Group of homeowners file suit against Tuxedo Town Board to block proposed casino at Sterling Forest
By Nathan Mayberg
TUXEDO — A group of Tuxedo residents have filed suit in state Supreme Court to stop a zoning change approved by the Tuxedo Town Board that would allow a $1.5 billion resort and casino on property surrounded by Sterling Forest State Park.
The Town Board voted on June 25 to create a special "gaming overlay" zone as a first step in allowing the Sterling Forest Resort casino on private land owned by the Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center and which is used for the New York Renaissance Faire. The 238-acre parcel is encircled by the approximately 22,000 acre state park.
The proposed resort would be operated by Genting, the Malaysian gaming company that also has proposed a casino in Montgomery and Kiamesha Lake in Sullivan County as a partner in Empire Resorts.
Attorney Michael Sussman, who filed the Article 78 lawsuit, argued that the zoning change was illegal.
"If a town makes a major change in its zoning ordinance, the town (board) is required to an environmental review," he said. "The town of Tuxedo failed to do that entirely."
The board voted 4-1 to approve the zoning change with Supervisor Michael Rost, councilmen Clifford Loncar, David McMillen and Gary Phelps all in favor.
Board member Kristian Mathews voted against the zoning change.
Quick, sudden decisions
Patricia Barone, who has lived about a mile from the proposed casino site for the past 36 years, took part in the lawsuit. Barone said she was struck by the quickness in which the board approved the new zoning. Genting first made a public proposal in front of the town board on April 28.
Barone noted that a proposal to build homes in the state forest went on for more than 20 years.
Mary Yrizarry, who lives about a half mile from the proposed casino site, said "this is also a residential area and a community area." She said the casino proposal is "a totally out of proportion, inappropriate development to be completely surrounded by state parkland."
The Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which regulates Sterling Forest State Park, has weighed in with concerns about the casino proposal. Executive Director James Hall wrote a letter to the town expressing worries about the environmental impact, particularly from building a new highway exit which would be needed.
Hall called the vote by the town board "premature."
NYC public relation firm
Rost did not return multiple messages seeking comment. Instead, Lloyd Kaplan, a principal partner with the New York City firm LAK Public Relations, fielded questions on the supervisor's behalf. Kaplan said his firm was working for the town but couldn't state how much the firm was being paid. He said the company is not being paid by the Genting Group.
Genting has pledged to donate millions of dollars to the town. According to the town of Tuxedo website, Genting has pledged $47.5 million to the town in installments over an unstated amount of time. Those payments were supposed to begin earlier this month.
A summary of the casino proposal on the state gaming commission states that Genting will pay $60 million to the town. Genting Americas, through a limited liability company RW Orange County LLC, has pledged to pay Tuxedo Park $10 million.
'An open and transparent process'
In response to questions about the lawsuit, Kaplan released a statement from Ross F. Moskowitz, of the New York City law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, special counsel to the Town of Tuxedo.
"Tuxedo has met all applicable regulations as part of an open and transparent process," Moskowitz stated. "Continuing the public review, the town will complete an intensive and comprehensive environmental review as required by New York State law (SEQRA) - assessing impacts and outlining mitigation as may be needed - prior to a vote on the casino’s development.”
A decision by the state Gaming Commission on where to locate two casinos in either Orange, Sullivan or Ulster County, is due by the early fall.
Barone, who voted against last year's statewide referendum on allowing casinos, said people in Orange County who voted in favor thought they were approving casinos in Sullivan County.
"I like living here. I don't want to have to move," Barone said. "We will never see a dark sky again. There will be lights 24/7."
She is also worried about the effects on the Ramapo River, which supplies drinking water to Sloatsburg and Suffern.
"We're being thrown under the casino bus."
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