Belleayre Resort opponents lose in court again

Ken Pasternak — internet & NASDAQ stock trading legend, influential real estate investor, and a Margaretville High School graduate in neighboring Delaware County, is looking for the latest court ruling against opponents to have him moving forward within months with financing and eventual construction of his Belleayre Resort project.

The state’s Appellate Division in a May 17 decision upholds the Shandaken ZBA’s finding that resort occupants would be transient, through time-shares and rentals, making the buildings in question allowable under local law as accessories to its main hotel structures in the proposal for a $394 million resort that’s been in planning stages for nearly two decades now.

The Shandaken Planning Board reissued its permits to Crossroads last year. Pasternak, one of the development company’s general partners, said this week that he and fellow partner Emily Fisher, who also owns the Emerson Resort & Spa in Shandaken, are waiting for all appeals to be exhausted before finalizing their plans to move ahead with financing and a sale of their property. He said he expected that to happen by August, but joked that asking him for specifics about such a prediction was like asking someone to rate their chances on Match.com before a scheduled date has occurred.

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The appeal before the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court had been made by the Catskill Heritage Alliance, an organization of local residents and property owners who refused to sign a 2007 Agreement in Principle negotiated by then-governor Elliott Spitzer in 2007 between Crossroads and what had been a number of national, state and local environmental and other stakeholder organizations.

According to Kathy Nolan, chairwoman of the alliance and an Ulster County legislator elected to office last November, it is currently appealing another Appellate Division ruling that upheld the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s SEQR environmental review of the project in an April decision. She said in a recent statement that the CFA “will consider its options in terms of responding” to the latest decision.

“Today’s ruling from the Third Department of the New York State Appellate Division on planning and zoning issues related to the Crossroads Ventures’ proposed resort confirms that the Catskill Heritage Alliance had legitimate grounds to object to the process followed by the Shandaken Planning Board last year in granting permits for the resort, but the court declined to overturn two interpretations from the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals, one from 2000 and one from 2017,” she wrote, questioning the court decision’s basis on “the facts of Crossroads’ proposal and not more broadly on issues of legal interpretation.”

Nolan’s statement went on to note how the resort’s 629 rooms “is twice the size of nearby hamlets, which is simply too big for this area, too big an environmental footprint, and too big to succeed economically.” She referenced an “independent economic analysis” of the Crossroads’ proposal by Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates that she said shows “pie-in-the-sky economic projections.” She further noted that “Crossroads doesn’t have a stake in the ultimate success of the resort, because it won’t be running it. Its incentive is to obtain permits for the largest project it possibly can, then sell those permits to another developer for the highest price it can get.”

The Appellate Division’s ruling last week determined that the Shandaken ZBA’s interpretation of the town’s zoning law was “entirely rational and will not be disturbed,”  and further noted the board did not violate the state Open Meetings Law when it met privately to discuss the matter before meeting in public to vote on it.

Decisions by the Appellate Division may be appealed to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, where decisions tend to be decided on whether a miscarriage of law took place. An appeal must be made within 45 days of a decision, and a decision made within 30 days of that appeal.

“I guess they don’t want to give up,” Pasternak said of the CHA this week. “This is the 12th time they’ve pushed an appeal.”

Industry consolidation

He went on to speak about how interest in the proposed Belleayre Resort keeps building as the ski industry consolidates into larger groups of ski mountains. He spoke at some length about the ways in which Vail has been buying up properties around the country, the better to bolster their “wildly profitable” Epic Pass concept, which allows discounts for skiing packages tied to real estate stays. He added that many New England ski areas have been bought up in the phenomenon, but only two major resorts are still available within the New York City vicinity: Windham and Belleayre.

Pasternak added that he’s been hearing real talk of a bidding war in such cases, as well as talks in Albany involving a possible deal for all of the state’s ORDA (Olympic Regional Development Authority) properties. The Belleayre Resort is part of such talk because of the profitability of tying real estate to such ski deals.

“I think Kathy Nolan’s arguments are outrageous. I run a $1.5 billion real estate fund and am working with a company that does 250 feasibility studies a year, and she says my projections are preposterous? They’re not. And if she’s right about my finances being wrong, she shouldn’t worry about anything.”

“The CHA will consider its options in terms of responding to today’s decision,” Nolan said in her statement. “What is in the best interest of our community, not what will generate the biggest short-term payout for Crossroads, is the real-world principle that should govern decisions about how big the resort is allowed to become. CHA intends to continue to stand up for that principle.”

He added that should Nolan continue to push against the resort proposal, he was willing to make it an electoral issue when she comes up for reelection  in 2019. “And we might make it personal,” he added.

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