Save the Lakes is a member of the Shawangunk Ridge Coalition.

"This is a project that will have a tremendous impact."
- Tom Horton, CEO Canopy Development

There are five key issues that stand out when the impacts of this development are considered:



photo courtesy Paul Rubin / HydroQuest

Fourth Lake, Binnewater aquifer
IN A NUTSHELL: Is there really enough water to support a project of this scale?

As of 2014, it is Save the Lakes opinion that HRVR's assumptions concerning the water supply simply don't hold up. The DEIS was not encouraging, and while the tone of the FEIS is improved, doubts about the scientific data remain.

As we see it, the water problem is fundamental: HRVR has based their lake replenishment numbers on input from an estimated watershed area that is optimistic and unproven - while ignoring the documented fact that there is regularly little or no outflow from Williams Lake.

The long term implications of getting this wrong are too important to ignore. All the water consumed by the project - an estimated 91,000 gallons daily, 365 days a year - will be drawn from Williams Lake. If the balance of water replenishment to water consumed is wrong, the project will falter. We remember that HRVR denied the presence of karst on the project site in their DEIS, a position that disregarded both common knowledge and independent scientific opinion.

Solid proof of adequate water supply during dry periods or times of drought is basic and was not provided and scrutinized. In addition, movement of water throughout the complex aquifer was not properly determined by thorough tracer testing, despite DEC's request that this work be done.

Williams Lake is part of the Binnewater aquifer, which lies at the northern terminus of the Shawangunk Mountains. The property contains three of the five Binnewater lakes (Williams Lake - 43 acres; Fourth Lake - 83 acres; Third Lake - 4 acres) and numerous wetlands and ponds teeming with wildlife. The lake basins were sculpted by glaciers during the last ice age. The geology is highly complex and spectacular, with multiple thrust faults and folded rock layers, rock outcroppings that expose bedrock structure, sink holes and caves. The property has been an important study site for geologists since the late 1830's.

The proposed building sites are located within the Karst Aquifer priority project area of the 2006 NYS Open Space Conservation Plan. The area is identified for preservation by the Ulster County Open Space Plan, and The Rosendale Comprehensive Plan of 2007.

Details of the development plan point to many potential adverse impacts to groundwater quality, the wetland habitats, and the lakes:

Originally, anticipated water usage per day for the project was 160,000 gallons per day - a 933% increase in water consumption compared to the old Williams Lake Resort. Revised estimates have reduced this estimate by a third, but the science behind this reduction is questionable.

The Williams Lake watershed is small. Planned water withdrawal from the lake may be up to 9 times historic usage. Over time, it is possible that over-withdrawal may "mine" the lake, which happens when more water is used than is naturally replenished each year.

As originally planned, a private wastewater treatment facility would discharge an enormous amount of effluent, all year long, into a State-designated Freshwater Wetland which eventually flows into Fourth Lake. However, in a recent Shawangunk Journal article, Mr. Allred was quoted as saying, "After close consultation with the DEC over the past several years, HRVR will not discharge treated wastewater to state regulated wetland RD-2, but rather to a point further downstream (along Binnewater Road)."

This means that 86,000 gallons of treated water per day would be released from the aquifer to flow along Binnewater Road down into the Rondout Creek. The removal of this quantity of water from it's natural return into the aquifer could have dire consequences on site and off that HRVR has not adequately addressed.

The plan also involves expansion of Williams Lake by 4 acres through excavation of shoreline areas, which could result in significant adverse impacts to the water quality and aquatic habitat of Williams Lake.

Additionally, almost 21 acres of new impervious surfaces will be constructed. Pollutants in stormwater runoff include sediment from soil erosion, pesticides and fertilizers from residential plantings, roadway chemicals and residues.

The oils, cosmetic chemicals and other waste-water associated with a large spa operation are pollutants of unknown long-term impact. Currently, the FDA does not regulate "personal care" products of the kind used in a spa; 844 ingredients in these products are suspected carcinogens. There is no research documenting their long-term impact.

The DEC rejected plans for thousands of gallons of treated effluent
to be released into this state-protected wetland on a daily basis.
In brief, the water issues are very serious. The following documents provide maps, analysis and detail:

Click to download Dr. Ralph Ewer's independent hydrology report that finds that HRVR "cavalierly dismissed" karst aquifers on development site.

