opponents of Dean Gitter’s proposed Belleayre Resort, along
with supervisors and councilpersons from four Ulster County towns,
came out to question CWT’s decision to appeal a state Department
of Environmental Conservation Administrative Law Judge’s call
for the adjudication of local “Community Character” and
“Induced Growth” consequences that include the possible
spread of phosphorus.
Along the way, they witnessed a break-down in the once-unanimous organization
of male elected official’s former sense of consensus, especially
after Shandaken supervisor Bob Cross Jr. was questioned by his fellow
Coalition board members about a Nov. 10 resolution for CWT’s
involvement he proclaimed, and had certified, as unanimous, when in
fact a participating board member said she and one other had in fact
voted against the measure. Cross also raised eyebrows, among his fellow
board members and the general public, when he called one of the members
of the public speaking to the board names and later grew defensive
about his wife’s working for one of resort developer Dean Gitter’s
many companies and not recusing himself from voting on matters involving
Gitter’s resort proposal.
According to Coalition attorney Jeff Baker, the decision to appeal
two elements of Judge Wissler’s decision to adjudicate 12 key
issues involving the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Crossroads
Ventures, the developers of the Belleayre Resort, came from him after
reviewing Wissler’s lengthy comments.
“We’re making two very narrow appeals,” Baker explained.
The first argues that the state Department of Environmental Conservation,
via Wissler, has “abused its own process,” meaning the
State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), by usurping “home
rule” in the case of asking for outside judicial arbitration
of a town’s “Community Character.” The other pinpoints
the phosphorus issue as being too minor an occurrence to warrant the
expense of adjudication.
Public commentary, mostly from Shandaken residents, questioned the
CWT’s motives in appealing Wissler’s decision and noted
that another leading environmental attorney in the region, Drayton
Grant (who works with the planning boards of both Shandaken and Woodstock),
had stated that removal of such issues from adjudication could result
in “a weakening of the record” that would end up making
local review of the Gitter project difficult.
Furthermore, people asked why the CWT, set up to deal with New York
City, was now taking on the state DEC and its judges, and if their
involvement in this appeal, to include Delaware County and the towns
of Shandaken and Middletown, represented a new direction for the organization.
Wilber said that Woodstockers were concerned about the resort’s
possible effects on local school taxes via any deals given it by the
town or county, or inadequacies in its current plans.
Olive supervisor Berndt Leifeld mentioned traffic problems from the
resort that would effect his town.
Marbletown supervisor Vin Martello said he’d thought the Coalition
looked into regional issues, and asked how issues of regional impact
be looked at, except in the ways demanded by Wissler.
“It’s a question of costs to some towns and benefits to
others,” Martello said. “What of these issues that cross
town borders,” he added, stressing that “community character”
often involved communities that stretched beyond municipal lines.
Meehan, reacting to the rising tenor of the crowd, said there might
be a threshold at which home rule was usurped by larger decision-making
bodies. He didn’t know.
Several people brought up Shandaken’s current political dividedness,
and questioned whether its “stacked” planning board and
ZBA couldn’t handle such a project, especially given the fact
that Gitter, the lead partner in Crossroads as well as his various
Emerson Place businesses, had flat out refused to pay required planning
review fees for the town.
Baker noted that there were other appeals processes to cover such
faults and called the concentration on the home rule issue, “making
a mountain of a molehill.”
Besides, Meehan said, the decision to appeal Wissler’s decision,
whose deadlne was November 23, two days after Monday’s meeting,
had already been made in September, pending the official submission
of town resolutions asking for the same from the towns of Middletown
and Shandaken, as well as Delaware County, which county Chamber director
(and IDA chair) Jim Thompson said “would definitely happen”
the following day, November 22.
Was the board’s decision okayed by the Coalition’s membership
towns, Meehan was asked?
“I’ve got be careful with how I answer that because I’ve
already been chastised by Woodstock on that,” he replied.
