It's Corrupt...Chris K.
Thought you might be interested if you haven't seen this ~ Michal
September 5, 2007
State and Developer Finish Deal for Resort in Catskills
By ANTHONY DePALMA
After a seven-year legal and political battle over the fate of some of the
most environmentally sensitive land in New York State, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is
expected to announce an agreement today to allow an upstate entrepreneur to
build a resort with two hotels, a golf course and 259 residences within 20
miles of two of New York City¹s largest reservoirs.
The $400 million project is substantially smaller than the developer¹s
original plan, which would have been one of the largest developments in the
New York City watershed and sprawled over nearly 2,000 acres of prime
The modified proposal has won the support of New York City officials and
several local and national environmental groups, which had long opposed the
original plan because of its environmental impact in the Catskills.
Under the agreement, the developer has agreed to restrict all construction
to 620 acres on the western side of his land and to sell most of the eastern
portion ‹ more than 1,200 acres of pristine forest ‹ to the Trust for Public
Land, a national nonprofit organization, for about $14 million. The trust
would then sell the land back to the state, and it would become protected
not building on steep slopes, by concentrating all buildings within a
compact area and by not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides on the
18-hole golf course.
³In the context of the scope of the watershed, this is environmentally safe
development,² Mr. Spitzer said in a telephone interview yesterday. ³And it
has a plus, in that it puts more acreage into the protected zone.²
The project, he said, would bring economic development to an area of the
state that desperately needs it. Building the resort would create about
1,800 construction jobs over eight years, provide 450 permanent full-time
jobs and generate about $4 million a year in property and sales taxes,
according to Mr. Spitzer.
³This is very real economic development for a region that has seen better
times,² Mr. Spitzer said. He called the scaled-down development plan ³a win
Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense
Council, an environmental group that helped draft the agreement, called the
smaller development proposal ³infinitely more sensible and environmentally
sensitive than the one unveiled seven years ago.²
³In a perfect world, we wouldn¹t have any construction on forested lands
that drain into the nation¹s largest unfiltered water supply,² he added.
³This is not a perfect solution, but it¹s a shot of adrenaline for watershed
protection and smart growth.²
The project, called the Belleayre Resorts at Catskill Park, would be on the
western edge of the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center. The state has
said it will expand and modernize the center, including restoring the
adjacent Highmount ski area, which will be bought from Mr. Gitter.
Many local residents have opposed the huge project, fearing it would
overwhelm the rural character of the region and its quiet hamlets. But many
officials, like Robert G. Cross Jr., supervisor of Shandaken Town, where
part of Belleayre would be built, have been vigorous supporters.
³This project, downsized as it is now, is something that is needed for the
employment of local citizens,² Mr. Cross said, ³and it is something that is
even more desperately needed for the expansion of our tax base.²
Mr. Gitter has long contended that in order for the project to be
economically viable, it had to be grand enough in scale to attract tourists
from New York City ‹ 120 miles away ‹ who have many other options for their
leisure time. Mr. Gitter stuck to that position even as the project became
mired in administrative law proceedings and extended reviews, including a
6,720-page environmental impact statement.
But Mr. Gitter said Mr. Spitzer¹s environmental staff, led by Judith Enck,
the deputy secretary for the environment, made a strong commitment to
resolving the standoff. More than a dozen meetings were held, and the
turning point came, he said, when the state ³offered us a number of things
that we found intriguing.²
The state said it would extend a ski trail from the existing slopes at
Belleayre to the new resort, enhancing the project¹s attractiveness for
skiers. And New York City agreed to allow the entire development to hook up
to an underused sewage treatment plant run by the city in nearby Pine Hill.
In exchange, Mr. Gitter had to forgo all development in the more
environmentally sensitive eastern portion of his holdings, where storm water
would run into the nearby Ashokan Reservoir. He eliminated one golf course,
reduced the number of housing units (by 30 percent), hotel rooms (by 7.5
percent) and miles of new road (by 60 percent).
³Did I get everything I wanted? No,² said Mr. Gitter, who is 72 and has
lived in the area for 40 years. ³Did I enjoy every minute of the legal
process? No. But the result is an extremely positive move for the area, and
I can live with it.²
The proposed development site sits at the peak of a mountain ridge that
drains on the east into Ulster County and the Ashokan Reservoir and on the
west into Delaware County and the Pepacton Reservoir. Those two bodies of
water are important parts of New York City¹s vast water supply system, which
provides drinking water for the city¹s eight million residents and for one
million more people in communities along the way.
Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the city¹s Department of Environmental
Protection, which runs the water system, said the development plan provided
adequate protection for the city¹s water, while also allowing the kind of
economic growth that the city promised local communities in a 1997
³I don¹t think the agreement really opens the way for large-scale
development in the watershed,² Ms. Lloyd said. ³But it does say that working
together we can recognize what does and does not adversely affect our
Mr. Gitter said he was confident that he could break ground next fall and
open the hotels in late 2010.
Tom Alworth, executive director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and
Development, a private group, said some local residents, even some local
environmental groups, might not embrace the compromise development
agreement. But he said that after seven years of conflict, it was ³a victory
for both the environment and for the local economy.²