By LIAM MAYO
BETHEL, NY — A project to revive Bethel’s White Lake Mansion House is itself coming back to life after a decade of near inactivity.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, Globe Developers (GD) proposed to demolish the historic, decrepit mansion that stands at the intersection of State Route 17B and State Route 55 across from White Lake. The company proposed to construct a replica of that house and two additional buildings behind it, a proposal that received planning board approval in 2013.
The approval was extended until 2016, but construction didn’t begin.
On January 9, the Bethel Planning Board held a public hearing on a new attempt to get the project off the ground.
Attorney Jacob Billig presented the project on behalf of its applicant, joined by engineer Ken Ellsworth.
The plans remain much the same as its 2013 revision, according to Billig. The main building (the replica of the White Lake Mansion) will include amenities such as a restaurant and offices; the two buildings behind it will hold 72 rooms between them, and one of them will have a basement spa.
Some details of the 2013 plans have needed updates to match modern regulations, including revised regs affecting the project’s stormwater pollution prevention plan. In addition, some of the plants used in the landscaping plan have been identified as invasive, and will be removed. The job of making those changes falls to Ellsworth, who confirmed that he was working from the 2013 plan and changing things as necessary.
The core of the plan hasn’t changed since 2013. Whether the same developer is advancing the project now as then remains unclear.
When the planning board asked Billig about the project’s owners, he told the board that legally, such information was beyond the requirements of site-plan review. The developer did have a legal interest in the property, Billig later added.
Tax maps identify the current owner of the property as Hilltop Vacation Club International (HCV), a corporation based in the state of Delaware. A 2009 article from the New York Real Estate Journal identifies Pawel Efraimov as the owner of HVC and GD both; it is unknown whether that is still the case.
Some of those who spoke at the January 9 public hearing had followed the project during its first round of approvals nearly a decade ago.
Susan Bunce had been here during the creation of the town’s comprehensive plan and for the original approval of the White Lake Mansion project, she said. She raised concerns about the project’s impact on the water table, and on the capacity of the project’s connection to the town’s sewer system. Bunce said that she considered it as a new project, and asked the board to review it with the same care and scrutiny that it had received the first time around.
Other residents echoed Bunce’s concerns about water and sewer, and added their own. How would the project add to the summer traffic on 17B, particularly around Bethel Woods concert dates? Will the project receive a tax abatement? Will the developer finish the project this time?
Brendon Cunningham, White Lake Fire Company first assistant fire chief, made a number of suggestions and requests to ensure fire safety at the mansion; he asked about the ability for emergency vehicles to access different parts of the property, about the details of the sprinkler system, and about the type of construction involved.
Planning board concerns
Planning board members agreed with many of the public’s concerns. They also added one of their own: was the project timely?
The project had received its initial approval in 2013, about a decade ago. Seventy-two new hotel rooms would have added significant tourist capacity to the area back then, but the area has seen significant development in the decade since.
Since 2012, five new hotels opened in the region, said planning board member Steve Simpson. Those hotels, plus mom-and-pop operations and upgraded facilities, had added 1,429 rooms to the area.
Planning board members agreed with audience sentiment that the project should be treated as a new application; members and Billig clarified that they were currently treating the project as such.
The board decided to keep the public hearing open to the next meeting, giving additional time for public comment and for the applicant to complete its homework.
White Lake Mansion House, Globe Developers, Bethel Planning Board