This was posted in the Belleayre cult but I thought I would share it in this forum.
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 City ’s largest reservoirs.
The $400 million project is substantially smaller than the developer’s 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 Catskill woodlands.
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 forest preserve.
The developer, Dean Gitter, also agreed to limit the environmental damage by 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.
“In the context of the scope of the watershed, this is environmentally safe development,” Mr. Spitzer said in a telephone interview yesterday. “And it has a plus, in that it puts more acreage into the protected zone.”
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.
“This is very real economic development for a region that has seen better times,” Mr. Spitzer said. He called the scaled-down development plan “a win for everyone.”
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 “infinitely more sensible and environmentally sensitive than the one unveiled seven years ago.”
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have any construction on forested lands that drain into the nation’s largest unfiltered water supply,” he added. “This is not a perfect solution, but it’s a shot of adrenaline for watershed protection and smart growth.”
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.
“This project, downsized as it is now, is something that is needed for the employment of local citizens,” Mr. Cross said, “and it is something that is even more desperately needed for the expansion of our tax base.”
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. Spitzer’s 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 “offered us a number of things that we found intriguing.”
The state said it would extend a ski trail from the existing slopes at Belleayre to the new resort, enhancing the project’s 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).
“Did I get everything I wanted? No,” said Mr. Gitter, who is 72 and has lived in the area for 40 years. “Did 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.”
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 City ’s vast water supply system, which provides drinking water for the city’s eight million residents and for one million more people in communities along the way.
Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the water system, said the development plan provided adequate protection for the city’s water, while also allowing the kind of economic growth that the city promised local communities in a 1997 agreement.
“I don’t think the agreement really opens the way for large-scale development in the watershed,” Ms. Lloyd said. “But it does say that working together we can recognize what does and does not adversely affect our water.”
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 “a victory for both the environment and for the local economy.”