Click to review Save the Lakes timeline of the Ewer's Report issue

HRVR has dismissed Dr. Ewer's findings, as well as the findings of Hydrologist Paul Rubin.

Click to download Paul Rubin's one page fact sheet (pdf) on important water issues associated with the proposed development.

Click to download an overview (pdf) of the geology, lakes, wetlands and wildlife of the Williams Lake property, prepared for the Sierra Club by Paul Rubin.

Click to download a comprehensive overview of Rosendale's natural cement industry, by Werner and Burmeister.

Click to download Paul Rubin's illustration (pdf) of lake water quantity issues.

Click to download Paul Rubin's illustration (pdf) "Wetland Flow Analysis: Williams Lake."

Special thanks to the Sierra Club
for their continuing support.
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AP Photo/ Mike Groll

Scott Crocoll holds a dead Indiana bat in an abandoned mine in Rosendale, N.Y.,
in this January 2009 file photo.
Endangered species: the Indiana Bat

Wildlife and habitat are both put in peril by this development plan.

The Indiana Bat has been on the Federal Endangered Species List since 1967. The bats play a vital role in control of mosquitos and other insect pests. The abandoned cement mines on the Williams Lake property shelter a large Indiana Bat population, which is already under severe stress from the mysterious white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is forcing a steep decline in their numbers.

The lakes teem with largemouth bass, chain pickerel, northern pike, panfish and turtles. At least one wetland habitat has been identified in the past as supporting a population of the Northern Cricket Frog, which is on New York State's endangered list.

Years of heavy construction, incessant noise, blasting in the vicinity of bat hibernacula, the removal of trees, the moving of vast amounts of topsoil, the excavation of William Lake, the possible lowering of the water table, the restricted movement of wildlife by the scale and density of the resort and subdivisions - taken together, the threat to wildlife is clear.

In the case of the Indiana Bat and the Cricket Frog, these additional and unnecessary stresses could push both species closer to area extinction.

msnbc.com 02/14/08: Mysterious "white nose syndrome" spreads to endangered Indiana Bats in caves of Williams Lake
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Rosendale values its small town character. Just like in the old days, lots of folks don't lock up the house when they go to run an errand. Agriculture is strong, with wonderful farms and organic growers scattered throughout the region. An upscale, gated community simply does not fit - and if a survey had been taken before this proposal was upon us, it is hard to imagine anyone who would have suggested it.

A closed enclave runs contrary to the long-established social fabric of our region, one in which families of different income levels live as neighbors in mutual trust. Allowing a gated community with boundless resources and global brand-interests to take root in the heart of Rosendale will undermine the neighborly way of life that has been maintained here for many generations. This tradition should be nurtured, not denied. There's nothing wrong with prosperity. The issue is what it looks like, what it feels like - and how it relates to the neighbors.

It is reasonable to predict a 10% population increase if this project gets built. How will that impact community character? One impact we would feel every day is an increase in traffic and congestion. Let's count the cars: 160 residential units represent at least 1 or 2 cars each - so, let's make it 200 cars. Employees of the spa could number in the hundreds, every one of them driving in. Let's call that another 200. Spa/hotel guests? Hard to say, but 100 more seems fair. So far, that's 500 more cars coming and going up and down the local roads, in all directions. Also, add to that a steady stream of delivery trucks, from semi-trailers to mini-vans. Years of heavy construction equipment lumbering around, volleys of noise from earth-moving and blasting. Workers coming and going from all directions. Bicyclists, beware.

What is a gated community? HRVR won't admit to it.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way: "A subdivision or neighborhood, often surrounded by a barrier, to which entry is restricted to residents and their guests."

The Encyclopedia of Chicago definition: "Strictly speaking, a gated community is any residential area which physically restricts the entrance of nonresidents."

By definition, the proposed development will be "gated."

When Canopy/HRVR speaks of "private water, private roads, private maintenance and homeowner's association" they describe a gated community. The security offered by fences and natural barriers like woods, wetlands or lakes is only one feature of a gated community. A gated community is defined first and foremost by restricted access and private governance, in other words, exactly the kind of community described in Mr. Allred's public remarks and outlined in HRVR's requested zoning change amendment.

