Andrew Maxon, the man guiding the Wine Village project on the banks of the Hudson River in Highland, is trumpeting progress made in securing approval to build the project and promising to break ground this year, or early in the next. Hudson Valley Wine Village is a multi-use development proposed for 437 acres between the river and Route 9W; the land is a former vineyard, hence the name. The concept includes a 140-room hotel with conference center and spa, two wedding chapels, 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space, another 155,000 square feet for office space, and 800 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The winery buildings will be adapted for reuse, and the acreage closest to the shoreline will be protected from development to preserve the bluffs. Town of Lloyd council members have already completed the rezoning of the property.
In a press release that appears to be intended to market the property to potential tenants which was sent to local media outlets, it was indicated that the project has “completed final development hurdles;” Maxon has confirmed his intention to break ground on the project this year. Lloyd town officials are a bit more skeptical of that goal.
“They hired a PR person,” said Town Supervisor Paul Hansut. “Perhaps someone thought it was a news story. I was as surprised to see it on Facebook as anybody else.” The press release appears to be the only source used in stories published via three local news outlets.
The release references the “fully-entitled status” of the project, which according to Mike Bieger, director of public relations at Focus Media, means that “the property owners have pursued and secured all requisite governmental/regulatory requirements to develop the land for particular uses. The process has included the completion of an environmental study and the town has rezoned the property.”
According to town Building Department Director Dave Barton, “all governmental/regulatory requirements” might be construed as including an application to the town’s Planning Board, which has not yet been received. While “the completion of an environmental study” was necessary to rezone the property, state law requires a harder look be taken during site plan review. Breaking ground this year “is really a fantasy” in his view, because he anticipates that step to take a lot of time, once it’s begun.
Bieger acknowledged that the local approval was not included in the list sent to reporters, saying, “Site-plan-specific approval has not yet occurred. A specific plan will be brought before the Planning Board when we identify our first light industrial business.” He also explained the use of the phrase “shovel-ready” in those materials: “Hudson Valley Wine Village is a shovel-ready site in that requisite approvals and proper zoning have been achieved, creating the current opportunity for construction to commence as soon as end users are identified and ready to proceed.”
Part of what makes Hansut and Barton raise an eyebrow is the fact that water and sewer infrastructure for the site — which is expected to bring an additional 2,728 residents to the town — has not yet been finalized. According to Bieger, “A wastewater treatment facility that has been part of Hudson Valley Wine Village’s own development plan has already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. As a plan for the property has not yet been finalized, the process of bringing water down Route 9W to the site still needs to be executed. This will occur prior to any groundbreaking.”
Installing a water main to that part of town at the developer’s expense would allow other town property owners to be included in the water district, which would have economic impacts on the entire community by allowing for projects which cannot depend on well water.
A “state approval” is also referenced in the announcement; Bieger said that a “memorandum agreement was reached between the Army Corps of Engineers, New York’s State Historic Preservation Office and us.”
Once that first light-industrial tenant is identified, the plan to hook into town water will need to be finalized as part of the site plan review. Planning Board members will almost certainly be looking at a proposal to build the project in phases; marketing materials indicate construction will take place over 15 years. Nevertheless, the State Environmental Quality Review act calls for a “hard look” at the entire project to identify issues and ways to mitigate them; for a project of this scale, that usually entails an environmental impact statement. If that occurs, board members will first identify those areas where deeper study is required, then hold one or more public scoping sessions to help them determine the specific topics to be covered in the EIS, which itself can take weeks or months to complete. Planning Board members will review the draft EIS and complete a findings statement as they determine if this project passes environmental muster; this will likely include a public hearing held at one or more meetings. If environmental approval is granted, they will drill down on the specifics during site plan review and may choose to have another public hearing prior to considering final approval.