Terramor glamping site protested by Woodstock, Saugerties residents


SAUGERTIES — With more than 500 campsites in the U.S. and Canada, no one knows camping better than Kampgrounds of America. Now, the world’s largest camping company is hoping to tap into the growing glamping market with Terramor Catskills, a 77-acre wooded property in Saugerties near the town border with Woodstock. But the project is not without controversy.

The proposal seeks to build 75 tents on platforms — each with its own toilet, shower and fire pit — along with a welcome center, wellness tent, lodge, swimming pool with cabanas, maintenance building and employee housing in the now-pristine forest off state Route 212 just south of Glasco Turnpike. The tents will accommodate two to five people and rent from $250 to $400 a night. Weddings will be welcome.

This would be KOA’s second glamping site, joining its sister resort at Bar Harbor, Maine, near the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park on the Atlantic coast. For Terramor Catskills’ guests, the off-site attraction may be the charming town of Woodstock and Catskill Park, whose hiking trails and swimming holes have become overrun in recent years.

KOA’s team has been meeting with concerned residents of “Saugerstock” for several months to share their plans, which, as recently as last June, included 50 tents. But after Terramor was informed that Saugerties’ zoning rules would permit 75 platformed tents, it redrew plans, with some of the added tents closer to its boundary line. Since then, resistance has ballooned.

Initially, it was Terramor’s future neighbors who didn’t want a noisy, potentially polluting resort and its attendant traffic in their “backyard.” Retired school administrator Paul Thurman lives half a mile from the property and calls the company “profit-seeking carpetbaggers.” He’s asthmatic and worries about air pollution from the site but admits he’s a NIMBY (not in my backyard) who feels “there is no compromise that would allow this to be built. We’re going to stick to our guns.”

Thurman is vice president of Citizens Against Terramor, an advocacy group that has been joined by several environmental organizations, including the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Woodstock Environmental Commission, in a vociferous cry of opposition. (Thurman previously told the Daily Freeman: “We’re afraid we’re headed for World War III.”) As Dr. Kathy Nolan, senior research director for Catskill Mountainkeeper and Ulster County legislator for the 22nd District, put it, “Making camping a comfortable activity in a remote forest or wilderness area is one thing, but making camping a surrogate for high-density, low-cost lodging without adequate attention to environmental and social impacts is quite another.”

The Sierra Club said, “the plans shared by Terramor suggest it presents a threat to the aquifer and the multi-municipality interconnected wetland system which provides a vital habitat to a variety of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species such as the Indiana bat.” Citizens Against Terramor adds to the list of possible hazards an increased forest fire risk, pesticide use, a depleted aquifer, nearby wells running dry and health-threatening particulates from all those fire pits.

The Woodstock Jewish Congregation, which is in Saugerties across the road from Terramor, registered its dissent when informed that the resort’s wastewater would discharge into its sacred pond, where Tashlich, the symbolic casting off of sins on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and the ritual purifications of mikvah are performed. In response, Terramor said they “have decided to find an alternative solution that will not disrupt (the congregation’s) pond.”

From left: Bev Nerenberg, Michael Kolber and Beth Yanick of Citizens Against Terramor, a local advocacy group formed to oppose Terramor’s proposal.

From left: Bev Nerenberg, Michael Kolber and Beth Yanick of Citizens Against Terramor, a local advocacy group formed to oppose Terramor’s proposal.

Provided by Citizens Against Terramor

The added traffic Terramor would bring to the intersection of Route 212 and Glasco Turnpike is another hot-button issue. A Terramor traffic study found that the spot has a crash rate five and a half times higher than the statewide average. Terramor conducted a traffic study last February, then again in August, and concluded that the added cars and trucks would not increase the accident rate, though critics are dubious of that estimate.

Homeowners also fear a drop in their property values. Painter Donald Elder had a deal to sell a parcel of his land adjoining Terramor. But when his prospective buyer learned that the land she bought to build a bucolic home and studio would overlook tents less than 100 feet away, she backed out. Elder had counted on that income as a nest egg and worries that he might not be able to sell his own house, which is a short walk to the low stone wall that separates his land from the proposed glamping grounds.

Asked about the impassioned resistance Terramor has encountered, Director of Brand and Operations Jenny McCullough said in an email: “We have strived to be transparent with the community and neighbors from the beginning. We understand that there are concerns regarding the project and have worked diligently to conduct both mandated and optional environmental studies to ensure our impact to the land will be minimal and our campground will not adversely impact our neighbors.”

Still, red and white “Stop Terramor” placards are scattered along the roads near the property. Terramor means “love the earth.” The signs ask, “what about love thy neighbors?” The local crusade seems to have hit a national anti-development nerve. Citizens Against Terramor’s petition asking Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger to help stop Terramor has gathered more than 35,000 signatures from all over the country.

As the opposition has snowballed, Terramor has been busy. On June 2, Saugerties’ building inspector determined that Terramor, as “a campground with accessory buildings,” was allowable under the town’s zoning code. The 60-day deadline to appeal the decision has long passed, to the distress of Dr. Susan Paynter, president of Citizens Against Terramor, which formed after the deadline.

Paynter worries that Terramor will gain the Saugerties Planning Board’s approval on a “technicality,” and labeled the fight over Terramor “David vs. Goliath,” saying that while Citizens Against Terramor has struggled to raise money for a lawyer and scientific research, KOA fielded eight representatives bearing stacks of environmental studies to a recent Town Board meeting, has consulted with the state Departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation, and has drawn up point-by-point refutations to residents’ objections, seeking to prove that the project would not result in “any significant adverse environmental impact.”

The Terramor story has some parallels with the skirmishes playing out in communities across the country pitting entrenched local citizens groups against large-scale development on the battlefield of municipal planning and zoning boards. One consequence has been an inability to build affordable housing, a point Gov. Kathy Hochul stressed in her State of the State address last week, though, in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, the resistance has often extended to tourist initiatives. (Some of Terramor’s opponents have cited a need for more affordable housing compared to another luxury camping site.)

Saugerties provides another example in Winston Farm — a $600 million “mixed-use destination venue” with multi-unit and single-family housing, an office park, and tourist entertainment like an amphitheater and “adventure park” — which has been entangled in red tape thanks in part to resistance from a citizens group formed to oppose the project.

Terramor critics will have another chance to voice their concerns at Tuesday’s Saugerties Planning Board meeting, which will include an information session on the project. If there are citizens in support — people who may see the economic benefits of Terramor in jobs and tax revenue — they’ve been quiet so far. 

For now, Terramor is waiting for the State Environmental Quality Review process to conclude and for the Planning Board to approve a special use permit for the glamping site. That won’t happen until after a public Planning Board meeting that has not yet been scheduled. All this could take months, delaying Terramor’s plans to start construction this spring.


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