But Tim Allred of Canopy/HRVR, responding to the question "would the development be gated or not?" said, quote: "...we don't like to call it that. If you mean there will be a fence around the whole property, then, no, it won't be gated." This is equivocation, and disinformation.

What's wrong with a gated community/resort?
  • Social and economic segregation: gates, fences and security checkpoints effectively segregate an enclave from the local community and municipality. The disparity in wealth between those within the enclave and those excluded can be extreme.

  • Gated Communities foster a unified voting block that has been shown in some cases to alter the local political equation. For example, a wealthy gated enclave - especially a resort/vacation home development - might well have no economic or social interest in supporting municipal tax referendums to benefit local schools and infrastructure. An outpost of great wealth would surely attempt to influence public policy and dictate to local government on services and taxation. It is naive to think otherwise. Resolving annual tax-avoidance tactics - which can be business as usual to them - places strain upon municipal budgets by introducing unforeseen costs and stress in the form of legal fees and time spent in pursuit of the town's fair share.

  • To quote Professor Setha Low from her article How Private Interests Take Over Public Space: "Private gated communities employ still another set of practices connected with regional and municipal planning. Incorporation, incentive zoning, and succession and annexation recapture public goods and services, including taxpayers' money, and use these goods for the gated community and residents. These strategies are not illegal in the sense that they are not draining the pond or posting no-trespassing signs on land that is not theirs, and do not employ brute force, but they do mislead taxpayers and channel funds into amenities that the public cannot use, and instead contribute to the maintenance of private communities.

  • Professor Setha Low again: "Private interests are able to craft complicated deals that benefit the developer and the gated community residents without enhancing public space and at the expense of taxpayers who unwittingly are trading higher-density housing for privatized open spaces and reduced public amenities. Ironically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the creation of a secured residential enclave with private parks, tennis courts, club houses and swimming pools." In this case, the secured enclave would appropriate Rosendale's best recreational open space.

    Fulbright Scholar Renaud Le Goix Examines Gated Communities in Southern California, UCLA International Institute

    Putting Up The Gates - by Ed Blakely and Gail Snyder
    authors of Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States

    "Behind the Gates - Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America" by Setha Low, Routledge 2003.

    "The Politics of Public Space" edited by Setha Low and Neil Smith. Published in 2006 by Routledge.
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photo courtesy Doctor Romo

The Triathlon Club
For generations, Williams Lake played a vital role in the community as recreational open space.

Properly licensed fisherman enjoyed access to Fourth Lake. For about the cost of a YMCA membership, beach club members enjoyed year-round access to the property. The local Triathlon Club used Williams Lake to train several times a week. The hotel bar was always open to the public. A Wednesday night buffet was served in the dining room, and open to the public. Many weddings were held there at an affordable cost. Public schools had their picnics with swimming at Williams Lake. For a number of years, the AIDS auction was held there and the Breast Cancer Support Group had their annual picnic there. Various Senior and Elder Hostel groups held meetings there. Annual Mountain Bike races were held there. The Rosendale Nordic Ski Club enjoyed the trails for many years. Skiing facilities were open to the public. Community meetings, workshops, seminars were held at the lake on a frequent basis. Geology students from across the nation were brought here for research classes and seminars because of the unique characteristics of the rock outcroppings and the accessibility of the open cement mines. The Natural Cement Conference was held there in 2005. The Polar Bear Club - a winter sauna and swim group - was a tradition dating from 1927. Compared to other resorts in the area and vacation packages that are offered to families, the Williams Lake Resort was kid-friendly and reasonably priced.

Will the public have access to the lakes and trails?

Initially, Canopy/HRVR was emphatic in stating that the property would be totally private and exclusive to their clientele.

Over time, in response to pressure from Save The Lakes and other involved community members - and in the interests of better public-relations - HRVR modified this position. Public access to the trails is now spoken of in the form of Mohonk Mountain House style day passes. In response to pressure on the county level, the railtrail has been positioned closer to its original course, and the public now has access to it, completing the New Paltz to Kingston corridor. As noted above, when pressure was first applied by Save the Lakes and others, this was emphatically NOT the case.

