A September 18 New York State Court of Appeals decision to not re-hear a previous court ruling that allowed state permits for construction of the two-hotel Belleayre Resort at Catskill to stand has resulted in a concession from the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA) to no longer block the long-proposed project.
Ken Pasternak, one of the development’s principal investors at Crossroads Ventures, said this week that this does not mean a construction start date can be named any time soon, however. He said that before the project can move forward, the sale of privately-owned lands that once housed the Highmount Ski Area must first be finalized with the state, per previous agreements, and a resort developer/operator has to be signed on to take the project from its current conceptual status to a “ten set CAD” level of plans needed for building permits.
The resort, with a reported construction budget in the $50 million range, was first proposed by Catskills developer Dean Gitter in the late 1990s. It went through years of vociferous battles between those in support of local economic development and the Catskills’ many environmental stewards before a compromise “agreement in principle” was signed by most parties with then-governor Eliot Spitzer’s help in 2007. At that time, the size of the original project was halved, with Crossroads promising to sell some of its Catskill Park holdings to the state for Forever Wild protection, and the inclusion of the historic Highmount Ski Area in an expanded Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, which is state-owned.
The current configuration of the Belleayre Resort calls for two hotels on 740 acres that straddle the border of Ulster and Delaware counties. The Highmount portion will be a ski-in and ski-out 120-unit hotel with spa facilities, and nearly 100 time-share units and detached lodging units, according to Pasternak, while Wildacres, proposed to be newly built on the site of a former resort, would have a 250-room hotel, 163 other lodging units and an 18-hole golf course.
CHA and its president, Kathy Nolan — who is current serving her first term as an Ulster County legislator — never signed the 2007 AIP (along with the Sierra Club and several other organizations), and has long contended that not only was the resort concept too big for the region, but that its review process stumbled when the AIP was signed.
“While this may be the end of the road for legal challenges to permitting, it’s also the beginning of a new phase of work for citizens’ groups around the Resort,” Nolan said in a September 19 press release on the Court of Appeals decision. “Public scrutiny and input are now needed for how the project gets financed, making sure it is constructed in accordance with the promises made in the AIP, and that it is built and managed in a way that doesn’t harm our economy or environment.”
The statement promised continued involvement by the environmental group.“CHA will remain vigilant and keep track of what planning and zoning officials in Middletown and Shandaken are doing, to help make sure the AIP safeguards are respected during construction, and to reduce the threat of flooding and other negative impacts… For the Resort to benefit our communities, citizens will have to stay informed, engaged, and vigilant.”
The details beyond the vision
Pasternak explained, in an interview from his real estate and investment fund offices in New Jersey, said that the Big Indian portion of the land deal between Crossroads and the state was “consummated” three years ago; he expects the Highmount transaction to take a bit longer because it involves the state’s unit management plan for expansion of the Belleayre ski center, formulated in 2016.
As for the final development stage for the long-awaited result — which many have characterized as the state’s most-lengthily reviewed ever — the Fleischmanns native said that Crossroads has hired an investment banker to find a proper ski resort-oriented developer for the project, moving forward (he added that an earlier prospect hadn’t worked out).
“That developer will then be driving the details beyond the vision already locked down and granted early site plan approvals,” Pasternak added. “Everything to date has been conceptual in nature…things such as the resort footprint, say, or the fact that nothing will be higher than 37 feet in height. There’s a lot of work ahead before things get to the building permit stage.”
Pasternak said that he, fellow principal investor Emily Fisher (who also owns The Emerson Resort and Spa in Mt. Tremper) and all at Crossroads Ventures “were certainly pleased” at the Court of Appeals decision, but also “had a high degree of confidence since we’d been working on the project quite diligently for so many years.”
He was careful to add that he didn’t want to use the term “elated” just yet, choosing to save that word “for a future night when I’m actually in the hotel on the mountain.”
The New York Court of Appeals decision specifically lets stand an Appellate Division of the NYS Supreme Court decision from April of this year that essentially stated that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was correct in giving developer Crossroads Ventures the green light to build the resort in the Ulster County town of Shandaken and the Delaware County town of Middletown following its own review, as well as the AIP signed by Spitzer in 2007.
In her recent statement to the press, Nolan said CHA and its supporters would remain watchful regarding the resort’s financing, including state investments at its Belleayre Mountain property; as well as Crossroads’ projections for the resort down the line.
“To be clear, CHA was never against the Resort itself, and certainly not against economic development,” Nolan wrote. “In fact, we have always supported investing in upgrading the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center as a means of furthering economic development, and that included favoring some modest adjacent private resort development. But we insisted that the development must be realistic, and that it must help our region instead of enriching developers at the expense of our environment, economy and taxpayers.”
Attempts to reach Dean Gitter, the resort’s original developer who is now living in New Mexico, went unanswered as of press time.