Shandaken seeks zoning clarification: What is a ‘lodge?’

Artist’s rendering of the Wildacres Resort at the planned Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park. (courtesy of Belleayreresort.com)

Shandaken residents in favor of the Belleayre Resort project came out in force to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing about the latest wrinkle in the more than a decade and a half approval process for the proposal. At the December 20 meeting, a few people expressed opposition to approval, but many speakers urged the board to give its okay to the long-delayed project, which they believe will be an economic boon for the region.

The resort, designed by developer Crossroads Ventures, is intended to be built on the side of Belleayre Mountain, adjoining Belleayre Ski Center, a state-owned ski resort. The project features two hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a spa, a conference center, and multiple attached and unattached multi-unit lodges and duplex structures, to be marketed as time-sharing units.

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In response to a lawsuit brought by the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), the court ruled in October that the Shandaken planning board had acted improperly by issuing a special use permit for the project, given the inclusion of multi-unit dwellings. The planning board was directed to ask the ZBA for an interpretation of Shandaken zoning code to “determine whether the proposed lodges and duplexes are permitted.”

The planning board has asked the ZBA to provide a definition of the word “lodge,” which does not exist in the town code. In the planning board’s letter was a suggestion that the ZBA define a lodge as a detached unit “for transient occupancy” operated by the associated hotel or resort, thereby placing it squarely within the category of “hotel unit.”

A letter from CHA attorney Claudia Braymer to the ZBA alleged impropriety in the planning board’s suggestion that the ZBA define the term in a specific way, as opposed to neutrally requesting an interpretation. Furthermore, she pointed out that only the town board is authorized to add definitions to the zoning code. The ZBA’s role is to interpret existing code. She also observed that the judge did not order the planning board to seek a definition of “lodge” but to ask whether the proposed multi-unit dwellings would fall into either of the two most nearly appropriate code-defined categories: “hotel unit,” which specifies attachment to the main resort structure, or “multi-family dwelling,” not permitted in the residential district to be occupied by the project. If the latter, Crossroads would have to obtain a use variance, which requires rigorous proof of justification and appears difficult to obtain.

 

Public comments

As the public hearing began, ZBA chair Keith Johnson asked that speakers stick to the topic of interpretation of the code, but most commenters expressed strong feelings about whether the resort should be approved at all. Many were frustrated that the project was first proposed 17 years ago, and construction still has not begun, due to challenges by opponents such as CHA, who allege that the resort is environmentally unsound and oversized for a small rural community.

Judy Shiner of Big Indian declared, “The planning boards and the DEC have approved the resort. It will bring jobs and grow the economy. Three millionaires are funding this delay, which is costing all of us time and lost potential. They’re delaying it, and why? Because they don’t want to see light from their front porch?”

Rosina Montana of the Coalition to Save Belleayre [Ski Center], echoed, “They have forgotten the children who have nothing to look forward to when they graduate. Our economics are horrible. Please accept the resort and get on with it.”

But Janet Klugiewicz of Phoenicia questioned the claim that the resort would be source of economic rescue, remarking, “It’s naïve to believe people who come to the resort will bring business to the surrounding communities. I’ve stayed at resorts, sometimes as babysitters for professionals, and they didn’t use the communities. They used the restaurants, facilities, and shops at the resort. They didn’t go into the towns.”

Tony Lanza, former superintendent of Belleayre Ski Center, said he had helped design the unit management plan for the ski area that was laid out several years ago but has not yet been implemented. The plan would increase the facility’s offerings to 25 miles of trails and add a number of lifts. He said the impetus for the state to follow through with the plan will come from approval of the resort. “This resort is the only chance to give the people of New York what they want. You can’t open up a resort and give just one option. Windham has a successful model in operation, with an enormous amount of return to the local community.”

Jack Schoonmaker, the project manager for the Belleayre Resort, emphasized, “These are not apartments, not condos. They are detached lodging units, an integral part of the resort, owned and operated by the hotel, with fractional interest and timesharing. People are only buying time at the resort, not the units. They are not family dwelling units.”

Kathy Nolan, chair of CHA, disagreed, calling the proposed structures “fractional share and timeshare units owned by individuals who live in the units, not by the hotel. They are clearly described as apartments or condos, with their own kitchens, water supply, bathroom, and plumbing, and do not fall into any existing category except ‘multi-family dwelling.’”

Joanne Steele of Esopus, chair of the Mid-Hudson Sierra Club, appealed to the ZBA to apply the zoning code fairly. “The Sierra Club is not against development, but we’re against dangerous overdevelopment. I hope things can work out so the development will be appropriate for us and will not take business away from us.”

Harry Jameson of Phoenicia said that over the past 17 years of waiting for the resort to be developed, “I’ve watched millions of dollars of jobs that didn’t happen. The Emerson Inn [in Mount Tremper], also built by Crossroads, was opposed by the same people and is now an asset to the community.”

After closing the public hearing, the board did not discuss the issue except for comments by board member Mark Loete, who felt, based on perusal of the legal decision, that the planning board had misstated the request demanded by the court. Chairman Johnson announced that the ZBA will hold a workshop meeting on Wednesday, January 4, to analyze the planning board’s request and the town code. The public is welcome to attend, said Johnson, but no comments from the audience will be permitted. The board will make its decision at the next scheduled meeting, Wednesday, January 18, at 7:30 p.m., at the town hall.

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