Hurley drops out of byway project
By Jay Braman Jr.
Bye bye Byway.
At least that is the case in what was to be the eastern gateway community of Hurley, where a proposed Scenic Byway was to begin and stretch over 50 miles up through the Town of Andes.
Last week the Hurley Town Board voted to drop out of the Byway due to concerns over a loss of home rule when it comes to land use along the Route 28 corridor.
The move follows several months of debate over the issue, with supporters of the Byway plan shouting long and loud that there would not be any loss of home rule. Supporters also insist that a Scenic Byway designation would open up opportunities for grant funds to pay for projects that would enhance the communities along the highway corridor, as well as several miles of Route 214 in Phoenicia and Route 42 in Shandaken.
Following the Hurley Town Board decision, Melinda Terpening McKnight, the town’s volunteer representative that participated in the development of the Byway plan, blasted the board for its action.
In an open letter to the public, she blamed the move on a misinformation campaign.
“The Hurley Town Board has voted to withdraw from the Scenic Byway project based on misinformation spread - like manure on fields - by (Councilman) John Gill,” she wrote.
Hurley’s action follows a joint session of several town officials in April when Byway coordinator Peter Manning announced specific clauses, including the following, that would be added to the proposal:
“In no way does any part of this corridor management plan, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, or the Central Catskills Collaborative, impede, limit, or supersede a local municipality’s home rule authority (the ability to adopt its own local laws under NYS Municipal Home Rule law).”
Manning also said that if the state were to designate the highway corridor a scenic byway, any management entity would have no power and could only act in an advisory capacity.
But recent events made several officials uncertain.
Gary Gailes, a consultant on the long suffering Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park project, a $400 million plan to build a four-seasons resort around the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, announced at that same meeting that state officials had already required that Crossroads Ventures, the firm behind the resort plan, prove that it would not negatively impact the proposed byway area.
After the meeting Gailes explained further in an e-mail.
Gailes wrote that there was no reference in the scoping document (a list of concerns raised about the resort plan that Crossroads is required to address) to the project’s potential visual impact connected with a scenic byway designation for Rt 28.
The scoping document was prepared in 2008. Crossroads is still working on its response.
“However,” he added, “in August 2011 Crossroads was asked by the DEC’s visual impact consultants to conduct a visual analysis of the sightline from travelers driving west along Route 28 near the intersection of Koop Road and Route 28 to the project area adjacent to the old Highmount Ski Center. Crossroads’ visual consultants responded that the impact to viewers “will not be significant” given the distance and the brief few seconds travelers going 55 mph along Route 28 would have of the project area.
In March of 2012, DEC’s consultants responded by asserting that “Route 28 is a highly traveled road...and is being considered for scenic byway designation. As such it is an important Aesthetic Resource of interest.” DEC’s consultants further concluded that “...part of the experience of visitors to rural areas (Catskill Mountains) is the casual sightseeing that occurs from all public roadways en route to their destination.” Therefore, DEC’s consultants requested Crossroads consultants, in view of the proposed scenic byway designation, to assess in greater depth the visual impact on drivers and passengers in vehicles traveling west on Route 28.”
Gailes added that, while this is not an example of home rule being trampled, it is cause for concern.
“The concern I was attempting to raise…. was that the state seemed to be asserting some authority over how visual impacts of a proposed development along the Route 28 corridor would be assessed given the possibility that in the future Route 28 might be designated as a scenic byway,” he said. “And if this was to be the case then who is to say that New York City or the county, along with the state, won’t weigh in on what does or doesn’t violate a scenic byway designation, irrespective of what local town officials might conclude.”
So far, seven municipalities fall within the proposed Byway area, starting on the western end in Delaware County with the Town of Andes, then covering the Town of Middletown and the villages of Margaretville and Fleischmanns. To the east, in Ulster County, the towns of Shandaken, Olive and Hurley round out the group.
All four Delaware County communities have officially endorsed the Byway plan, Hurley is now out, and the two remaining towns, Shandaken and Olive, have yet to take any action.