Someone asked if the Coalition was pro-Gitter, citing confusion caused
by their counsel during Wissler’s DEC “Issues Conference”
during the summer of 2004. Meehan and Baker pointed that all statements
made by Kevin Young were meant to represent the stance of Delaware
County and not the Coalition or his fellow clients, Shandaken and
“Did we misrepresent any of this to our towns,” CWT boardmember
Bruce LaMOnda of Olive asked at one point.
“How many times did your member Bob Cross tell about his wife
working for Crossroads,” asked a Shandaken resident, referring
to her town supervisor and alluding to a possible conflict of interest.
“She doesn’t, she works at Emerson Place,” Cross
replied before later referring to the woman as being childish.
“Our town’s divided. What you’re doing keeps people
out of the process,” said another Shandake resident.
“The vote on this from our town board was 5 to 0,” Cross
said before board member Edna Hoyt corrected him, noting that it had
actually been 3-2.
Later, LaMOnda held up the certified town resolution the CWT had asked
of Middletown and Shandaken, pointing out that it said the vote had
been 5-0 when Cross had later admitted it was really 3 to 2.”
“That’s not my signature. She had that on my desk when
I picked it up to come here,” Cross said, reddening.
“We’re moving on what we got,” said Meehan, noting
that the decision had been made.
The next day, Shandaken Town Clerk Laurilyn Frasier said she, “would
imagine it was a mistake… things get a little messed up, I guess,”
and noted that she was working on “resubmitting” the needed
Baker, it was observed, told Cross, after he admitted the certification
falsehood, “That’s a pretty bad error.”
Noted Jeffrey Graf, the Community Planning Program Manager for the
New York City DEP who attends all CWT meetings, later noted how both
the Shandaken problem, and the Coalition’s overlooking it, indicated
a “sloppiness” that he found “worrisome.”
“It used to be us against the city but now it seems to be us
arguing amongst ourselves,” said Meehan, later in the November
21 meeting to all those gathered. “Maybe that’s healthy.
I don’t know.”
Now The Water
Mandated for completion by December 2006 as part of federal
filtration avoidance regulations, the stream management plan is designed
to minimize pollution and sediment in New York City’s drinking
water, as well as benefit the upstate towns that rely on the Esopus
for their own drinking water and their economic vitality. Since the
April flood that exposed clay banks along the creek, turning the water
a café-au-lait brown with sediment that has only recently begun
to clear, prevention of erosion is a major concern for the DEP, which
is bent on avoiding construction of a filtration plant that would
cost billions of dollars. For local streamside landowners, however,
erosion poses an immediate and urgent problem, as currents continue
to eat away at the flood-weakened banks alongside their homes and
“Science will guide this planning process,” announced
Magliaro, who said Craig Fischenich, an internationally prominent
expert on stream restoration from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
has been hired to conduct a through assessment of the upper Esopus.
Fischenich was the designer of the project that diverted the creek
at the mouth of the Woodland Valley stream in the summer of 2004,
preserving the crumbling bank that threatened to undermine a row of
homes at the top.
Fischenich has been walking the creek with DEP project manager W.
Dan Davis, examining streamside conditions and punching codes into
a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) device to indicate locations
of eroding banks, large deposits of woody debris and stones, lack
of streamside vegetation, dumps, clumps of invasive plant species
like Japanese knotweed, and riprap, installations of large rocks to
prevent bank erosion. The GPS data, once uploaded to the Cornell computer,
can be used to create maps that locate these features to within a
meter, said Davis.
The stream management plan will be based on engineering recommendations
resulting from the assessment and will include input from a Project
Advisory Council composed of local homeowners and businesspeople,
organizations such as Trout Unlimited and the Catskill Mountain Railroad,
and government agencies, including the Town of Shandaken, state and
county Departments of Transportation, Ulster County Soil and Water
Conservation District, New York State Department of Environmental
Conservation (DEC), and others. Magliaro invited community members
to attend meetings of the council or join one of four working groups
focusing on watershed assessment, hazard mitigation, education and
outreach, or cultural resources, such as use of the stream for fishing,
tubing, and kayaking.
