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Neighbors question planners about wedding venue

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Residents voiced their concerns about The Kaaterskill, a hotel located on High Falls road, hosting weddings during a public hearing Tuesday. The hotel owner is asking the Catskill Town Planning Board for a special-use permit for the wedding venue.
January 9, 2019 10:04 pm

CATSKILL — Residents living within 1,000 feet of a local wedding venue voiced their concerns Tuesday about its operation at a town planning board meeting.

The Kaaterskill, an inn located on High Falls Road, has been hosting weddings without a permit, but has been working to remedy the situation with the planning board, the owner said.

The site also features nature trails and an animal rescue, and acts as a safe haven for wildlife by prohibiting hunting on the grounds.

While owners worked on obtaining the permit, the venue was allowed to finish its wedding season, but not schedule any additional ceremonies. Online reviews date back to 2010, according to theknot.com.

Owner Belkis Hirsch could not provide a specific date when wedding services first became available when interviewed in October.

Surveyor Charles Holtz began Tuesday’s hearing by pointing out some of the changes made to the property to assuage some of the complaints.

“There will be 78 parking spots, 12 for staff,” he said. “Portalets will be brought in for each wedding and be taken out afterward.”

The Catskill Town Board has given the green light to the town highway department to add No Parking signs to the section of High Falls Road along the property to make the issue enforceable, Planning Board Chairman Joseph Izzo said.

The venue will also abide by the town’s noise ordinance, with all music ceasing at 10 p.m., Holtz said.

Resident Anne Curry was the first to address the board.

“Is a wedding venue an allowed use in a rural-agricultural zone?” she asked.

Zoning board members determined it was allowed as a special use when they interpreted the zoning code in May, Izzo said.

Rosana Thompson wanted to know why abutters, or adjacent property owners, weren’t notified of the code interpretation.

“The zoning board doesn’t have to send notices for an interpretation,” Izzo said, adding that a public hearing is not required in the process.

“Well, what can we do about this?” Thompson asked. “Isn’t there a way to appeal their decision?”

Residents have 30 or 60 days to appeal decisions, Izzo replied.

“It seems like this was done behind closed doors,” Thompson said.

Izzo disagreed, saying all procedures were open and that nothing was hidden.

“The meeting was posted — the applicant was before the zoning board,” Izzo said. “I do not speak for the zoning board. The planning board does send notices.”

Thompson felt the notices should have been sent to everyone within a quarter-mile of the venue, she said.

“We are required by the town code to notify abutters within 300 feet,” Izzo said, adding the planning board extended that to 1,000 feet.

“We can’t notify the whole town,” he said.

“It would be more respectful to the neighbors,” Thompson said.

Hirsch took the floor to address the residents’ concerns.

“In our contract [with wedding couples], it says at 10 p.m. they must stop,” Hirsch said. “Our wedding coordinator had to go home three times and I think that is why they carried on. For this, I apologize.”

Hirsch offered a plan that she said will help in the future.

“The first time, they will get a warning,” she said. “Then, we will keep their security deposit, which is $1,800. The third time, we will turn off the music.”

Code Enforcement Officer Elliot Fishman told residents to call the sheriff or state police if they have noise complaints later than 10 p.m.

“Their site plan could be disqualified [if they violate conditions],” Izzo said.

The venue will not host any events other than weddings, Hirsch said.

“There will be no music festivals,” she said. “We do not want to have people who aren’t staying at the property coming in.”

The special-use permit covers only weddings, not concerts or any other type of outdoor public performances, Izzo said.

“We can also limit the number of weddings,” he said.

The weddings have brought positive attention to the area, Hirsch said: “We have been featured on the Travel Channel and in many national magazines.”

Thompson asked if the venue has a liquor license.

“We are working on getting one,” Hirsch said.

“What are you doing to prevent drunk driving?” Thompson said.

Izzo interjected.

“Don’t delve into other issues,” he said.

“These are real issues,” Thompson said. “You have a responsibility to listen to us.”

“You are absolutely right,” Izzo said. “But we are looking at the use of this property. If there are individuals who want to drink and drive, they are their [the property owner’s] responsibility.”

Hirsch continued to answer Thompson’s question.

“The caterers have a liquor license,” she said. “And we have buses that bring people in.”

Frank Carle wanted to know how well the regulations will be enforced.

“There have been rules and regulations in place,” he said. “The turnover of employees has been immense. The rules aren’t upheld.”

Hirsch acknowledged that the inn often has to make new hires.

“Our groundskeeper has been with us for four to five years and is very responsible,” she added.

The board did not make a decision on the special-use permit or the state environmental review form, which evaluates the project’s impact on the environment.

The board closed the public hearing. Planners have 62 days to rule on the permit.

“We are closing the hearing, but please send us your comments if there is anything you didn’t think of tonight,” Izzo said.