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Planning Board hosts preliminary discussion for Durst project’s pre-sketch review

PINE PLAINS — After receiving correspondence from The Durst Organization signifying its interest in beginning the pre-sketch review of its resort development application earlier this month, the Pine Plains Planning Board assembled on Wednesday, May 13, to engage in a preliminary discussion of the developer’s pre-sketch submission.

When The Durst Organization re-approached the town in February 2018 to redevelop the former Carvel Country Club (as it had proposed years earlier, though the project had stalled), the plan was to redevelop the property as a golf and recreation-oriented second home community in the towns of Pine Plains and Milan. Using feedback solicited from local residents, the project was later redesigned as a recreation-oriented resort. 

Included in the project’s revision, the Durst team announced its decision to withdraw its New Neighborhood Development (NND) application at the Planning Board’s Feb. 18 meeting. Given the changes, representatives from the Durst team said the revised project will now be developed under the same rules that apply to other developments in the residential district. They also shared their proposal for developing the land as a conservation subdivision.

On Friday, May 1, the town of Pine Plains announced via a press release that The Durst Organization delivered letters to its Town Board and Planning Board to formally withdraw the NND application and initiate the pre-sketch review process, “a prerequisite to filing a Conservation Subdivision application.” It stated that the pre-sketch review will “identify the 50% of land to be reserved for open space in the proposed subdivision layout of the project.”

Before The Durst Organization can complete its proposed project design and layout, the Planning Board needs to complete a preliminary identification, a process that could take months to finish. Once the preliminary identification is finished, the Durst team will complete its proposed development plan for the project and submit it to the Planning Board as a subdivision sketch plan, which will be accompanied by an Environmental Assessment Form to start the required State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. 

Beginning at 7:30 p.m., the May 13 meeting was conducted via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions and live streamed on the “Pine Plains Planning Board” YouTube channel. In addition to the members of the Pine Plains Planning Board, the meeting welcomed Durst attorney Jennifer Van Tuyl from Cuddy & Feder; Pine Plains Town Engineer Ray Jurkowski; and Frank Fish and Sarah Yackel from BFJ Planning, the consulting firm the town hired to do the analysis of the Durst project work.

Over the course of their discussion, the board considered the amount of property that will not be developed for this project — such as wetlands and steep slopes — since the town’s zoning law prohibits building on such lands. Additionally, while 2,652 acres have been considered for the project in Pine Plains, the board acknowledged that the applicant will be removing 176 acres of grandfathered land where the Carvel property previously sold lots. At this point in time, all of the numbers pertaining to the land are up to the Planning Board to decide. Seeing as some of the lots included in the project are in neighboring Milan, Pine Plains Planning Board member Dick Hermans said the board might want to engage Milan in the conversation early on rather than wait until the board decides on the number of lots. Fish told the board that it could invite Milan into any of its meetings at any time.

Pine Plain Planning Board Chairman Michael Stabile said the board has 30 days to make a comment on the application to the Town Board, and if a comment isn’t made, it will be assumed that the Planning Board approves of what the applicant is requesting. The Town Board would then make a decision on the project’s density. 

Van Tuyl said Pine Plains has 100% jurisdiction over the property that’s located in Pine Plains and Milan is only dealing with the property located in Milan. She emphasized that Pine Plains “is unique both in having the pre-sketch process and also in having this… credit for replatting lands that are in pre-existing substandard subdivision.

“Milan doesn’t have a process like that,” Van Tuyl said, “so whatever we develop in Milan, we’re going to be developing based upon the final subdivision plan.”

All in all, Van Tuyl said the Pine Plains and Milan Planning Boards will have plenty of time to coordinate with the Pine Plains Town Board.

Fish explained that the project’s lot count and open space designations will all be subject to SEQRA, adding that the applicant expects to compete a Full Environmental Impact Statement that will include alternatives. Van Tuyl later pointed out that the alternatives would be addressed as part of the SEQRA process.

Fish informed the Planning Board that it would serve as the lead agency in the process. Pine Plains Attorney to the Town Warren Replansky affirmed that the SEQRA process is the first step in the long approval process outlined in the town’s zoning law and Milan could theoretically become lead agency since the Planning Board has to solicit for lead agency status. Regardless of whether the Planning Board is named lead agency, he said Milan would be involved in the SEQRA process.

Moving forward, Replansky said the Planning Board may have another internal meeting with its consultants before its next board meeting. 

Fish explained that the Durst team has questions of a legal nature that it wants to discus with Replansky to make sure they are on the same page. 

Toward the end of the meeting, Replansky asked if the board could put the Durst discussion on its agenda for its meeting on Wednesday, June 10, adding that it could always be pulled if the board didn’t feel it was ready to move forward.

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