In 2005, as Chairman of the Town of Gardiner Zoning Advisory Committee, Matthew Bialecki, AIA, worked to revise the zoning of Gardiner’s ARR-200 zone to protect the ecology, scenic escarpments, and cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge, internationally recognized for its unique environment and stunning beauty. The ARR-200 lands run contiguous to the Minnewaska State Park and Mohonk Preserve and contain over 10 linear miles of rugged cliff face and talus, 4,500 acres of intact chestnut Oak forest, and many habitats for rare and endangered species.
The challenge of the revised law was recognizing that the Ridge is also home to a thriving neighborhood of over 700 residents, and that the cliffs, talus slopes and other prominent features were not part of the Shawangunk Ridge park and preserve system, but largely privately owned, with the Town of Gardiner providing primary land management and resource protection for these properties through its local zoning law.
Recognizing this, Gardiner’s 1992 Comprehensive Master Plan called for strengthening of laws to protect the Ridge, but significant revisions were never undertaken. Fortunately, while zoning allowed residential uses throughout the entire zone, the existing neighborhood had developed largely along the more accessible lower slopes of the ridge and had not had a negative impact on the fragile environments of the higher elevations.
In the five years preceding the 2005 Zoning Advisory Committee’s work however, development proposals in the ARR-200 zone focused on the higher elevations and steeper slopes. It was with this in mind that the 2005 committee set out to bring Gardiner’s laws into compliance with its Master Plan. Over a period of six months a committee of six members, chaired by Matthew Bialecki, met with numerous town officials, and many experts in the fields of zoning law and environmental management. The committee also solicited input from residents of the ARR-200 zone and many other community members.
Based on the committee’s recommendations, and utilizing the services of Planning Consultant Joel Russell, Esq. as principal planner and legal counsel, Gardiner’s ARR-200 zoning laws were rewritten. The new law strengthened residential uses on the lower elevations of the ridge while encouraging private sector land conservation on the upper elevations. The primary tools for protecting the Ridge were mandatory requirements prohibiting development on higher elevations and transferring development to the lower, already established residential neighborhood, the lowering of allowable densities, limiting of many undesirable uses, and the establishment of design standards for construction and development.
The changes recommended by 2005 Zoning Advisory Committee were voted into law in 2006.