As part of the Gardiner Town Board’s agenda to update its 2004 Comprehensive Plan to the town’s modern needs, planner David Church has been interviewing civic groups on the ways the municipality has changed in the last 17 years. On June 3, it was the Planning Board’s turn.
“I think it’s just starting to change,” said member Carol Richman. “I think that the reception kept a lot of development from occurring. From the New York City population realizing how great this area is, and during Covid-19 realizing this is definitely the place to be, we are looking at rampant development.”
Though some board members disagreed that the influx of new residents and infrastructure was rampant, the Planning Board found truth in Richman’s statement that Gardiner was becoming more of a tourist attraction.
Chairperson Paul Colucci, a farmer by trade, shared his experience with the changing character of Gardiner from an agricultural district to something that resembles a resort town. While he’s working, he said, he notices tourists pull over near his land to fawn over the farm animals, especially the cows. But then they complain about the methane gas, he joked.
“That’s like the archetypal person who comes from an urban area, buys a house in Gardiner, but doesn’t want to drive behind a tractor. They don’t like the smell of manure,” said Clerk Glen Gidaly.
The members agreed it should be a priority to maintain Gardiner’s quaint aesthetic, but to expand restaurants and stores to boost tourism, the economy and support its mom-and-pops. Richman recommended granting special permits to road side businesses where tourists could easily buy supplies for the traditional “food to table” experience.
Affordability in the town, or lack thereof, was another major point of conversation. Church referred to the Ulster County Housing Action Plan, which found that Gardiner was the most cost-burden town in the county. The plan found that around 30 percent of households in Gardiner spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Church said he was skeptical of some of the plan’s methodology, but the board agreed the town was getting too expensive for younger generations to stay in the town they grew up in.
Keith Libolt said the issue stems from lack of assistance from the county to build affordable units. He suggested county executives make room for it in its budget, but he feels as though it’s not a priority for Ulster at this time. Gidaly noted that Ulster has $17 million from the federal Recovery Act and is looking for infrastructure projects and potentially could have another $17 million, but doesn’t know if affordable housing is top of mind.
“I don’t know if [affordable housing] has to be a concern of ours,” said Colucci, bringing the conversation back to Gardiner’s status as a tourist town and comparing it to other vacation spots, like Sag Harbor, LI and Newport, RI. “We have to decide, ‘What are we?’ We can’t have all of these spaces and we have to recognize that the jewel that we have here are the bike trails and the climbing and the open space. And that’s what we are. We have to recognize that that’s our face. What are we going to do? Are we going to tattoo ourselves and say, ‘Well, we’re not really this?’ So I don’t know if we can really focus on the fact that we don’t have affordable housing.”
Church agreed with Colucci’s statement, adding that the issue is regional and not specific to Gardiner.
Other points that were raised during the interview were environmental protection, including open space as part of the infrastructure, pedestrian interconnectedness between hamlets and trail networks and transitions between zones with incompatible uses.
Church will continue the interview process with municipal boards and civic groups before the process moves on to Gardiner residents and other stakeholders. He said the Town Board hopes to have a rough draft of the revised comprehensive plan by the fall, since the majority of the 2004 version is still applicable in 2021.