That said, without binding written agreements, future public access to Williams Lake will depend on a number of factors: 1) the wishes of the spa/hotel operator - but, so far, there is no spa/hotel operator - and 2) whatever corporate entity controls the resort. Should HRVR sell their interest and depart, HRVR's verbal assurances would follow them out the door. Also, since the security requirements of the gated residential subdivisions are obviously not yet in place, no one can honestly promise public access in perpetuity without the backing of written covenants.

In comments supporting their FEIS and the now-accepted zoning variance, HRVR publicly stated their willingness to put the details of public access in writing, and doing so is crucial to the interests of the local community.
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photo courtesy U.S. Treasury
Rosendale needs revitalization, but a gated resort community is not the answer. The development of this recreational open space as a private enclave of wealth will not benefit the surrounding community in ways sufficient to offset both its hidden costs, and the negative changes it will bring to our daily lives.

The promise of trickle-down renewal often proves hollow. A recognizable set of circumstances repeats itself in small towns across the country: economic hardship tied to limited employment opportunity leads to fiscal desperation on the part of individuals and their town government. Outside investment interests arrive promising development, jobs and tax revenue. Too often, the town succumbs to wishful thinking and supports development that irrevocably changes both the landscape and the community character that residents hope to maintain. In the end the town loses out, the environment suffers, and profit is siphoned away from the local economy.

Will Rosendale's Main Street businesses benefit economically?
  • Probably not much. Some folks would have us believe that wealthy clients from the spa/hotel will come into the village to shop and go to restaurants and will thereby revitalize the village. But, no support for this assumption exists. In fact, the assumption doesn't fit the reality of a luxury spa visit for guests, who seek isolation and peace and quiet, and stay put once they get there. Spa guests pay to stay in a bubble. Forays out of a luxury spa are scripted and escorted, for outings like a round of golf or a mountain hike. Gourmet meals are provided at the spa, as well as sack lunches for outings.

  • The experience of small towns struggling with destination/real estate developments in the western states should serve as a warning to Rosendale and the region. Click to preview the film RESORTING TO MADNESS which describes in detail the difficulties that communities have had containing big-money developers once they establish themselves.

What about jobs?
  • Mr. Allred has stated that the resort will be glad to hire "qualified" local people. Notice that his statement is not a promise of 100, 200, 300 jobs - only a general statement. On the level above menial work, "qualified" means trained and experienced in the operations of a luxury hotel/spa.

  • Building a world-class, luxury spa is a specialized field, and the bulk of the work will be done by outside firms with a proven track record and experience. Expect the numerous million-dollar homes being planned to be built by firms well-established in the construction of million-dollar homes.

  • There would certainly be a few jobs during the building phase for a select group of local workers and tradespeople. There is no lead contractor yet for the development, so there is no way to judge their record in hiring local sub-contractors and laborers - maybe they will, maybe they won't. Canopy/HRVR did not hire a local fence company to erect the chain link fence around the property even though a fence company is located in Rosendale.

  • HRVR's zoning amendment request would permit them to build employee housing on site, for 450 contract employees. Luxury spas often go global for their work-staff, importing hundreds of people from agencies abroad. For example, there is a Caribbean resort staffed entirely by Philippinos. Such a business move is not an outlandish possibility - if the spa client wanted it, they'd likely get it.

What will a significant increase in population mean in terms of money?
  • A conservative, thumbnail estimate predicts about a 10% increase in Rosendale's population. Full build-out of this project could bring upwards of 600 new arrivals to Rosendale: over 400 wealthy new residents and perhaps 200 employees. This unplanned increase will certainly bring with it a degree of congestion, and also affect an uncertain impact on the costs of road maintenance, schools, police and fire. It is a fiscal risk, considering the continuing lack of detail concerning taxation and revenues.

What about taxes? Will revenues cover hidden costs? Will my taxes continue to go up?


When Hudson River Valley Resorts came to town, they represented themselves as an economic boon to the community. Two years after the existing Williams Lake resort was closed down taking 80 jobs with it, HRVR has obtained a 30% reduction from the initial 2009 tax assessment on their properties. Is that a boon or a boondoggle?

A recent examination of public assessment records in the town of Rosendale by Save the Lakes indicates that Hudson River Valley Resorts (HRVR) has obtained more than a 30% assessment reduction in 2009 for the four properties they challenged.

