Ski slope still eyes resort plan

COPAKE—The developer of the Berkshire Mountain Club, the $80-million, four-season resort project approved at the base of the Catamount Ski Area, has pulled out. But that doesn’t mean the project is dead.

Tom Gilbert, the president of the Catamount Ski Area, came to the December 10 Copake Town Board meeting to let the town know there is still hope.

Rock Solid Development, LLC, “will not pursue the hotel project and Catamount will not pursue Rock Solid to do the project,” Mr. Gilbert told the board during the public forum. But “Catamount will be defending” the project in the appeals process and “then look for a developer,” he said.

“It is an important project for the town. The project is good for the town, good for the jobs” it will provide and “the tax base,” said Mr. Gilbert, adding that he hoped when Catamount “comes back” to the town, it will have the town’s support.

Catamount, one of the oldest original operating ski areas in the Northeast, first opened in 1939, according to the ski area’s website www.catamountski.com.

The resort project’s previous developer, Harry Freeman with Rock Solid, told The Columbia Paper November 24, that his firm would not go forward with the three-building, 153-hotel-and-time-share-residential-unit project that includes a spa, swimming pool, restaurant and retail space to be built in three-phases over 10 years. Mr. Freeman cited ongoing legal challenges brought by project opponents Gert and Cynthia Alper, owners of the Swiss Hutte Inn and Restaurant adjacent to Catamount, saying the project had already lost three construction seasons, a situation which made the project “untenable.”

Lawsuits brought by the Alpers sought to overturn project approvals granted by the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals and to reinstate terms of a 2005 agreement relating to an earlier, larger project involving the transfer of property and the construction of another road to the project site.

Those lawsuits were thrown out in October by Albany County State Supreme Court Judge Richard M. Platkin, who found the claims were “baseless” and “untimely.” The Alpers are now appealing.

Asked after the meeting whether project details would remain the same, Mr. Gilbert told The Columbia Paper that would depend on the developer, but he believes the project, which gained Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals approvals in November 2014, “is the right project for the ski resort.” Mr. Gilbert said a February court date in connection with the Alpers’ suit against Catamount has been scheduled.

Ken Dow, the town’s attorney, said with regard to the appeal of lawsuit decisions involving the town that only notices of appeal, which reserve the right to appeal, have been filed so far and therefore no court dates have been set. If the town-related appeals go forward, he said it would be “several months before the court would hear oral arguments.”

It is not clear whether a new developer would have to seek new project approvals, especially if the project changes.

Also at the December 10 meeting, Supervisor Jeff Nayer announced that the town’s collection of scrap metal at the highway garage will be suspended immediately for the time being.

The bottom of the market for scrap metal has rusted out and what used to be a lucrative proposition for the town is now a losing one. The price for scrap metal has dropped to $20/ton and now the cost to rent the metal container–$50/month plus a $75 pickup fee–means it is costing the town more money to have the stuff carted away than it makes when it sells the metal.

Residents who used to deposit anything made of metal, such as, washers, dryers, barbecue grills and lawn furniture (no Freon-containing appliances) at the highway garage for free will now have to take it elsewhere and pay to get rid of it.

Mr. Nayer said in a follow-up phone call that the town will still take metal on spring Clean-Up Day, and may reinstate the metal collection at a later date if the market improves.

Also at the meeting, the board learned that the town needs a new code enforcement officer. Edward Ferratto submitted his resignation effective January 1. He has held the post for 10 years. The town is also looking for a new summer park program director. Bridget Roberts resigned last month. Assistant summer park program director Colleen Miller has also resigned.

Peggy Lewis has resigned from the Hamlet Revitalization Task Force and due to expiring terms, the town has openings on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Park and Recreation Commission.

The meeting concluded with a farewell to Councilwoman Susan Winchell Sweeney who wraps up her first and last four-year-term at the end of the year. Supervisor Nayer thanked her for her work and dedication. Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons said it had been a pleasure working with Ms. Winchell Sweeney noting, “We didn’t always agree but we did have a good conversation.” Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler appreciated “Susan’s hard work, integrity, courage and thoughtfulness.” She said Ms. Winchell Sweeney was always “willing to reach out, willing to listen and work toward a good resolution.”

Councilwoman Terry Sullivan said she was glad for the chance to get to know Ms. Winchell Sweeney, that she was “a breath of fresh air” and that she was “impressed by [her] wealth of knowledge.”

The town board will conduct its year-end meeting December 30 at 10 a.m. and its organization meeting January 4 at 7 p.m. The next regular town board meeting is January 14, 7 p.m. All meetings are at the Town Hall.

To contact Diane Valden email

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