Belleayre resort support strong at Middletown hearing
A large crowd — most solidly in favor of the proposed Belleayre Resort — turned out for Thursday’s Middletown Planning Board public hearing on the project.
Approximately 75 people were in attendance at the Middletown Town Hall to express their opinions on the planned resort in Highmount. The project, first proposed in 1999, currently includes two hotels, lodging units, a spa and a golf course. If approved, the Belleayre Resort would be built in both the Towns of Shandaken and Middletown. The Middletown portion would primarily include the golf course and related structures.
Reviews nearing an end
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is assembling the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement. At the same time, local planning boards have been authorized to begin reviewing the portions of the plans situated in their respective townships.
Thursday’s public hearing in Middletown was the first opportunity for community members to formally address local planners with their views on the project.
Terresa M. Bakner, a partner in the law firm of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP, opened the hearing with an overview of the Belleayre Resort. She pointed out that the plans have been dramatically scaled back since being introduced 15 years ago.
“The project is substantially different than the old project. It’s smaller, more clustered, more environmentally friendly. We have consolidated, eliminated and pared down many of the structures,” Ms. Bakner told the audience.
She explained that the project complies with all of the DEC storm water regulations and will also require a permit for discharge of storm water from the NYC Department of Environmental Projection (DEP).
Concerns over lighting
Another major concern from some neighboring property owners over the years has been “light pollution” created by the resort. Ms. Bakner said that the preeminent person in field of light pollution has been hired “and will make sure we have the minimal amount of light pollution possible.”
Eric Wedemeyer, owner and principal broker at Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties, was the first audience member to speak. A longtime supporter of the project, he urged that the plans be approved and that building get underway.
“It’s been a long 15 years – we have lost many of our amenities – lodging, restaurants. We need this Belleayre Resort – our community has spoken. We are struggling here, there’s no question,” Mr. Wedemeyer stated.
“We need a good boost. There has been tremendous compromise. The planning board needs to know that the community supports it,” he added.
Mr. Wedemeyer then turned to the audience and asked for a show of hands from those who favor the resort. More than three-quarters of the crowd expressed support for project.
Andes resident Lewis Kolar said the impact from the resort is vital to the area.
“Our region has gone past the tipping point. We have to turn this economy around,” Mr. Kolar commented.
“We have businesses in all of our communities that are just hanging on by a thread. Things are going in the wrong direction. This is a quality project – we’re going to have over 400 jobs that pay over $12 an hour and more. It’s time to move on this. It’s time to say yes and time to get going,” Mr. Kolar added.
Tom White, chair of Coalition to Save Belleayre, echoed these sentiments.
“We have fought for 30 years to make Belleayre Mountain the economic driver that it should be. The project is a much better one than the one first proposed. The need is great,” Mr. White told the board.
Fleischmanns resident John Hoeko said he’s a lifelong fisherman and had been very concerned about possible stream erosion from the project. With extensive engineering experience, Mr. Hoeko said he’s studied the storm water plans for the resort and is satisfied that these environmental issues have been met.
Mr. Hoeko said he hopes to open a fly-tying shop and wife would like to open a coffee shop in Fleischmanns. He also expressed optimism that the resort would make it possible for him and other owners of rental facilities to attract quality tenants.
“It’s high time to fast-track this long overdue project,” Mr. Hoeko concluded.
Lauren Davis of Margaretville told the board, “There’s nothing here to hold the younger generation. The project would be a tremendous influence to build the esprit de corps of the entire area.”
Andes resident Leigh Melander and her husband have recently opened a retreat center, Spillian, on contiguous property to the proposed resort.
“We feel that the project will benefit us in the lodging industry,” she stated.
Ms. Melander said she moved to the Catskills from the Ojai Valley in California. There, she said, the Ojai Resort and Spa “attracted people to the area and brought about a thriving economy and it also protected the area (from two major threats to the valley – a toxic waste dump and a proposed six-lane highway).”
She concluded, “When you bring in a project like this that has some scope, it can reach out to help support a wide range of businesses.”
Kathy Nolan spoke as a representative of the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), a longstanding opponent of the project.
She noted that most of the CHA’s concerns center around the number of planned lodging units, storm water run-off and the group also wants an unconditional commitment to organic maintenance for the golf.
Ms. Nolan said the CHA is also claiming that if inputs into the Pine Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant are allowed from the resort and an expanded Belleayre Mountain, “these will completely max out the plant and, therefore, Pine Hill will not have any capacity available for its expansion.”
The CHA spokesperson stated, “Our economic experts have said that the economic impact will be negative on the benefits to neighboring businesses. Our position is that a reduction in the number of units will be a benefit to the project. If the number of units were reduced substantially, our membership is ready to support the plan.”
Beverly Rainone, a neighbor of the proposed resort, said she feels the storm water data is incomplete and that development of the former Highmount Ski Center and the spa will create substantial runoff problems.
Another Highmount resident, Elizabeth Hagakore, also expressed concerns over possible flooding caused by run-off from the resort.
An engineer representing Crossroad Ventures, the resort developers, responded to these comments by pointing out, “By law, we are not allowed to exceed current runoff rates.”
Attorney Bakner added, “The DEC has chosen to regulate us with special permit that’s more stringent than normal. The DEC has asked us to do some extra things in terms of organization and execution of construction project (that exceed normal standards).”
She added, “We will comply with state and federal laws – both DEC and DEP are the agencies responsible to make sure we do it right. We can design it according to the law, that’s all we can do.”
Several members of the public submitted written comments to be included in the hearing’s record. The most detailed objections came from downstate real estate developer Ben Korman, who owns the Galli-Curci Mansion property that borders the project. Middletown Code Enforcement Officer Patrick Davis read Mr. Korman’s lengthy letter. Of primary to concern to Mr. Korman were noise and possible damage to his historic home from blasting activities.
Mr. Davis also read into the record a letter from an official at the NYS Office of Parks & Recreation stating that the department had identified several historic resources in its initial reviews of the project in 2003 and 2009 “and it was determined that the project would have no adverse impacts on the historic resources.” An updated review in 2011 resulted in the same conclusion, the writer stated.
Rosina Montana, another resort proponent, called out the CHA for its continued opposition.
“Our heritage is tourism. We’re in a watershed area and we’re limited in what we can do. I am sick and tired of seeing all the for sale signs. It’s time to go forward, because we’re dead in the water,” Ms. Montana stated.
After listening to more than an hour’s worth of comments, the planning board set about the business of reviewing plans for the Middletown portion of the resort.
Crossroads Ventures representatives have indicated that, if final approvals are received, work on the project could begin in 2014.