For months, Goshen residents and public officials debated – sometimes acrimoniously – the merits of the Legoland amusement park.
Now, with the theme park up and running, questions are being raised about a complex proposal aimed at housing and feeding visitors to the theme park and other attractions of Orange County’s booming tourist sector.
“Any project of this size will generate a lot of concern and skepticism,” said Lee Bergus, chairman of the Goshen Town Planning Board after it held a public hearing Sept. 29 on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed development at 6 ½ Station Road and Cheekchunk Road.
Goshen Hospitality, LLC – a partnership of two Long Island and one New Jersey developers - is seeking permits to construct three four-story hotels totaling 320 rooms, two 10,000-square foot restaurants, five two-story 1,800-square foot extended-stay cottages, a two-story office building totaling approximately 20,000 square foot and living quarters for a caretaker. The development would be crowned by 70-foot water tower.
The project’s 63.3-acre site is largely woods and meadows, a pastoral setting visible from Route 17. It was last used for growing crops in 1994 but has remained vacant land since then. A 2006 proposal for a planned adult community and subdivision ran afoul of the property’s steep slopes.
The impact of Legoland, Amy’s Kitchen, Science of the Soul
Goshen Hospitality’s mixed-use proposal was initially submitted in 2017, but it has since added a hotel and restaurant and scaled back its office ambitions. According to the DEIS, the project will “likely serve the increased number of people visiting the area” due to the opening of Legoland three miles away and Amy’s Kitchen and Science of the Soul 1.5 miles away.
State law requires that interested parties be given at least 10 days following a DEIS public hearing to submit written comments. The Goshen board opted for an unusually lengthy comment period – until 5 p.m. Oct. 22 – to allow more time to evaluate a challenging site.
Phil Dropkin, deputy chairman of the Planning Board, already has prepared a 20-page analysis on his own initiative with numerous questions for the developers about how they would handle environmental issues such as the impact of moving 109,000 yards of soil (each weighing 2,400 tons), of storm water and erosion and greenhouse gases from construction.
He stressed in an interview he didn’t have a position on the project but added that although Goshen Hospitality’s consultants had “put a lot of work” into their 280-page DEIS, but “more remains to be done. It’s not complete.”
Needed: demonstrating a need for more lodging
With hotel construction surging in the area, Dropkin said that the developers had not yet demonstrated a need for more lodging. The Orange County Planning Department has received proposals for 2,267 rooms since 2016. However, Amanda Dana, the county’s tourism director, said in an email “there is enough demand for hotel rooms to justify this project.”
About 60 people joined the Sept. 29 virtual public hearing. Those who spoke were uniformly critical of the proposal. They questioned its impact on downtown village restaurants, cited gaps and inconsistencies in the research and voiced suspicions that the developer would seek tax breaks.
What about traffic and the sanctuary
The DEIS estimates 143 to 252 vehicles traveling to and from the site during peak hours. Dropkin and others said that the developers had not given sufficient thought to how to deal with those vehicles.
“I can’t understand how a traffic light or a traffic circle” would mitigate backups on Exit 122 of Route 17, only a mile from another exit, testified Norman Stein of Goshen.
Several speakers from the Orange County Audubon Society expressed concern about the impact of pesticide and herbicide runoff on its 6 ½ Station Road sanctuary, a “special area,” said Eric Goodman.
Bergus, the planning board chairman, agreed in his interview that the sanctuary was “a treasure.”
Issues among the partners
Just as the board was revving up its review process, one of the partners, Gurmeet Kaur, fell out with the other two, Rajesh Mehta and Harish Jain. She accused Mehta of making unwelcome romantic advances and claimed that the two had colluded to reduce her ownership interest in Goshen Hospitality.
Kaur filed a petition on Sept. 15 in state Supreme Court in Goshen that the LLC be dissolved and that its land be sold. The court has not ruled, and Bergus said the proposal is still active, and Bergus said that the Planning Board would continue with its review, a process that could take months.
Mehta said that the partners would have no comment on their dispute or on the status of their application.
Relevant documents, including the DEIS, are posted at www.townofgoshen.org/GoshenHospitality.htm. Written comments can be sent to email@example.com or to Building Department, Town of Goshen Town Hall, 41 Webster Ave., PO Box 217, Goshen, NY 10924.