Above: A rendering of one of the hotels in the planned Belleayre Resort. Image via the Crossroads Ventures website.
The planning boards of the towns of Middletown and Shandaken approved permits for the long-awaited Belleayre Resort last week, in a move that could get them sued by the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), which opposes the project.
The CHA is already suing the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) over its review of the Belleayre Resort project, arguing that the DEC did not properly consider all options for and objections to the proposed development.
Now that the towns where the resort wants to build have issued permits for the project, the CHA may file lawsuits against them as well, according Kathy Nolan, the chair of the CHA.
“We were provoked,” Nolan said. “The planning boards’ actions pushed us into a position of having to consider litigation that we had hoped to avoid.”
17 years of review
The Belleayre Resort was originally proposed by its developer, Crossroads Ventures LLC, in 1999. The resort’s concept has been extensively redesigned during a contentious 17-year review process, one of the longest reviews for a development in the country.
In an opinion piece published on Friday, the Wall Street Journal called the review of the resort “Byzantine,” and called on state legislators to reform New York’s laws to avoid similar lengthy reviews for future developments.
The developers had planned to break ground on the resort in mid-2016. They plan to spend $360 million constructing the resort, and promise that it will provide jobs to 750 workers after full buildout.
Towns give project green light
On Wednesday, Jan. 13, the town of Shandaken Planning Board voted unanimously to issue a permit to Crossroads to begin building the resort, according to Shandaken’s building inspector, Warren Tutt.
The next day, Thursday, Jan. 14, the town of Middletown Planning Board voted 6 to 1 to issue a similar permit approval for the resort. (See the text of the resolution below.) Only John Nolan (no relation to Kathy Nolan), voted against the approval, according to Beth Bush, Middletown’s Building and Zoning Administrative Assistant.
Gary Gailes, the spokesman for Crossroads Ventures, hoped that the approvals from the two town planning boards would prove that the CHA’s objections to the development aren’t shared by the rest of the Catskills community.
“One would hope that given the overwhelming support the project has received from the two town planning boards, who labored for nearly two years reviewing the merits of this project, that those individuals who had the most concerns about the project would conclude that every reasonable effort has been made to address those concerns,” Gailes said.
But Kathy Nolan said that by choosing to approve the resort while there is active litigation pending against the DEC, the towns have now opened themselves to the risk of being sued as well.
“There appeared to me to be a kind of pressure to push this through as quickly as possible,” Nolan said. “The planning boards, I think, would have been much better served to delay taking action on their permits until the litigation with the DEC was resolved. This actually causes us to have to look at the question of whether we have institute litigation against those boards.”
If the CHA files additional lawsuits against the towns of Middletown and Shandaken over their approvals of the resort, that litigation could delay the Belleayre Resort project even more.
Months of delay in store
In November, the CHA filed a lawsuit against Crossroads arguing that the DEC improperly reviewed the project.
Several landowners near the proposed development, including the Gould family and PUA Associates, the owner of the historic nearby Galli-Curci mansion, are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Although the lawsuit “doesn't provide any injunctive relief as far as things moving forward,” said Gailes, the spokesman for Crossroads, “as a practical matter, it will delay financing commitments.”
It will take months at minimum for the lawsuit, which was filed in the New York State Supreme Court, to make its initial appearance before a judge, who must review a voluminous multi-year record of the case, according to Nolan.
“I would expect that it would take at least several months for the judge to review all the documents and be ready to consider all the issues,” Nolan said.
Gailes accused the CHA of filing a meritless case against the resort simply to delay the project.
“This lawsuit has no other purpose than to delay the project from moving forward and actually putting a shovel in the ground,” he said. “Hopefully in the weeks and months ahead the remaining legal obstacles to the project can be successfully resolved and we can all look forward to a project, when completed, that can better secure the economic future for everyone living here in the central Catskills.”
But Nolan disagreed. “We believe that the suit has merit, or we wouldn’t have brought it,” she said. “What we’re striving to achieve is a lower-build alternative that would still be successful for Crossroads and the communities, and would have much smaller environmental impact.”
Middletown - Planning Board Resolution approving Belleayre Resort, Jan. 14, 2016: