In one of his final acts as New York State's top environmental official, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens acted on Friday to allow the long-awaited Belleayre Resort project in the Catskills to move forward.
In a decision enacted on Friday, July 10, Martens granted a motion from the DEC's staff to cancel the final hurdle that still lay between the project and the issuing of permits for construction: a legal proceeding called an "adjudicatory hearing."
Above: An interactive timeline of 16 years of Belleayre Resort review.
If it had been held, the hearing would have given environmental groups that successfully sought to downsize the project years ago another chance to weigh in on changes that have been made to the plans in recent years.
16 years of planning
The resort project has been in the planning stages for 16 years, mired in a complex planning process that involved local residents, state officials, New York City watershed regulators and environmental groups. In 1999, Crossroads Ventures proposed building a 573-acre resort with two luxury hotels and two golf courses on Belleyare Mountain, which straddles the border between Ulster and Delaware county.
A coalition of groups gathered to oppose the plan, and in 2007, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer brokered a deal known as the Agreement in Principle, which downscaled the resort. Now, plans call for two hotels, one golf course and private condos on 218 developed acres of land.
The 2007 agreement was a landmark pact that involved the resort developer, state officials, local governments, New York City watershed regulators and several environmental and public interest nonprofits. All of the parties recently had a chance to weigh in on whether the DEC should go forward with the adjudicatory hearing.
Among the environmental groups, the response to the DEC's motion to cancel the hearing was mixed: Several of them petitioned the DEC to hold the adjudicatory hearing, stating that they still had concerns about aspects of the project. Among those who sought to hold the hearing were the Catskill Heritage Alliance, long the resort project's fiercest critics, and the Friends of Catskill Park.
Several other environmental groups did not object to the cancellation, or did not respond at all.
Three groups that were not parties to the 2007 agreement also wrote to the DEC, petitioning the agency to hold the hearing, and to make them legal parties to the agreement. All three are nearby neighbors of the project who fear its impact on their properties: the Gould family; PUA Associates, owner of the historic nearby Galli-Curci mansion; and Beverly Becher Ranione.
Martens' last act
In a 48-page decision posted to the DEC's website, Martens rejected the arguments in favor of holding the hearing, writing that neither the parties to the 2007 agreement nor the neighbors now seeking to be made part of the proceedings have raised any "substantive and significant" new issue.
There is still a possibility that one or more of the resort's neighbors may sue the DEC, now that their petition to be made parties to the legal process has been rejected. (See our Dec. 19, 2014 story, "Neighbors may sue DEC over Belleayre resort," for an in-depth look at that issue.)
Before construction can begin, the resort developer will still need permits from the DEC and from both of the towns the resort property straddles: Middletown in Delaware County and Shandaken in Ulster County.
Martens announced his plans to resign on June 30, shortly after the DEC laid to rest another contentious New York State land issue: hydraulic fracturing, which the agency formally banned on June 29. His last official day is July 21.
Groundbreaking in 2016?
Dean Gitter, the developer of the resort, issued a press release on Friday saying that ground could be broken on the Belleayre Resort in mid-2016.
"This project will provide an enormous and almost immediate boost to the economy of the region," Gitter said in the statement. "With a groundbreaking, construction workers – both local and coming from the greater Hudson Valley region – will begin earning and spending money here. With completion, hundreds of resort related jobs, with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $150,000 will become available”.
Dean and his fellow developers plan to invest $360 million in constructing the resort, and promise that it will provide jobs to 750 workers after full buildout.
"It’s taken what seems like a lifetime to get this far with the project, and I can only thank my partners, Emily Fisher and Ken Pasternak, from the bottom of my heart, for their determination and patience to stick this effort out and do something really meaningful for the revitalization of the Central Catskills," Gitter stated in the release.
The Belleayre Resort decision was announced in a press release late in the afternoon on Friday, July 10. The full text is below.
NYSDEC COMMISSIONER MARTENS DIRECTS DEC STAFF TO ISSUE PERMITS FOR BELLEAYRE RESORT PROJECT
Commissioner Decision Ends Adjudicatory Process and Allows Project to Move Forward
In a decision released today, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens granted DEC staff’s motion to cancel the adjudicatory hearing on the Crossroads Ventures LLC project, known as The Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, and directed DEC staff to issue the necessary permits associated with the project. The project will be located on lands near the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.
Commissioner Martens determined that significant modifications to the project and additional environmental studies have resolved environmental issues related to the project. Modifications to the project include eliminating development on Big Indian Plateau. The Commissioner also determined that concerns recently raised regarding the modified project are not substantive and significant.
Negotiations among parties to the proceeding resulted in the execution of an Agreement in Principle in 2007 that served the basis for a significant redesign and downsizing of the project that reduced environmental impacts. In addition, the proposed project has also been subject to considerable public review and comment.
DEC staff will now complete its responsibilities under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), including issuing a Findings Statement. The decision directs DEC staff to issue permits to the applicant, Crossroads Ventures LLC, consistent with the Commissioner’s decision and draft permits that staff previously prepared. Permits are expected to be issued following issuance of the SEQR Findings Statement.
To read Commissioner Martens’ decision, visit DEC’s website at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/54709.html.
Below: A statement from resort developer Dean Gitter:
Editor's note: We'll be collecting reactions to the decision from local officials, nonprofits, and others with a stake in the outcome of the resort, and will post them below as they come in. Got a statement to make? Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated.