We’ve been reporting since March about the active redevelopment of Kittatinny Campgrounds in Barryville into Camp FIMFO-Catskills, an emerging brand of Northgate Resorts. If approved, this will be the third of its newest family-resort brand, the only one outside of the state of Texas.
It is the largest project to hit the Delaware River Valley. It falls in line with Resorts World Catskills and the Kartrite Water Park in the Town of Thompson. Indeed, some of the people working on this development worked on the Kartrite project.
Except it’s different.
It is not situated on the 3,000+ acres of the former Concord Hotel. It’s situated smack-dab in the middle of Barryville, NY, circa 1853, population 1,313.
This is corporate America come to mingle in a historic rural, some might say quaint and authentic, river valley. Ironically, both of those distinctions are being challenged as we experience the quick gentrification of our Main Streets and a tourism industry that seems intent on mindlessly promoting the area as the new upstate Hamptons, or perhaps Brooklyn West.
Indeed, this landmark campground, when redeveloped, could be anywhere. It is Northgate’s business model to purchase and renovate existing historic campgrounds. The company is purchasing campgrounds like Kittatinny all over the country. Jellystone Parks as well.
It works on a couple of levels. The biggest advantage is that because there is no change of use, existing conditions that were grandfathered in from the historic family-owned facility get transfered to the new corporate entity. It makes getting through the regulatory process easier.
It is a cookie-cutter approach that has great corporate benefits. It is a smart business model. And it makes it tougher for local authorities to collaborate with the national entity exercising the expansion of their brand.
For those of us who have worked for decades strategizing the unique brand of the Upper Delaware River, it comes as a bit of disappointment that this particular branding of the region is situated squarely in the Catskills. In promotional material, the valley is described as the home of “Dirty Dancing” and the landscape of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel.”
With Northgate initiating the redevelopment of Kittatinny Canoes, a family-owned operation since 1941, the valley faces a huge change of identity. And for those of you who think that there will be no change: Make no mistake, no corporation plans to spend $44 million to redevelop a camping facility without making incredible changes.
Changes that, ahem, could redefine the nature of outdoor recreation in the region. Undoubtedly the ecology. Probably the traffic. And maybe the economy.
Perhaps it’s just what the area needs. I know that a lot of people support the project and wonder what will happen if they don’t build.
Whether you’re for it or against it, what is not OK, so far, is the process.
Have we answered all your questions? Daniel Rubin, a lawyer who is representing Northgate, asked the Highland Planning Board.
We’re thankful for the large-scale renderings, Highland planning board chair Norm Sutherland replied.
This will give residents the answers to their questions, Rubin said.
The large-scale renderings show different amenities. All of which are not true representations of the proposed facilities on our landscape. It’s a cut-and-paste job. And each page holds a disclaimer that what is represented is not actually what will be built.
What does an artist’s rendering of a glamping site or a recreation-syle RV tell us about stormwater management or the use of water resources?
Does the corporation and its agents really think that the objection to the project has solely to do with the look of the water feature?
So far, it’s a lot of lip service. If this is how we’re being wooed, we’re in a lot of trouble.
In our reporting, we laid out the different agencies that would need to weigh in on this project. There’s the Upper Delaware Council, which in a split vote, determined that the project was in substantial conformance with the River Management Plan, while noting that there was no indication of how much of the hillside would be cut down.
It is the county planning department, which needs to determine whether the project is in conformance with the town’s zoning laws, and which also indicated that it did not receive maps that had clearing indicated.
It is the NYS Department of Transportation that has, according to Rubin, given a favorable initial thumbs-up to the one-way loops through the facility, with no recognition of the pressure that additional traffic would bring on the already-dangerous intersection of Route 55 and Route 97. (Oh, right, there won’t be any additional traffic. Is there a traffic study somewhere?)
While seemingly transparent, it’s suspect that the response of the corporation’s consulting engineer to a question at the August 24 planning board meeting about the amount of clearing and what would be done with the stumps and trees, indicated that she would rather answer in writing than say in a public meeting. Which is OK, maybe, except that the answers in writing don’t get shared with the public.
It poses the question of how the public can be informed and actually effect a better outcome.
Certainly, there will be more details that will emerge. We can hope that the information session, which is taking place under the advisement of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, is more than a dog-and-pony show.
We can hope and insist that the National Park Service will follow through with its statement at the September 1 UDC meeting that it would be looking more closely at the proposed clearing limits and areas of disturbance, requiring information currently missing—for instance, a soil investigation for one of the project’s septic systems—and will only consider final plans that have been signed and sealed by a professional engineer.
We can hope and insist that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation will thoroughly review the stormwater management plans. That the NYS Department of Health, in reviewing the septic and wastewater plans, will consider not only the number of campers on the property, (yes, yes, reduced by 500), but also the day visitors who will visit the mountain coaster. (And how much clearing is there for that, and what’s the effect of carving up the landscape on the non-human inhabitants who also live on those 250 acres of land?) That the Delaware River Basin Commission will consider the use and discharge of 29,000 gallons of potable water each day and the subsequent effect of 34,400 gallons of wastewater on our exceptional quality waterways.
But mostly, we can hope and insist that the planning board, fully staffed with knowledgeable and capable Highland residents, makes sure that conditions that protect the public health and our communities will be implemented. It and it alone can make site plan approval conditional.
The clock will be ticking. The planning board will have 62 days from the close of the public hearing (the September 28 public hearing was scheduled to reconvene on October 26) to issue a determination on the project and give final approval or denial to the site plan. It has the power, and needs to exercise that power, to put conditions on the development, as the board sees fit.
There is no real knowing, actually, the effect of this project. What we can do is make sure that the process is thorough, that questions actually get answered and that we’re not rubber-stamping or envisioning our future through a nostalgic dream of the Catskill hotels.
They do know those hotels on the other side of the county all closed for good, right?
(This article was updated on October 5 to indicate that the Highland Planning Board has 62 days from the close of the public hearing to make a determination on the project.)
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