An announcement officially made by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last week seems to have drawn the state’s role in the 16-year review process tied to the Belleayre Resort, as well as a more recent set of proposed upgrades at state-owned, Olympic Regional Development Authority-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, to a close.
Minus, that is, the finalization of town planning board permitting processes in Shandaken and the Delaware County Town of Middletown, which had been awaiting the also-released final SEQRA Findings Statement before proceeding, and a number of permits needed from New York City.
Plus a pending court case filed this autumn that could put the entire process back into adjudication, and further reviews, if successful. And any other legal battles that could yet arise.
“With this approval, Belleayre can now begin the planning process for improvement and modernization projects which are expected to provide a major boom to tourism in the Catskills and the region’s economy. Today also marks the beginning of the 2015-2016 skiing season at the mountain,” noted Cuomo in his December 3 release. “Belleayre Mountain offers some of the best winter recreation in the state and, with today’s action, it’s only going to get better. Once these projects are completed, visitors to this majestic region hoping to hit the slopes will have an all new Belleayre Mountain to enjoy with friends and loved ones.”
Immediately, news of the permits generated mixed responses.
“This is the critical step forward for the opportunity to bring hundreds of permanent jobs, thousands of construction jobs, and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the towns of Shandaken and Middletown and to Ulster and Delaware Counties,” said Crossroads Ventures Managing Member Dean Gitter, who first came up with the huge resort plan in the 1990s. “This action validates the care with which Crossroads carried out the Agreement in Principle (AIP) reached in 2007 among Crossroads, New York City, the state and a number of national environmental groups…I was a much younger man when we set out on this process; I am now 80 but I am excited that we can finally move ahead.”
Eric Goldstein, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council — which was a key opponent of the resort project before agreeing to the AIP crafted with the help of attorney Marc Gerstman, who is now a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, was more cautious in his statement.
“Everyone agrees that appropriately scaled, environmentally sensitive tourist development makes sense for the Catskills, but finding the perfect balance is almost impossible,” Goldstein said. “While there are no guarantees, especially in an age of global warming, the hope is that this scaled-down project can be implemented in a way that respects the people, the beauty and the ecology of the Catskills.”
The Governor’s press release included boosterish comments from a number of state officials, Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley, and ORDA chairman Ted Blazer, while the Crossroads press release included something from Ulster County Legislative Chairman John Parete.
The DEC’s new commissioner, Basil Seggos, said in his department’s own release that, “Our partnering stakeholders and the applicant have crafted a comprehensive and balanced plan which will help guide responsible development of this world-class outdoor recreation destination that both reflects and protects the magnificent Catskill Mountains.”’
Modernization Unit Management Plan
The Belleayre Resort is to occupy 215 acres of a 739-acre site and comprise two distinct components: the Highmount Spa and Resort with 173 hotel units and 43 detached lodging units, all adjacent to the state’s existing slopes which will be extended to include the old Highmount Ski Area; and the Wildacres Resort, with 250 hotel units and 163 detached lodging units, as well as an 18-hole golf course.
Belleayre Ski Center’s comprehensive redevelopment plan, also known as a Unit Management Plan, is set to include the expansions of the existing Discovery and Sunset Lodges and modifications to existing pumphouses, and the construction of the new Tomahawk Lodge, an Information Building, a salt storage building, an additional snowmaking pond, installation of snowmaking piping, and a lower pumphouse and compressor facility, the construction of up to three additional parking areas, the addition of 16 new ski trails, the acquisition of the lands of the former Highmount Ski Center from the resort developers, the installation of three new ski lifts and the replacement of two existing ski lifts.
“The modernization of the facilities will also include measures to improve energy conservation, such as replacing diesel powered snow guns with electric and incorporating green building principles into the new construction at the Discovery Lodge,” the Governor’s press release added.
The resort developers’ press release added that their $365-million investment “is a major impetus towards Governor Cuomo’s commitment to increasing economic opportunities upstate, including in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley,” and would “create 540 full-time and 200 seasonal/part-time jobs upon completion, with an annual payroll of $25 million,” according to Gitter, generating “$167 million annually in local economic activity.”
A final price tag, or funding stream for the state ski center improvements was not included in any of last week’s releases.
“Despite all the changes, and the DEC’s exhaustive review, some critics continue to try and stop the project,” was how the Gitter/Crossroads released noted the pending lawsuit filed by the CatskillHeritage Alliance, the Gould family and other neighbors of the proposed resort and expanded ski center this fall. “A lawsuit was recently brought to overturn former DEC Commissioner Martens July 2015 decision that no further hearings was necessary.”
No date for its hearing, or resolution, have been announced as yet.