Planning Board votes to change variance applications for Tomahawk Lake

BYRAM. The Planning Board voted to change variance applications regarding the water park expansion proposal, and it's now scheduled to be heard by the Zoning Board on Nov. 7, 2019.

08 Sep 2019 | 01:32

The Byram Planning Board on Thursday, Sept. 5 voted to change variance applications, regarding proposed Tomahawk Lake Waterpark expansion. The application, which was first heard in January, has been the subject of some controversy since the park sits in Byram, but most traffic into the recreational facility is routed through nearby Seneca Lake, which sits in Sparta Township.

At issue at Thursday's Planning Board meeting was determining if D variance should be required (which needs to be heard before the Zoning Board) rather than C Variance (which is heard before the Planning Board) due to prior approvals having been granted at a time when Tomahawk Lake was a small swim club rather than the larger water park that it is today.

Residents along Seneca Lake Trail and Tomahawk Trail, represented by attorney Roger Thomas of Dolan & Dolan, PA, argued that by allowing the park to make such heavy improvements, the traffic and noise they’ve experienced from the park will only worsen.

Owners of Tomahawk Lake and their attorney William Askin of Askin & Hooker claimed in earlier hearings that the traffic only becomes an issue one or two days a year and that they’ve already taken steps to mitigate it by moving the park’s ticket booth and opening the gates earlier to allow patrons in. The owners said they’d like to build the new slides to modernize the facility.

At the Sept. 5 meeting, certified planner Ken Nelson testified on behalf of the Seneca Lake residents that he felt the facility was already in violation of permitted use for its zone, which does not allow for amusement parks, and two new slides might be the “tipping point."

“This would make Tomahawk Lake more analogous to Mountain Creek than to a swim club,” Nelson said.

Seneca Lake’s attorney Thomas cited the case of Matheny v. Borough of Peapack and Gladstone, where a company sued the town in state district court after being denied a zoning variance for a large expansion of their facility for young adults with developmental disabilities. In that case, the variance was denied because it was deemed that Matheny had brought inaccurate documents before the planning board, in an attempt to gain the variance under false pretenses. Planning board chairman George Shivas, Jr. was quick to dismiss any talk that Tomahawk Lake might be acting in an underhanded manner.

“I’ve been on this planning board a long time,” he said. “And we’ve approved several applications for them over the years. Tomahawk Lake has never been anything but transparent with us.”

Planning Board attorney Kurt Senesky agreed.

“None of the previous approvals of this board were ever appealed," he said.

Clarification: A previous, online article indicated that the Board had approved expanded parking, two additional water slides, and concessions. But the vote, by the Planning Board, was to require a "D" rather than a "C" variance.