I am grateful that you are reporting on and thereby raising public awareness about protecting the watershed and the connection between its health and the impact of development projects across the …
I am grateful that you are reporting on and thereby raising public awareness about protecting the watershed and the connection between its health and the impact of development projects across the Town of Bethel.
Projects like the ones before the Town of Bethel Planning Board and the way they are being reviewed are symptoms of a greater problem in town.
At the February 6 planning board public hearing, a member of the community presented extensive testimony, complete with maps and a detailed explanation of the White Lake watershed (The formal name is the Swinging Bridge - Mongaup River HUC12 Watershed.)
Copies of this presentation were given to every planning board member and to the planning board consultants.
Over the course of six months, the board and its consultants had ample time to review this information. It is also incumbent on the applicant and their representatives to understand and address significant issues raised by the public during the public hearing process. The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires it.
It is understandable and necessary for the planning board to question the applicant’s experts on topics with which the board may not be familiar, as when Mr. Crowley questioned Hydroquest about the White Lake Watershed.
Unfortunately, planning board chairman Jim Crowley might not have reviewed the documents thoroughly, and so had little understanding of the watershed connected to White Lake.
That Hydroquest stated that it would be “simple to delineate the site’s watershed” is a clear indication that neither the applicant nor their consultants takes the issues raised by the public seriously and have not reviewed the documentation presented.
It is shameful when an applicant’s legal representative resorts to bullying the planning board or planning board consultants, as Mr. Billig did with his questioning of Glenn Smith, the planning board engineer, during this recent meeting.
Unfortunately, Mr. Smith’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the White Lake Watershed is equally as disturbing.
And this is where it becomes even more problematic. Both the White Lake Mansion House and White Lake Estates projects are located along Route 17B. Although they are technically separate, independent projects, they now share a traffic study complete with broken equipment, poorly placed traffic counters and shortened and wholly inadequate traffic count time cycles.
Since these projects have a direct impact on each other, the traffic study information is also questionable, because it could be perceived as biased and not an independent study.
The issues with these projects do not end here. Both claim to be “suite hotels.”
The White Lake Mansion House “suites” are between 900 and 1,100 square feet, or about the size of a smaller three-to-four-bedroom home, all within a fully gated facility, much like a multi-family development, as it is referred to in their New York State-required Environmental Assessment Form (EAF).
It should be noted that the planning board has stated the Mansion House application was not a resubmittal or re-approval (based on a defunct application from well over a decade ago) and would require new plans and a new application.
The applicant has not submitted the updated plans, yet the planning board continues to move this through, disregarding their own mandate and the town’s own law.
White Lake Estates was also presented as an all-suites hotel. These suites have one or two bedrooms with large common areas. The suites are arranged in “pods,” similar to a dormitory.
It has all the amenities of a hotel for the Orthodox community: pool, mikva, locker room, shul. All of these are for men only. There are no facilities illustrated for women in the plans. There isn’t even one ladies’ room in the building.
Is this going to be a “hotel” exclusively for men—or perhaps something else?
It has become commonplace for applicants to allude to commencing legal action if not granted full approval. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a warehouse, campground or a housing development. For most local towns, the threat of legal action is financially and socially untenable.
Another consideration: What will happen when a project is approved for one use but becomes something else upon completion? Unfortunately, there will be no significant consequences, and it will not be shut down or taken down. The developers will not have to conform to the statements on their application and fines, if levied at all, and will likely be forgiven.
Variances will be granted, the rules will be changed and new precedents will be set for controverting our zoning.
And residents will have to accept the consequences of the town’s decisions and poor review of the projects that don’t just lower the bar, but go a long way toward removing the bar entirely.
We must demand full transparency from applicants. We must update our zoning code now and not wait for the minimum two- to three-year process of an updated comprehensive plan to be completed.
We must demand our boards and town departments follow the town’s laws without fear of legal action and apply them equally to every project.
We should never accept the double standard that has become common practice in most every town.
We can do better. We deserve better.
Barbara Lerner is a Sullivan County resident, a business owner and a supporter of well planned, sustainable development.
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