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Bethel tech retreat gets conditional approval

By Matt Shortall
Posted 10/12/21

BETHEL — A planned corporate retreat that hopes to attract tech industry workers to the rural solitude of Bethel was granted conditional approval by the town’s planning board on Monday, …

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Bethel tech retreat gets conditional approval

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BETHEL — A planned corporate retreat that hopes to attract tech industry workers to the rural solitude of Bethel was granted conditional approval by the town’s planning board on Monday, October 4.

As previously reported in the Democrat, @Woods is being developed by Catskills Tech Hub LLC and markets itself as an escape into nature for tech companies and their employees to code and work in a quiet bucolic setting while connecting teams that often collaborate remotely.

After a lengthy discussion regarding architectural plans and a negative SEQRA declaration which found the project would not pose any significant environmental impact, a special use permit site plan was approved based on conditions developed by town engineer Glenn Smith.

Some planning board members wanted to wait to see Smith’s conditions, which he described as “no show stoppers,” added to site plans.

“I'm sure they’ll get done because they can’t move forward until it’s done,” said Planning Board Chairman Jim Crowley.

Jacob Billig, who represents the project, thanked the planning board for reviewing the proposal and commended the town board for passing a resolution earlier this year which amended the Town’s AG district to allow for the special use of Rural Eco-Tech Retreats.

“To have a high tech retreat in the Town of Bethel is, I think, a very good thing economically as well as from the standpoint of overall county development,” Billig said.

Ken Ellsworth of Keystone Associates said the retreat would include 50 single unit cabins grouped into different pods and connected by access roads and walking paths on 126 acres of land. Other structures include meeting halls and a dining facility.

In addition to going through the town planning board, The New York State Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation will also conduct their own routine reviews.

Developers say the project is designed to be low impact, hosting no more than 50 guests at a time who may stay for a few days but no more than two weeks. Town code allows for building coverage of up to two percent on the property, but developers say their building coverage will be less than one percent.

Kenny Rosenblatt co-founded the video game company Arkadium along with his wife, Jessica Rovello and together they are developing @Woods.

“I want to be a good neighbor,” Rosenblatt said during last week’s Planning Board meeting. “I’ve lived in Sullivan County for the last 11 years and want to do good for the community. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

Development is expected to begin this year.

Public Comments
Before the board voted, about a dozen residents and community stakeholders spoke about the project. Many expressed support while others worried it could impact the rural character of the area.

“Our beautiful and special road has Bob Franklin’s cows, agriculture, wildlife and quiet natural surroundings,” said Leah Maidenbaum, a resident of Segar & Rosenberg Road. “We want to preserve that quiet and just want to make sure that this project is properly vetted to preserve these surroundings.”

Maidenbaum asked for assurance that the maximum number of guests would not exceed 50 people in the future.

Bob Franklin runs a dairy farm with his son on Happy Avenue, not far from Segar & Rosenberg Road.
“I’m not against what you’re doing. I can be a good neighbor and I hope you guys can also,” he said.
Franklin expressed some concern about increased traffic and said that the time of year when he spreads manure could be unpleasant for those camping or hiking nearby.

“We have to stay in communication with whatever is going on and work together,” Franklin said.
Max Shapiro owns property on West Shore Road not far from Segar & Rosenberg Road.

“One of the reasons Sullivan County is so good is because it’s rural,” said Shapiro. “A lot of times planning boards, governments and people who are in the know think that ‘progress’ means getting more people here and more business and different things. I think that’s not the answer in maintaining our rural atmosphere.”
Billig responded to some of the public concerns. He said they did not believe there would be significant traffic since there are only 50 guests who stay at the private retreat at any one time. Billig reiterated that the project is designed to be low impact in order to maintain the rural setting that attracts guests to the area in the first place.

Marc Baez, President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, said he thought the project would not only have a positive impact for the Town of Bethel but also Sullivan County as a whole.

“The ability to bring high tech to an area that you wouldn’t have thought is a high tech area, in whatever capacity, is a remarkable achievement,” Baez said. “You’ve created something special here in the Town of Bethel.”

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