“We’re under pressure to move fast,” said Davis.
“In some areas, quick action is needed. But we want to make
sure we’re getting the best value for our money.” Because
any remediation project affects neighbors both upstream and down,
and because different methods may be ineffective for specific situations,
careful assessment and planning are required. Davis said the Woodland
Valley project cost $810,000 for 1000 feet of streambank. While it
kept houses from falling into the creek during the April flood, there
was new erosion on the opposite bank as the creek sought to re-establish
Elizabeth Winograd, proprietor of the Copper Hood Inn and Spa on Route
28 in Allaben, reacted to talk of coordinating groups to carefully
plan the projected Riverwalk in Phoenicia. “You’re making
long-range plans, but what about the emergency situations we have
right now? The creek is two feet away from my underground cable. I’ve
lost three feet of riverbank in the last few months. I pay a lot of
taxes to this town, but no one is doing anything to help me. I don’t
have the money to do what’s needed to fix this problem.”
Magliaro replied, “We don’t have regulatory authority.
This is a planning process. We’re here to engage the regulatory
authorities and get people to talk to each other and put together
a plan to address the needs of the community. We’re going to
be as responsive to the short-term needs as we can be.”
Davis added that Winograd was in a particularly sticky situation,
located “on the outside of a meander bend, in between the creek
and the road. You’re in a dangerous zone, and there’s
only so much that can be done about it.” Winograd reported that
a federally-funded $30,000 installation of riprap had failed to protect
the bank. Her neighbor, Faye Storms of Blue Barn Antiques, said beavers
were downing large trees that had been protecting the banks behind
her property from erosion, and she wasn’t sure where to turn
Someone called out that the beavers could be trapped by the DEC. “Part
of the strategy of this plan,” said Magliaro, “is to give
landowners resources so they can find out where to go for help.”
Michelle Spark, one of the homeowners whose proactive efforts resulted
in the Woodland Valley reconstruction, said the biggest problem she
encountered at the time was the unwillingness of different agencies
to communicate with each other. “One group wanted to put up
a wall. Another group told us it would be washed away in a matter
of years and it should be done differently, but the first group had
jurisdiction and wouldn’t talk to them. I hope this process
will get the agencies talking to each other.”
A man from New Paltz pointed out that with so many government agencies
and groups participating, it would be important to know “who’s
going to decide at the end what should be done.”
Former DEC ranger Patricia Rudge agreed, commenting, “This is
a beautiful planning process, and it will work. The implementation
process is the problem. We need to have a clue as to who we’re
going to hand this to. We should be looking at that now, along with
Winograd said the town should be in charge, but the gentleman from
New Paltz said the town doesn’t have the expertise. “The
plan will give guidance to the town for implementing the recommendations,”
Community members are offered a number of ways to get involved with
the plan development, besides attending council meetings or joining
a working group. As part of the assessment, Davis is seeking historical
maps and photos of the creek from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s,
showing where the old stream channel lies. “We want information
on when properties were stabilized with riprap or boulders and how
long they lasted, when bridges were put in and washed out, where there
were old swimming and fishing holes that are now filled in, what flood
damage occurred to people’s property and whether they got funding
to fix it. And there may be things on the creek I’m not seeing.
Kayakers know more about this river than I ever could.”
There will be volunteer projects for community participation, such
as creekside plantings to prevent erosion. A Japanese knotweed removal
effort has already been undertaken by Rudge’s 4-H group in Oliverea.
Because knotweed crowds out many valuable native species and is not
effective at preventing erosion, landowners are encouraged to get
rid of it, but eradication requires a long-term, consistent effort.
The 4-H kids have been writing letters to homeowners and helping them
cut, dig, and burn stands of knotweed along McKinley Hollow. Rudge
hopes the effort will spread to the other hollows in the upper Esopus
Classes and lectures are also planned for public information, and
a survey will soon be sent to residents’ mailboxes. The Cornell
office is now open at the Phoenicia Plaza on Route 28, Tuesdays and
Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Magliaro and community educator
Michael Courtney invited community members to stop by with input or
questions or to view a GPS map of their property.
