The New York State Supreme Court in Albany has ruled against Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA) and several associates, including members of the Gould family, in a lawsuit charging that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) did not sufficiently scrutinize the proposed Belleayre Resort project before giving state approval. CHA had sought a hearing to adjudicate aspects of the project they claimed DEC had failed to consider adequately before issuing the permits.
The resort project, slated to be built on the side of Belleayre Mountain in western Ulster County and eastern Delaware County, includes two hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a spa, a conference center, and multiple lodges and duplexes. Crossroads Ventures, the developer, has been pursuing the controversial project for over 15 years.
CHA chair Kathy Nolan stated, “While an adverse decision is obviously disappointing, the Catskill Heritage Alliance stands by its assertion that it was legally necessary for a professional, independent Administrative Law Judge to review Crossroads Ventures’ proposed project before the DEC could properly rule on permitting it.”
Among its rulings, the decision accepts Crossroads’ environmental study claiming that a smaller-scale project with one hotel would have only a slightly lower environmental impact than the configuration currently under consideration, while the project would not be financially viable if scaled back.
“In fact, the opposite is true,” wrote Nolan in a prepared statement, “as demonstrated by credible, independent economic analysis, conducted by professional consultants, that CHA commissioned and submitted to DEC. The lower-build alternative is more likely to succeed economically, while the full build-out, two-hotel version of the project with a total of 629 rooms is so oversized and so massively out of scale with its surroundings that it is likely to fail economically and harm other local businesses and the local economy. The economic viability or non-viability of the project doesn’t really matter to Crossroads, since it does not plan to run the Belleayre Resort, but instead to ‘flip’ the project by selling the permits it obtains at a profit to another developer. The larger the project, the more it can charge for the permits.”
Crossroads spokesman Gary Gailes said Nolan was using “pejorative language” to represent a forthcoming step in the project, that of soliciting financing from a number of sources to fund the construction. He said the legal challenges are delaying the funding solicitation process. In another lawsuit brought by CHA, the court ruled that the Shandaken planning board had acted improperly in issuing a special use permit regarding multi-unit dwellings on the property. The issue has been referred to the Shandaken zoning board for an interpretation of town zoning code and will be addressed at the December 21 zoning board meeting.
Gailes said another obstacle to obtaining financing for the resort is New York State’s failure to act on recommendations for appropriating $74 million to make improvements to the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center. “No one wants to put money into a resort situated next to a failing ski center,” he remarked. “It has been starved for cash, with outdated lifts and not enough facilities to accommodate a rising level of attendance. The state needs to do its part if it wants to develop Belleayre as an economic driver to bring prosperity to the region.”
Once the legislature approves funding for improvements, and Crossroads’ legal entanglements are resolved, said Gailes, “There are entities prepared to fund a project of this nature.”