In representing themselves as an economic boon to the community, HRVR has often stated that their project will increase the tax base and improve the town economy - but they then proceeded to hire a private company to lobby for a lowered tax assessment. At a meeting before the Rosendale Assessment Review Board in early 2009, a compromise was achieved that reduced the initial assessed value on four HRVR properties by $2,161,300, and produced a final assessment on all eight HRVR properties of $5,493,600, an increase of only 4% over the 2008 full-value assessment.

This 4% value compares to the much higher assessment increases of 25% to 50% levied on most other Rosendale property owners for 2009. Unless the HRVR property assessment changes upward in 2010, HRVR's savings, and the consequent increase in tax rates for others throughout the town, county, and school districts, will continue into future years.

Read the Daily Freeman's article of March 22, 2010: Assessment hike limit defended for Williams Lake site.

Learn more on our research pages.

  • While HRVR's gated community and their client spa will presumably pay more in taxes than Williams Lake currently pays, will the taxes cover hidden costs to the municipality, and leave a windfall left over? It is a part of any good business plan to minimize tax liability. Expect the same.

  • Workers moving into the area certainly means families with kids, and kids need to go to school. Won't local property taxes go up to accommodate an influx of children into the local schools?

  • It has not been explained what tax relationship the development will have to the town. Who or what entity will be paying taxes to the town? Promises of a tax windfall must be seen for what they are - only promises.

  • What tax abatement program might be sought by the developer from the town, county or state?

    In public remarks, both Rick Steele and Tim Allred have suggested that HRVR might seek a negotiated Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) sometime in the future. What does this mean? It means that HRVR - or the next spin-off corporation to be in control - would likely negotiate, probably through the Ulster County Development Corporation, to be exempt from mortgage tax and large construction sales taxes and to pay only partial graduated amounts of property tax over the course of the first 10 years.

    The effect of a PILOT payment in this case would be to reduce substantially - by millions of dollars - the developer's tax burden to the town, while increasing the developer's leverage at the same time.

    The fiscal structure and governance of the secure enclave is not being spoken of openly, at this time. So, looking ahead, the town's ability to assess for a fair compensation in tax revenue would be stymied by a Payment In Lieu of Taxes. When you consider the hidden costs of a sudden 10% increase in Rosendale's population, the fiscal risk is glaringly obvious.

    To paraphrase Wikipedia on PILOT: "As an incentive for investment...a PILOT may be negotiated to limit or defer the property taxes on a developer...In effect, the local taxpayers subsidize the commercial development, which might otherwise have gone elsewhere."

  • What corporate entity will finally hold the purse-strings: HRVR, Revolution, Miraval, Matrix, Longmeadow Capital, another corporation yet to emerge? Who will follow through on the promises and assurances? Who, in fact, will be answerable to the community? Should the Rosendale town zoning be rewritten to accomodate this level of uncertainty?

Now that the country is digging its way out of a deep recession, who is going to buy into this resort? Should demand lag, what then?
  • The proposed development is a highly speculative venture, an attempt to bring together a branded luxury spa with high-end vacation properties to create a "lifstyle" destination. It is far from unique: for example, look around at current offerings for Caribbean vacation-home investments and you will find that this development model is not only dime-a-dozen, it was conceived at a time of inflated profit for corporations and investors and designed to fit their attitudes and spending pattern. But that economic environment has changed dramatically, and more than a few projects are in foreclosure, leaving behind half-built eyesores.

  • Should advance home sales for this resort fail to materialize, the financing could dry up as fast as you can say "adios."

  • Imagine a retreating HRVR and their investors - including Revolution LLC - abandoning a half-built development, leaving behind a wrecked landscape for Rosendale to deal with.

  • Impossible? They wouldn't walk away? The AOL-Time Warner merger orchestrated in the 90's by Steve Case ultimately resulted in a loss of $138 billion to shareholders, and led to his departure from the corporation under accusations of mismanagement. Rick Steele of HRVR scored with Polish Cable Television, but that doesn't mean he'll stick around if his investors want out.

    Rainy Days in Paradise The New York Times   February 15, 2009

    Resorts Feel Chill From Recession Wall Street Journal   December 10, 2008

    Fools Rush In : Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner by Nina Munk.

    Stealing Time : Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner by Alec Klein.
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Save the Lakes is a member of the Shawangunk Ridge Coalition.