Married My Sister...
Still, Roni and Steve want to marry. A wedding in the Catskills in
a friend’s Lake Hill meadow, a party at La Duchesse Anne, music
by Woodstock’s Slam Allen Blues Band. Fabulous. What they hadn’t
considered was who would marry them. Secular Jews, they picked a Saturday
afternoon, which cut out most rabbis, and they didn’t want anything
Christian. Come to think of it, did they want a justice of some peace?
There they were with a wedding looming and no one to marry them.
Cut to a message on my voicemail: They just attended a wedding where
a friend performed the ceremony. They loved it. Mel, my sister says,
Steve and I want you to marry us.
Me – the Queen of Jewish Atheism and an anti-marriage lesbian
to boot? My first impulse is No way. But I love these people. Besides
I’m incredibly flattered. I suggest performing a ceremony, before
or after which they go to a Justice of the Peace for the legalities.,
but Leslie reminds me of a friend who just went on line and got ordained
and married friends of his. Apparently this is kosher
So armed with the $30 packet from the Universal Life Church, I prepare
to officiate. I panic as it dawns on me that Roni and Steve have no
idea what they want for a ceremony. I better become a serious wedding
I begin reading through my poetry books, selecting one poem for me
to read about sorrow and compassion (Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness”),
another for Roni and Steve to read as part of their vows (Muriel Rukeyser,
“Looking at Each Other”). I am prepared for “too
heavy,” “too sexual”—but Roni and Steve are
thrilled. This is starting to be fun.
The rest falls into place. Cousin Barbara makes matching garlands
for Roni and Sophie Rose, her three-year-old granddaughter. She makes
a tiny white pillow on which Sophie will carry the wedding rings (Sophie
has begun calling herself Princess of the Rings). Leslie and I fashion
the chuppah (wedding canopy) out of a beautiful purple scarf. Roni’s
son and his wife, Steve’s stepson and his partner will hold
the four poles. Roni and Steve will light candles for their dead beloved:
Roni’s and my parents; Steve’s late wife; Roni’s
adored friends Laura and Ellen, whose families will be present.
The day arrives. Leslie, a lifelong organizer of mass demonstrations
has quietly emerged as the stage manager, such that Roni starts replying
to all inquiries: “Ask Leslie.” The younger generation
takes up their post as chuppah-holders. One hundred and twenty guests,
all in place.
It begins. Laura’s son Noah plays a Bach Partita on the cello
as we form a modest procession: first me and Leslie; then Steve’s
family; then Princess Sophie of the Rings; at last Roni and Steve.
I feel suddenly faint. “I’ll be right here,” Leslie
tells me and I fall in love with her all over again.
As soon as I start to welcome everyone, faintness vanishes. I situate
myself not as an agent of the state, church, or even synagogue, but
as a representative of Roni and Steve’s communities, people
who love them. Roni is already crying. She and Steve light the candles
while Sophie Rose impromptu narrates: “Roni is lighting the
candles. Now Steve is lighting the candles. Now they’re done
lighting the candles.”
I read the poem linking kindness to love and to solidarity; I honor
Roni’s teaching and Steve’s union leadership. Other voices
join in celebration: Roni’s son names his mother “a retailer’s
daughter who can spot a leather jacket in a window from a car going
40 miles an hour– in the rain.” and goes on to praise
her scholarship, her devotion to him. Steve’s stepson tells
how Steve first got him reading Marx, and talks of what Steve and
Roni meant to him as a 15-year-old whose mother had recently died.
“My mother would have been happy to see this,” he sobs
along with all 120 guests. There will be time at the party for more
speeches and celebration.
