Developers still planning to build hotels near Belleayre ski area

A $400 million plan to build posh hotels high in the Catskill Mountains near an existing ski center

A $400 million plan to build posh hotels high in the Catskill Mountains near an existing ski center has been knocking around since 1999. Supporters say it would bring tourists, jobs and money into the woodsy area and make it a first-class “ski destination.”

But after 11 years — or more than half of Rip Van Winkle’s famous 20-year nap in the storied mountains — there’s still no approval for new construction near the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.

Developers say the proposal is still on track. Dean Gitter of Crossroads Ventures said they will submit crucial documents to the state within months.

“This is going to happen,” Gitter said this week. “They have only one hope of reversing the economic slide of the last two decades, and that is tourism.”

Crossroads wants to link Belleayre to a planned luxury hotel, a family-oriented resort, townhouses and a golf course near the top of a forested Catskills peak about 100 miles northwest of New York City.

But while some local business leaders and elected officials see Belleayre as an economic boon, opponents fear the mega-project would pose environmental hazards and would overwhelm the quiet hillside hamlets tucked into the mountains.

“You’re essentially creating a village on the mountainside,” said Roger Wall, chairman of the Catskill Heritage Alliance, an environmental preservation group.

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer tried to address those competing interests in a 2007 deal that shrunk the project and moved development away from the most environmentally sensitive areas.

Gitter said the current plan calls for 626 units — down from around 750 — including the two hotels and townhouses.

Under the deal, the state also agreed to buy 1,216 acres of woodland from the developer to protect it and a defunct ski center near Belleayre. The land purchase was crucial for environmental groups and for New York City, which draws its drinking water from Catskill reservoirs.

Spitzer, at a news conference announcing the deal, said the beefed-up Belleayre — a day trip from New York City — would provide an alternative “ski destination” to Canada, Colorado and the Adirondacks. At the time of the announcement, Gitter said he hoped to start construction in 2008.

Things did not go that quickly.

While a judge dismissed a lawsuit bought by the Catskill Heritage Alliance and others, it took a long time for developers to prepare their required environmental impact statement. Gitter said they expect to submit it in late January or early February, then hope to present plans by the middle of next year to the planning boards of the two local towns: Shandaken and Middletown.

One potential snag involves the plan for the state to buy the sensitive land for $6.3 million. The state comptroller’s office in May told the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the price was too high.

DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said today that talks about the land were continuing. He provided no details.

The lack of apparent progress has fed the rumors that the project lost steam after the recession and Spitzer’s resignation in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal. Recently, Gitter and his partners took the step of writing a letter to the Daily Freeman of Kingston to assure locals that the project is still alive.

If the project is approved, Gitter hopes to start construction by spring of 2012.

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