In a special meeting last week, the Rosendale Planning Board held a public hearing for review of both the site plan and the subdivision application by Hudson River Valley Resorts, LLC (HRVR) for Phase II of the development of the 779-acre Williams Lake property in Binnewater. Turnout was lighter than for some of the earlier public comment phases of the development process, which began amid considerable controversy in 2007: Fewer than ten residents spoke their concerns, and the public hearing was closed to verbal comments at the end of the meeting. Written public comments will continue to be accepted by the Planning Board until June 1.
Phase I of construction, involving installation of core infrastructure, was approved in 2016 and got underway last year, once demolition of the former Williams Lake Hotel had been completed and the site cleared. Phase II consists of additional infrastructure and two “neighborhoods” of residential construction on the southern half of the parcel, called Point Comfort and Kiln Village. HRVR has expressed the intent to commence residential construction in 2018, but the approval process was delayed due to the cancellation of the March Planning Board meeting on account of snow.
Several speakers at last week’s hearing expressed concerns over the fact that the developers had decided to postpone construction of the planned new hotel/spa facility until Phase III, with the result that day-use passes and swimming access would not be available to local residents in the near future. “It was presented that the hotel and those amenities were going to happen first,” said Sandy Peterson, terming the change in plans a “loss of public trust.” Mourka Meyendorff, a longtime member of the Save the Lakes group that had opposed the project in the beginning, called the lake “an important community resource…. Without the hotel, who knows if ever we will get access to this resource?”
Planning Board chair Billy Liggan explained to the public that flexing the order in which HRVR pursues the various components of the complex project is a right secured for the developer by the Town Board’s establishment in 2013 of a special zoning overlay district, called the Binnewater Lakes Conservation Planned Development Area (BLCPDA). Vice-chair Joe Havranek added, “Broken down [into phases], it’s easier for us to digest as a board.” Williams Lake Project manager Tim Allred reassured the residents that HRVR remains “completely committed to the hotel phase,” has selected national hotel and spa operators after a lengthy screening process and recently signed an agreement with an architectural firm to begin the final building design for the resort facility.
Some attendees challenged the developer’s financial ability to complete the project, calling for greater fiscal transparency. Planning Board attorney Dave Plante explained that details of project financing cannot legally be released to the public until the offering plan for the residential units has been approved by the State Attorney General’s Office. That prospectus cannot even be submitted for state scrutiny until the site plan is approved by the town. “We’ve invested $20 million up to this point. We have no debt. We are operating in good faith,” said Allred.
Several neighbors situated directly adjacent to the Williams Lake property raised specific issues regarding road access, trespassing by construction crews and excessive noise during demolition. Michelle Lheron, whose home is located where the access road from the northern half of the property will adjoin Binnewater Road, complained that she was not notified that nearby trees would be felled until after the process had already begun. “I do have nightmares about this development,” she said. Near the end of the meeting, Havranek exhorted the HRVR representatives present to communicate more openly with neighbors who are impacted by the ongoing work. “The minute you shut those conversations down is the minute people start digging their feet in the ground,” he warned. “Construction shouldn’t be 24/7.”
Written comments on Phase II of the Williams Lake Project can be submitted until June 1 in care of Planning Board clerk Brisa Casas at firstname.lastname@example.org.