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Proposed White Lake Estates draws opposition by residents

Jacqueline Herman
Posted 2/9/24

BETHEL — The Bethel Planning Board held a public hearing Monday, February 5, about the construction of White Lake Estates, a hotel on a six-acre, two-lot parcel at the intersection of State …

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Proposed White Lake Estates draws opposition by residents


BETHEL — The Bethel Planning Board held a public hearing Monday, February 5, about the construction of White Lake Estates, a hotel on a six-acre, two-lot parcel at the intersection of State Route 17B and Mattison Road.

Residents of Smallwood, White Lake, the Chapin Estate, the Town of Bethel at-large and the Smart Bethel Steering Committee voiced concerns and submitted letters opposing the project.

A presentation detailed by project attorney Jacob Billig consisted of three alternative exterior versions, the results of a traffic study, dimensions, amenities, parking, entrances, water treatment and studies on its effects on the watershed. 

Engineers and an architect demonstrated how the project is compliant with relevant codes set by zoning, the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH), NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The six-acre area will contain a three-story hotel on a 2.1 acre lot, with 35 suites (each with a dining area), a mikva, synagogue and 54 parking spaces. 

The rest of the parcel is intended for recreational use, yet to be defined. The main entrance will be on Mattison Road, with parking in the rear, and the height has been redesigned to meet zoning guidelines of 35 feet. 

There will be 2 wells for hotel use and a connection to the town sewer.

All water outflow will be treated and runoff will flow to a retention basin. A hydro-geologist acknowledged that the property border overlaps the White Lake Watershed and conducted a six month test using pressure transducers to record water pressure. He found a rapid rise in levels after August 7 (peak usage) and stated, “We are willing to monitor off-site wells.” His studies were conducted with the oversight of the Planning Board and involvement of the DEC and DOH.

The project “is a hotel geared to the Orthodox Jewish community” and is following the NYS Environmental Review Act. There has been a lot of detail in looking at traffic, sewer, and grading, and in order to mitigate traffic there is a stipulation that facilities are available only to hotel guests.

The developer’s consultant engineers conducted a traffic study on the dates of June 30, 2023, and July 2, 2023, at three intersections on 17B near the project. Assuming a two percent growth rate and peak season use, the assessment was that the intersections will continue to operate without impact on traffic flow.

Critical correspondence

In a letter addressed to Chairman Gettel and The Planning Board, the Smart Bethel Steering Committee pointed out inaccuracies and insufficient data in tests conducted, and omissions in applications by the developers. Concerns are: the wetlands, stormwater, room size, building height, traffic impact, and incorrect filing of the Environmental Assessment Form. 

It calls for examination of their request for a special use permit and a response to the question — “How will the project serve local residents if it is a gated facility, doesn’t serve women, will put stress upon the White Lake Watershed, and do further damage to already compromised Mountain Lake in Smallwood?” 

The letter stated that the town must “ensure the proper balance between natural resources and the need to accommodate…population growth.” 

The correspondence asked for a more comprehensive traffic study at peak times (concerts, vacationers, and inflow of second homeowners). 

There is confusion about the size of the land to be subdivided, and mysteries surrounding the intended use of a 1500 square feet storage space, a dining room with a capacity greater than the maximum number of guests, a male-only mikvah, and the possibility of its intended use as a boys/men’s school or as a residential apartment complex.

It also cites a basement beneath half of the building, which alters actual height, and asks the Planning Board to justify the granting of a special use permit if it doesn’t serve the residents of Bethel.


Pushback on the project

Approximately 15 individuals voiced concerns about the preservation of the rural character of Bethel; the inability of White Lake Brook and Mountain Lake to handle more runoff, threatening safe sources of water; and the stress placed upon narrow Mattison Road in handling the arrival of busloads and cars. The parking lot and other pavement is an impervious surface whereby runoff will deposit phosphorous and nitrogen into nearby, already eutrophic waters. In addition, there are discrepancies in the site’s actual border which overlaps the wetlands.

Local resident Clay Ruede stated, “This area cannot sustain this development.” 

Joyce Caracci of the Smallwood Civic Association brought up the prior existence of a service station on the site, of which there was an oil leak which contaminated the property, affecting area wells. She said that this issue may not have been properly remedied. She called for a “full environmental study and soil test.” 

Bruce Johnson of New Jersey and Smallwood said,  “The project doesn’t fit the location. It’s not a pedestrian friendly area.” 

He projects potential use as housing if the hotel isn’t successful, since the suites contain eating areas.

Local resident Barbara Lerner found indications that primary use may be something different than as a hotel, as there are 7900 square feet of amenities, with no facilities for women, and that there are actually 39 suites.

Andrew Klebanow, President of the Lake Association of White Lake, brought up the inclusion of the lake in NYS Law, Article 42 titled “Waterfront Revitalization of Coastal Areas and Inland Waterways.” 

The law was created in response to strains by development and promotes formation of Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs (LWRP) by localities. White Lake is the only waterway in Sullivan County to be included. 

Through these programs, grants are available for various enhancement projects which are competitive and which wouldn’t be available if there was no LWRP in place. Since the grants are received through processes best coordinated with Comprehensive Plans, there are efforts to put the LWRP into the current revision of Bethel’s Comprehensive Plan. The benefits to the town in receiving grants which enhance recreational use of the lake are important to understand. The project at hand will most likely disrupt the preservation and enhancement of the health of the lake and watershed. 


What’s next?

There were several requests to hold off approval until the Town Comprehensive Plan is finalized, and not to overly rely on the developer’s team. The value of White Lake as a NYS Designated Waterway was asserted and it was suggested that escrow funds, provided by the developer, be used to engage professionals to properly assess the cumulative impact of the project.

Bethel was compared to nearby Callicoon and Hurleyville, where development is balanced and harmonious with the natural environment, and useful to local residents. 

Town Attorney John Cappello said the Board will gather information to “concentrate on the issues raised” and to make sure that “everyone has the same info.”

 It will be assessed whether guests will be “transient” in nature to determine whether the project is in fact a hotel. Dan Gettel said “We need the opportunity to go over public comments and address concerns.”

The public hearing was adjourned until the April 8.


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