Mountaindale Acres - An Opinion from Fallsburg's Future
By Samuel Bitwell
Mountaindale Acres is a residential development now being built on the periphery of the hamlet of Mountaindale. It is located on the former site of Baxter Stadium, home of the Mountaindale Cougars minor league baseball team. The stadium was built around 1994-95 on a 74 acre parcel owned by Billy and Patsy Resnick. The Resnicks were partners in the franchise (which included comedian Bill Murray) and the Cougars played at Baxter Stadium from 1995 to 1998, skipped a year, and then played one last season in 2000. After the team folded, the stadium was never used again. The Resnicks then began to develop plans for a subdivision on the property for single-family homes.
The Resnick’s are well known in the hamlet. Billy Resnick established Resnick Supermarket Equipment in Glen Wild, NY many years ago. It is one of the larger employers in Sullivan County. The Resnicks are long standing residents of the Mountaindale area. They acquired nearly all of the properties in the business district on Main Street in a foreclosure several years ago. They have committed their resources to restore the hamlet. They have systematically gut-renovated many of the older buildings as well as some outlying single family homes, concentrating on creating apartment rental units. They also brought into town a convenience store, laundromat and bicycle store. As in every local venture that changes the status quo, their efforts have been controversial. Y et on the whole, it cannot be denied that they have been instrumental in making Mountaindale an attractive hamlet of year-round residents.
In 2004, the Resnicks first showed the Fallsburg Town Board plans for a 187-unit residential subdivision on the property. The concept for the project received support from the Board and was given several approvals, which included 1.) A zoning change so that the entire parcel would be HR-1, 2.) A water district extension, and 3.) A sewer district extension. It subsequently received Preliminary Subdivision Approval from the Town of Fallsburg Planning Board in 2005.
After that, the project languished. The 2008 real estate recession slowed all development in the area. The growth and development of Mountaindale that the Resnicks had envisioned never came about, although they continued making improvements to their properties on Main Street. But they never managed to find a sustainable housing market for the subdivision.
Fast-forward to 2016 when the Resnick's sold the property to a buyer who’s new plan was to build and sell summer homes to people in New York City who would form a community of like-minded people. The subdivision plan was transferred in the purchase, which meant that all prior approvals for the project were assigned to the new owners. But the new owner immediately re-designed the project under the Duplex Development law. Their lawyer maintained that the approvals the subdivision project had received were still valid for the new duplex development. With little local resistance, the project was fast-tracked for final approval, despite deviating from the previously approved Subdivision plans. The project was now relieved of any requirements to blend into or build upon the traditional aspects of the hamlet, depriving taxpayers of the assurance that the new development would be an asset and not a liability to the community. As a Duplex Development, it would now become a private enclave, totally disconnected from the hamlet. It is now under construction.
The project was originally proposed and approved as a subdivision, under Chapter 260-Subdivision of Land regulations in 2005. This meant that all the streets had to be designed to standards for public use, with sidewalks and roads to be part of the hamlet, meaning that the streets and sidewalks would be dedicated for public use. This type of planning is meant to ensure that the street layout is interconnected to the hamlet or village where the development is being built. The rules for subdivisions are meant to ensure that new neighborhoods are properly designed and fit in with the existing characteristics of the hamlet or village. This is a condition that the State of New York has expressed as an intention for subdivision planning in New York, and has granted towns the authority to control.
If you understand the principles of Subdivision planning, you will understand that they are meant specifically to avoid the problems that Duplex Developments create. But do the town officials who make the decisions, such as in this case, understand the difference? Do they care?
Duplex developments don’t belong in the Hamlet Residential districts. The main reason is that they become enclaves, separate from the community both physically and socially. They interfere with conventional patterns of development that traditional hamlets and villages have in New York, preventing established neighborhoods from integrating. They often interfere with the development of municipal water and sewer systems, complicating more practical and efficient expansion of those systems. They also contribute to traffic problems because they don’t facilitate the expansion of the local street network commensurate with the growth they generate, failing to provide ancillary streets to help convey local traffic. They can also compromise the character of a hamlet or village when they are walled off and gated. The cumulative effect of so many of these developments is significant and definitely changes the character of neighborhoods and communities. This is an “environmental impact” that is completely ignored.
Not everyone understands these concepts and methods for development planning, but unfortunately the developers and their engineers do, and they know how to use them to their advantage. Town Boards and the Planning Boards need to be knowledgeable and equal to the task of combating unwanted forms of development. Why the Duplex Development law even exists at all in Fallsburg is another story altogether.
When a Town Board is satisfied with getting “half a loaf” of benefit from a development project for fear of not getting anything at all, it often ends up that the town-folk get something they’re not very happy with, like high taxes, lots of traffic, street networks that don’t make sense, and over-burdened sewage plants. And in the case of Mountaindale, they are getting a private housing development that might otherwise have been part of the hamlet, possibly hampering the local economy and compromising the traditional character of the hamlet, maybe even spoiling it altogether.