A $365 million Catskill Mountains resort planned since before this century is a big step closer to offering guests a posh place to golf or ski.
On Friday, New York Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens ordered state permits to be issued for the planned Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, which is to include two hotels, a golf course and a spa next to the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center. Developers who are trying to create a year-round destination resort 100 miles north of Manhattan have faced an unusually prolonged environmental review amid opposition.
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"Obviously, had one stood at the base of a ladder in 1998 and realized how high it was, one would have been hesitant about going up the first rung," said Dean Gitter of Crossroads Ventures.
Gitter said Monday that the resort will be an economic engine for the sparsely populated area.
The Belleayre project has faced the same sort of push-back many large developments do, but more so because of its high perch in a state forest preserve that provides New York City with drinking water. Opponents have claimed the mega-project straddling two rural towns on Belleayre Mountain would carve up pristine woods, clog winding mountain roads and taint the city's water.
A 2007 deal brokered by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer addressed those issues by getting Crossroads to commit to a scaled-back proposal with fewer hotels rooms and a smaller footprint. Developers also agreed to avoid building on the wilderness land that particularly concerned city officials.
It worked, partially.
While some environmental groups dropped their opposition, local passions never cooled entirely. Some residents thrilled at the prospect of hundreds of new jobs planted lawn signs reading "More Jobs — Less Taxes." Others who feared overdevelopment, environmental degradation and local businesses being hurt by a self-contained resort put up their own signs reading "Save the Mountain."
"The cumulative impact is one of turning an area that is an escape for people into the thing that they were trying to escape," said Kathy Nolan, chairwoman of Catskill Heritage Alliance.
Nolan said the alliance was disappointed that Martens canceled the adjudicatory hearing on the proposal that had been ordered by an administrative law judge, which cleared the way for permits. Nolan said the group was considering its legal options.
Gitter said he was pleased but noted that the approval process continues. Significantly, the resort still needs to be reviewed by the planning boards of the two towns it will straddle, Shandaken in Ulster County and Middletown in Delaware County.
"My hope is by this time next year we'll be able to stick a shovel in the ground," Gitter said.