Then Roni and Steve read the Rukeyser poem, alternating lines, evoking
a long relationship grounded in dailiness and intimacy. They repeat
the simple vows they have written. Then the rings. The wineglass for
Steve to stomp– a Jewish custom which is now mostly performed
on wrapped light bulbs– you can count on them to break–
and break it does. The kiss. Then – while I would have liked
to say “by the authority vested in me by the internet”–
I shout “Mazel Tov!!” and everyone bursts into Si-mon
tov u-ma-zl tov u-ma-zl tov v’sim-mon tov clapping and stamping
Married! At this point my job is done, and those I represent–
the community of people who love Roni and Steve– take over,
serenade them with songs. Everyone seems to be floating on love.
Except Sophie Rose seems to think she married Roni. Each time Roni
and Steve kiss, Sophie jumps up between them so she receives the kisses.
When the dancing begins, she insists on her place in the bride’s
arms as Roni, along with everyone else, dances up a storm to the blues
music which so exemplifies the power, even the joy, of confronting
sorrow head-on, thereby making space for love.
Gets A New Life
The owners of the Emerson
Inn, which burned to the ground in April, have been given the go ahead
by the town planning board to rebuild across Route 28 from the award
winning establishment’s original location.
“Having already received approval from the Ulster County Planning
Board and the D.E.P., we knew that this project would have a relatively
easy time going through Shandaken’s process,” said Gitter,
managing partner for Emerson Management Enterprises, in a prepared
statement. “We continue to be impressed by the Shandaken Town
Board’s commitment to the restoration of a strong, viable tourist
economy, something that has been sorely missing in this area for decades.”
The project was explained by Emerson representative Al Frisenda, a
former planning board member, who said the property where the original
Inn was located will be landscaped over and would not have any new
structures built on it. The Emerson spa, a small structure next to
the burned out Inn, would probably be converted to office space, as
the spa will be moved along with the Inn.
As for the remains of the Original, multi million-dollar hotel, it
will be removed and its foundation will be filled in.
And so ends the life of the 131 year old building that Developer Dean
Gitter purchased only a few years ago and renovated to create the
prestigious 24-room, 4-star Emerson Inn, completed in 2000 using the
shell of the original 1874 building. It was widely recognized as the
Catskill region’s premier luxury lodging establishment. In addition
to other recent honors, just this past Sunday it was designated by
Mobil Travel Guide as one of the state’s 3 leading hotel-spas,
along with The Four Seasons and Peninsula hotels in NYC.
The Inn rocketed to world-class status, claiming a prestigious designation
as "Most Outstanding Inn in North America" by Conde Nast
Johansens, earlier this year. Six years prior, Gitter purchased the
long closed structure because it sat dilapidated across the highway
from his Catskill Corners retail/lodging complex. Once added to Gitter's
array of shops, conference centers, restaurants and lodges at Catskill
Corners, the Emerson quickly became the crown jewel of the complex.
So much so that Gitter two years ago changed the name of Catskill
Corners to Emerson Place.
Now, Frisenda said, the spirit of the Emerson will live on, only right
among the offerings of Emerson Place. Plans call for building 24 rooms
on the 13-acre site that now holds the retail shops, a conference
center, and an office building. The brick faced office building will
be removed to make way for the new construction, which will tie all
the buildings together. The Spotted Dog, a now closed restaurant,
will become the Emerson’s Dining area. The Civil war era building
that now houses a conference center will become the Emerson’s
Spa. In total, the project represents 18,000 additional square feet
of construction, Frisenda said, adding that there is already plenty
of parking for guests.
Plans call for utilizing the parking spaces across the highway where
the old structure was. Frisenda said they would also use the Emerson’s
old septic system. They need to bore under Route 28 to tap into it,
but Frisenda said that would only take a few days.
Construction will begin immediately. Plans call for the new Emerson
to be opened on July 4th, 2006.
“We will bid a final farewell to the structure that was the
Emerson Inn and take with us the spirit that made it the Most Outstanding
Inn in North America,” expressed Gitter. “It is time to
put the past behind us and forge ahead with an exciting new project
that will once again attract visitors from around the world.”
Bids for the demolition of the old structure are now being received.
Future plans for the Emerson Inn razing, and groundbreaking for the
new Emerson Place project will soon be announced.