There are a bunch of victims in the story of Cucina and its travels through the Woodstock regulatory maze, trying to create a catering facility in the red Riseley Barn on the same property, next to the restaurant at the entrance to town.
First, is the restaurant itself. Probing and seeking a way to enact its plans, Cucina was given a building permit by the Woodstock Building Inspector/Zoning Enforcement Officer. The proprietors began the work, put in the time and the money, said to be around $125,000, and then were pulled up short by a ZBA decision that what it was creating was not a permitted use in the zoning law. This is true. But it somehow seems beside the point, since the owners proceeded legally under the aegis of a building permit and had put in all that effort and money.
Second victim in the case is the ZBA, the zoning board of appeals. The board was asked by a neighbor, officially, for a ruling on what the law says. The ZBA made the proper ruling based on what the law says — that’s all there is to it. You can look it up. But the ZBA has become a victim of an orchestrated letter to the editor campaign in this paper (they’re all there in the column) calling for it to be run out of town, seeking its beheading for not ignoring the law. And remember, the ZBA can only make the ruling. It does not enforce the law.
Victim No. 3 is the Woodstock Building Inspector, Ellen Casciaro, who said in an interview earlier this year “I understand both sides…and that all zoning is up for interpretation. If someone doesn’t like my ruling, they can always go to the planning board or zoning board of appeals.”
And what is she a victim of? The culprit…this sort of nebulous slogan that floats around and seems to have been part of her marching orders when she was hired, that goes back to the hiring of Paul Andreassen before her. The slogan goes something like “let’s make Woodstock more business-friendly.” Perhaps it’s a fine idea. But not if the idea of making the town more ‘business-friendly’ comes with very little direction from those who propose it. Does that mean, be nicer to people who are applying for permits? Overlooking minor violations? Bending the law because a project seems good for the town and the owners?
If elected officials don’t think the law of the town makes it ‘business friendly’ enough, then change the law, don’t ask your employees to ignore it. The task falls to the town board. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be. It calls for much discussion of what’s in the law and why it was put there.
The last letter to the editor was from Supervisor Jeremy Wilber, saying that things were being worked out. Well, that is what has to happen. Cucina needs to be able to operate after its investment. Here’s hoping that a clearer understanding of these terms comes about from such a morass.++