Strong support for Belleayre resort at hearing
By Jay Braman Jr.
About 300 people packed into the Discovery Lodge at Belleayre Ski Center last Wednesday to participate in the one and only public comment forum on the private sector Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park project and a separate plan by New York State to expand and link its ski center with the resort.
It has been over five years since the public last had the chance to weigh in on the plans for the resort, a $365 million proposal, now 15 years in the making, and the $74 million ski center expansion plan, a long awaited proposal made public last month.
A few years back opposition to the resort overwhelmed those in favor of the plan at similar public sessions, but this time those that want to see the project move forward had a much higher profile.
Along the road leading to Belleayre were several large signs with slogans like “Eliminate Welfare,” “Opportunity knocks once” and “I want a job.”
At the doorway to Discovery Lodge sat a vendor handing out free t-shirts and buttons to show support for the resort. The vendor estimates that about 75 percent of those in attendance were in agreement with his cause. Applause for speakers that were in favor of the project suggested a similar mix.
Many of the comments came from residents and officials from Delaware County, where a portion of the resort will be located. Over and over, people from places like Fleischmanns, Margaretville, Andes, and Roxbury spoke in favor of a full build for both Belleayre and the resort, citing a dismal local economy and the need for the jobs and opportunities they believe would come along with both.
Public officials were invited to speak first, with representatives from Congressman Chris Gibson and Assemblyman Cliff Crouch joining with Delaware County officials in support of both the resort and for what is called the full build out for the state-owned Belleayre.
All speakers were subject to a virtual hourglass that was up on a screen to show how long each speaker had. Three minutes were allowed for each.
Some who spoke against the resort project, like former Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiModica, were booed after warning that the project would not bring the benefits promised.
Matt Frisch, a part-time resident, urged the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is the agency that will decide how large the ski center and the resort can be, to carefully review the projections made for the success of a full build out of the ski center.
“Short of giving away tickets for nothing, its hard to imagine how Belleayre would double its number of visitors,” he said.
Some were worried about the resort becoming a casino, but the developers say that restrictions are being placed in the land deeds to prevent any such thing.
Others remarked that the current version of the resort project, dramatically downsized from when first proposed in 1999, has been refined through the 15-year review process to become “immeasurably better” and should be approved.
Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller spoke in favor of the current resort plan. Noting that she was opposed to the original project, Miller made a connection with the audience when she spoke of how she, like most that call the Catskills home, love the region and want to protect it. “But please, don’t love the Catskills to death,” she said.
At the beginning of the session, attorney Dan Ruzow, representing the resort project, gave a lengthy description of the downsizing of the plan.
Ruzow said the resort would supply 541 full-time jobs and 230 part-time jobs.
Upon full build out, the resort will generate an estimated annual school and property tax revenue increase of $2.1 million to the benefit Onteora School District, the Town of Shandaken and Ulster County, Ruzow said. In addition, annual property and school tax revenue estimated to be $1.73 million would benefit Margaretville Central School, the Town of Middletown, and Delaware County.