Also, Beacon council approves 2022 budget
The Beacon Planning Board next week will begin its review of a proposal to develop the historic Tioronda Estate, the home of the former Craig House psychiatric facility, with an inn and spa, restaurant and cottage rentals.
An investment group led by Michael Silberberg and Bernard Kohn, who also owns the 344 Main St. and 248 Tioronda projects in Beacon, purchased the 162-year-old estate in 2017 for $5.5 million.
The developers only submitted a handful of maps, with no narrative write-up of the proposal, to the Planning Board for its Dec. 14 meeting, but the project appears not to have changed significantly from a presentation made to the City Council in March 2020, during the early weeks of the pandemic shutdown.
Based on the maps, the project calls for the Craig House mansion, built in 1859, to be renovated, with hotel and spa additions built on either side and behind the building. “Entry” gardens would also be installed surrounding the structure, with a larger “Monet water garden” in the rear of the building.
Cottages and three other unidentified buildings are shown on the map just west of the water garden, with more than a dozen cottages farther south. The application for a special-use permit submitted to the board indicates that the project includes 100 “rental rooms.”
A tent venue area and venue parking would be in the North Meadow, which lies to the north of the mansion. A second entrance to the site would be added on Route 9D, with a driveway curving through the parcel. It appears that several lots would together include more than 100 parking spaces.
If the plan is approved, a little less than half of the 64-acre estate looks like it will be developed. The publicly accessible Fishkill Creek Greenway and Heritage Trail is expected to cut through the property, although its route is unclear from the maps. The cover sheet shows the project renamed as the Mirbeau Inn & Spa at the Howland Estate.
“I look at this as almost being part of Main Street,” Kohn said to the City Council last year. “It’s going to be something very special.”
All but one person who commented during a public hearing on Monday (Dec. 6) urged the City Council to balk on a proposal that would simplify the process for creating accessory dwelling unit (ADU) apartments in Beacon.
At least a dozen people spoke, either in person or by calling in to the council meeting.
The council has discussed the ADU measure, which would allow the apartments to be built in all residential districts and the transitional district, as a way of encouraging homeowners to create smaller housing units that could be rented at affordable prices. But on Monday, the overwhelming majority urged the council instead to adopt a good-cause eviction law to protect renters who could be at risk when a statewide moratorium on pandemic-related evictions expires Jan. 15.
Others brought up additional issues. “This proposal is in opposition to the comprehensive plan goal to preserve the density and character of established neighborhoods,” said Elaine Ciaccio. “I have heard little evidence that this will lower rents but the one thing it will do is raise prices on homes.”
Ciaccio added that she believes the cost of building an ADU, even with the ease of simplified municipal regulations, would make it hard for a homeowner to offer below-market-rate rent.
Kristan Flynn questioned the “expeditious manner” of getting the proposal through discussion and to the public hearing stage. “It’s kind of astounding, given how long it takes anything to make it to the agenda,” she said. Flynn also said that city officials have argued that increasing Beacon’s housing stock would lead to lower prices, but “we’ve seen that play out in the opposite direction. There’s no reason to believe that this would yield a different result.”
The one caller in favor of the proposal, said that “we need it all. We need many different solutions” when it comes to affordability.
The council adjourned the public hearing until Jan. 18, by which time four new members will have taken seats. The council asked to discuss the enforcement of short-term rental regulations during an upcoming workshop, as several speakers on Monday suggested ADUs are more likely to be used as short-term rentals than affordable housing.
The council on Monday unanimously approved Beacon’s 2022 budget, which includes $23.4 million in general fund spending, along with a separate $4 million water fund and $5.2 million sewer fund.
Residential properties will see a slight decrease in their city tax bills while commercial and apartment properties will pay about a 3 percent increase.
The budget also includes $25,000 to create a program to assist residents facing eviction with legal aid and other resources; $10,000 to fund neighborhood-level community improvements; and a $20,000 fund that nonprofit agencies can apply to for “community investment” projects.