Even the uber-environmental congressman Maurice Hinchey has joined the development parade, as one of three partners in a modest ($6.8 million) hotel-convention center-restaurant project in the village of Saugerties. Hinchey as developer? Who would have thought that?
Not that anyone expects Hinchey to morph into an Esopus creekfront Dean Gitter. But clearly one’s perspective changes when money, influence and ego are involved, as it is with the Saugerties project. When another plan for the old Cantine mill on Partition Street was brought forward a few years ago, Hinchey was four-square for public-access rights along the cliffs fronting the Esopus. As developers, he and his partners take a different view. Public access will be restricted to two small areas at the north and south end of the project.
Nonetheless, Hinchey, a tree-hugger to his very bones, can be expected to insist on the highest environmental standards. Details on the three buildings on site remain sketchy, but I’d bet all will have solar-power elements.
Forty miles to the west, the sun may yet rise over Gitter’s $400-million development project at Highmount. Gitter thinks he’ll break ground next spring, but then Gitter, ever the optimist, said much the same thing in 1999. But that was before Hinchey, New York City, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, hordes of environmentalists and a cast of thousands put the (the non-Toyota) brakes on. The project today is half its original size; with 1200 acres of “forever wild” land out of 1960 acres to be sold to the state later this year.
Other things have changed as well, not the least county government. Under the executive system inaugurated last year — almost a decade after Gitter launched — the Belleayre project has an ally and advocate in Mike Hein. No wonder. Construction unions donated almost $10,000 to Hein’s 2008 campaign for executive, according to reports on file with the state board of elections. What was previously a scatter-gun approach by the legislature is now a focused, targeted effort by the executive and his team...
In a perverse way, developers also have the economy going for them now. Five years ago, the kind of room service and wait-staff jobs Belleayre and Saugerties will be offering were being derided. Now, with Ulster’s $8 minimum wage de rigueur, a developer-estimated $14 an hour, slightly more than what the Ulster County Development Corporation considers a living wage, looks pretty good.
Gitter still has a few hoops to negotiate before he can turn the project over to some mega-resort builder. Hinchey, a Horatio Alger hometown boy made good — and his partners, the contractor John Mullen and HITS operator Tom Struzzieri — are approaching the finish line.
While sentiment at last week’s village board public hearing was about equally divided, it is clear the opposition is fighting a rear-guard action. Traffic and parking issues will be a continuing concern, but unless they find something really egregious — and extensive testing has been done for things like endangered species, artifacts and other environmental impacts — this project is going to fly.
They spend millions on “reality shows” on TV — which are of course fake — but for real down-home reality, something that directly effects people’s lives, I’d suggest public hearings like the kind recently held dealing with Belleayre and Saugerties.
For real theater, you just can’t beat festering boil Gitter erupting at hostile legislators, and on their own turf yet. Or in Saugerties, naked self-interest on display when candyman Karl Krause petitioned for the Partition Street project directly adjacent to his popular confectionary business.
Krause, a native, took some of the nostalgia out of Nanny Goat Hill on the north end of the old Cantine site, an eminence that opponents view as some kind of local Mount Rushmore. “It’s a pile or rocks behind the mill, covered with sumac, strewn with weeds and garbage, fronted by a lot with some scary homeless people living on it,” Krause told the planning board. “They’re going to keep the top of it.” (The developers plan to level out most of the area for parking.)
Speaking of TV, Hurley’s Carlo Castiglione could get an invite to Dancing with the Stars after his bravura performances as a spokesman for the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce in support of both developments.
At the Belleayre gig at the county office building, Castiglione, a former banker and project manager for the state’s under-performing Empire State Development Corporation, railed that state environmental rules promulgated under Hinchey when he was an assemblyman — “Maurice Hinchey!” he bellowed — make development “onerous” to almost impossible.
A few days later, in Hinchey’s hometown among scores of Hinchey admirers, Castiglione did the same dance, but without once mentioning the revered congressman’s name.
Via phone from Washington, the congressman confirmed that he is indeed moving back to Saugerties after a ten-year hiatus in the Morgan Hill area of Hurley. Hinchey said he’s building a new home on Fish Creek, not far from the old Hinchey homestead. The family moved to Saugerties from New York City when the future congressman was a teenager.
How big is the $400-million Belleayre project? Put it this way, it’s almost 60 times bigger than the not inconsiderable Partition Street complex. I’m more pro than con on Belleayre, but the thought of bulldozers running up and down those pristine hills during a three-to-five-year “build-out” is worrisome.
With March moving toward April, it’s high time — in Saugerties, at least — to put Campaign ‘09 to bed. I refer to the sniping back and forth about legislator Bob Aiello’s attendance record. Afflicted with colon/rectal cancer last year, Aiello missed three-quarters of legislature meetings and was not assigned to any committees. Aiello took his lumps during the campaign and won handily, but is still getting some lingering fire. Enough. I think chairman Fred Wadnola needs to assign Aiello to committee work so he can get on with his duties. Voters will judge next year…
Ulster legislator Jim Maloney, after knocking off Brian Cahill last year, is making noise about running against Kevin Cahill for Assembly this fall. Two Cahill brothers in a year? That hasn’t happened since mother Mary Alice Cahill (speaking words of wisdom) had twins all those years ago…
Parroting the polls, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio proclaimed himself “outraged” by the New York Democratic delegation’s vote (except for Mike Arcuri of Utica) for health-care reform last weekend. For good measure, he called would-be Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo a “policy coward” (whatever that is) for not speaking out on the issue.
After a decade out of public office, Lazio appears deadly serious about this governor thing, presumably because he hears echoes of 1994 this year. Sixteen years ago, an unknown state senator named George Pataki knocked off a three-term Democratic governor.
New York — meaning upstate — figures to lose at least one seat with reapportionment this year. If the lines converge in the Hudson Valley, as happened in ’02, look for Hinchey, 71, to seriously consider retirement rather than to campaign among thousands of new voters. By then his new hotel should be open in Saugerties, what some folks are calling “Mo’s 401 retirement plan.” ++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.