso, of A. Colarusso & Sons in Hudson, about evaluating the bridge.
Izzo agreed getting a letter from an engineer would help planners make a decision.
The problem of insurance remains, town attorney Michael Smith said.
“We are using the mass-gathering law to protect the town of Catskill in terms of any lawsuits,” Smith said.
Smith asked for an indemnification clause to be included in the contract, he said.
“Until that is reviewed and I am satisfied that the town is protected, I have serious problems with this moving forward,” Smith said.
Lindo said he did not see the need for the clause.
“The special-use permit under the mass-gathering law was waived,” Lindo said.
The applicants have no waiver, Smith said. The town is using the mass-gathering law as a guideline and a liability insurance policy is required as part of the application.
Lindo sent an email to Town Code Enforcement Officer Elliot Fishman stating that his insurance wouldn’t allow an indemnification clause, Smith said.
“They didn’t see why the town would need to ask for indemnification on private property,” Lindo said. “They didn’t say they wouldn’t do it. I don’t believe my clients have a problem with it. I needed to be able to explain it to the underwriter.”
The board also requested that the tollbooth, which is where tickets to the event would be sold, be moved further back from Route 32. The town planning board did not make any decision on the festival and will revisit it at its Dec. 10 meeting.
The applicants were asked to submit revisions seven days before the next meeting, due to plans being sent last minute on Tuesday.
The applicant, Lily Li, objected to the complaint, saying the plans were last minute because the board gave last-minute feedback so the plans had to be altered the day of the meeting.
“Those changes were sent on Nov. 14,” Fishman said.