Already not complying with original permit, Christmas Land asks for more exemptions 

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Christmas Land in Guilderland drew the ire of the town’s zoning board in 2018, when the 65-acre holiday attraction on Furbeck Road began to operate without a permit. Christmas Land eventually obtained the permitting it needed from the board. And now the business is looking to amend that permit to expand its hours of operation while also asking to be able to keep some decorations up year-round.

GUILDERLAND — There’s still time for Paula Tambasco to pull off a Hallmark movie moment with the town of Guilderland. But, given the history between the owner of Christmas Land and the town’s zoning board, the ending of this ordeal is more likely to resemble Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

Tambasco was before the board in July, seeking to amend the special-use permit she obtained two years ago for her 65-acre holiday attraction on Furbeck Road. 

Tambasco told the board in 2018 that Christmas Land was “where families come together and community members, bringing back the old-fashioned spirit of Christmas.” The venue offers horse-and-wagon rides, she said, and the chance to sit by a fire while listening to carolers. 

Tambasco is now looking to expand the hours of operation and to keep some of the decorations up year-round. 

The special-use permit the board approved in January 2018 allowed Christmas Land to open the Saturday after Thanksgiving and required that it close on Dec. 24, and stated that it could operate only on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Additionally, Tambasco is asking the zoning board to allow her to be open during the week — Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — for appointment-only group trips. 

She also asked the zoning board at its July 15 meeting “to allow wood-made items and reindeer decorations to remain up all year,” according to the memo Town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik sent to the zoning board. Previously, the permit required all displays be removed by the last day of February.

This year, there was an issue after the holidays when Tambasco removed only some of the Christmas items from the property but did not take down the garland and lightning, it was said during the July 15 zoning board meeting.

Tambasco told the board there’s holly hanging on her porch, but said that, with all of the overgrowth of the natural greenery around the porch, it’s virtually impossible to see the holly. “It’s just, I get picked on for a couple pieces of holly that were on my porch and you can’t even see them now,” she said. 

Tambasco said she revised the special-use permit in part to stop from getting “picked on.” And she said nothing is lit up on the property. 

A complaint action summary included in the zoning board’s July 15 meeting-agenda packet shows the town’s building inspector made a combined 10 site inspections or phone calls to Tambasco between May 2019 and February 2020 about Christmas Land — always with some version of the same note: Garland and lights remain.

Board member Sindi Saita pointed out that Christmas Land is, after all, a Christmas-branded business, and said she understood having some kind of year-round display. And Saita said that the wooden display pieces that she saw on her site visit — the large sleigh and reindeer — would be easy to move, adding, “Everything else looked tidy, and clean, and organized, and nice.”

Chairman Thomas Remmert had been in the Christmas Land area a month prior to the July 15 meeting and said, “There was nothing that jumped out at me that said, ‘Hey, we need to do something here.’”

Jacob Crawford said he “had a different view” of the project.

He recalled when Tambasco had been before the board two years ago, seeking her first special-use permit. Christmas Land at that time had been operating without a permit and Tambasco had thought it was ridiculous that the board wouldn’t just grant the application, Crawford said, “When they had started operating without our approval.”

He’s just as concerned now about the project as he was two years ago when it first came before the board, said Crawford. 

Crawford’s concerns, to a certain extent, were borne out at the board’s Aug. 5 meeting, when Tambasco did not call into the meeting,  which was live-streamed on the town’s website and broadcast on local cable. It had been disrespectful of Tambasco not to call in with an update, he said, and it was disrespectful to the neighbors who had called and written to comment about the project.

Michelle Annese, one of four co-owners of Christmas Land, told The Enterprise on Aug. 14, after this story was printed, that she and her partners sent a follow-up email to the zoning board regarding what was said during the Aug. 5 meeting, and said she did not know about the Aug. 5 meeting until 3 p.m., the day of the meeting, and added that she had tried calling in to the meeting but was unable to connect. 

Enterprise calls to the town’s building department were not returned.

Crawford said Tambasco pulled the same disappearing act two years ago, and the board had to continue the application to the following meeting, and all the while Christmas Land continued to operate. 

Tambasco had been slated to appear before the board at its December 2017 meeting but told The Enterprise at the time that she had not been informed of that until the day after the meeting. Dennis Mason, a town building inspector at the time, said that he had thought he had informed Tambasco of the meeting, but had not followed up, since contacting applicants was not usually his responsibility, resulting in a “miscommunication.” 

Chief Building and Zoning Inspector Jacqueline Coons told The Enterprise in January 2018 that, once Tambasco learned of her responsibility to apply for the permit, she was very cooperative.

 Annese told The Enterprise on Aug. 14 that she and her partners genuinely did not know they needed a permit two years ago. 

They weren’t wantonly flouting the rules, she said, because, if they were, they wouldn’t have worked to attract all of the local media attention they did, appearing on multiple local television stations and being written about in this newspaper.

At the Aug. 5 zoning meeting, board member Elizabeth Lott said, if Tambasco couldn’t call back at the September meeting to explain what was going on with her application — while also understanding that she isn’t meeting the conditions of her current special-use permit — then the amended application should be denied.

Remmert also pointed out that the planning board’s comments regarding the application had yet to be addressed. And, if the zoning board doesn’t hear from Tambasco by September’s meeting, with the information it had requested of her, Remmert said, “Then we’re not going to have much choice but to deny [the special-use permit].”


Greenlight for Governors Motor Inn 

Also during the Aug. 5 zoning meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a special-use permit for the demolition of the former Governors Motor Inn and the construction of the new self-storage facility.

The board additionally approved three variances requested by the Store Away at Western Ave, LLC. — two regarding site setbacks and buffers from adjacent properties, and one exempting the project from having to install sprinklers. 

First brought before the board in May, the 2505 Western Ave. project will consist of four buildings each with storage units varying in size from five-feet wide by 10-feet deep to 10-feet wide by 30-feet deep: Building 1 is proposed to be 26,775 square feet; Building 2 would be 9,600 square feet; Building 3 would be 6,750 square feet; and Building 4 would be 4,200 square feet — all buildings are proposed be one-story tall.


More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.