The Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA) has lost its latest attempt to block the granting of a permit to developer Crossroads Ventures for the proposed Belleayre Resort project. State Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott ruled against CHA’s claim that the Shandaken zoning board of appeals (ZBA) was not justified in ruling that the time-sharing lodges described in the site plan are allowed under town zoning code, despite the absence from the code of the word “lodge.”
CHA, a grassroots organization long opposed to the Belleayre Resort, lost a previous court case alleging that the state had not sufficiently reviewed the evidence before granting permission to proceed with the project, which includes two hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a spa, a conference center, and multiple lodges and duplexes, to be built on the side of Belleayre Mountain. Another lawsuit brought by CHA succeeded in temporarily halting the Shandaken planning board’s granting of a permit, with the judge agreeing that the ZBA had to determine whether the time-sharing lodges and duplexes were permitted under town code. When the ZBA approved the planning board’s determination, the latest suit was filed by CHA.
Part of the decision hinged on the ZBA’s statement that a lodge is a dwelling for “transient” occupancy, a word undefined in town code but construed as applicable to a hotel-type structure as opposed to permanent residential ownership. CHA chair Kathy Nolan expressed disappointment with Judge Mott’s decision, which defers to the ZBA despite acknowledging that “the ZBA exceeded its authority” by creating a new definition of the term “transient” housing, when only a town board has the ability to “insert…criteria into a zoning ordinance.”
Mott, however, also stated the ZBA’s decision has a rational basis given the dictionary definition of “transient” as “short, fleeting, or transitory.” Other claims by CHA were thrown out as unjustified, such as an allegation that ZBA chair Keith Johnson, who once logged land formerly owned by Crossroads, had a conflict of interest that might affect the ZBA’s 5-0 vote on the issue.
“Despite this ruling,” stated Nolan in a press release, “we still contend the ZBA misapplied zoning law and improperly permitted 15 detached, habitational buildings that Crossroads proposed as part of the resort development.” She went on to assert that aside from the legal issues, the project is out of scale for the region, with 629 rooms, and she predicted it will steal customers from local businesses.
“I think just the opposite,” said Gary Gailes of Crossroads Ventures. “I think, if anything, the project is somewhat too small, since it’s been altered over the years. It’s attracting people into the region who are going to spend money going to stores and restaurants in the Central Catskills, hopefully to help build the economy for this area.”
Gailes expressed the hope that CHA would give up the fight now that they have had their day in court. “Of course, if they want to appeal, they have the right, but at this stage, the doors seem to be closing to all their objections. This project has undergone 17 years of environmental review, it’s been altered and changed to address public concerns. I think it’s time to allow this thing to move on and bring with it the economic benefits which the resort has long promised.”
Nolan said CHA is consulting with attorneys about whether to seek review by a higher court.