February 2, 2009, Times Herald Record: Developer envisions 2,600 homes plus resort in tiny Forestburgh

Developer envisions 2,600 homes plus resort in tiny Forestburgh

var isoPubDate = 'February 02, 2009'

FORESTBURGH — Developers have pitched Sullivan County's largest housing proposal in its smallest town, planning houses and luxurious amenities on a huge piece of property, where pine trees grow for miles.

For the Town of Forestburgh and its 900 residents, the scale of this project is unprecedented. Double Diamond Resorts, a Texas-based developer, wants to build more than 2,600 homes just off Cold Spring Road. The half-community, half-resort project also calls for an 18-hole golf course, restaurant, hotel, spa and other recreational amenities, most of which will be open to the public. Double Diamond is calling it "Lost Lake Resort," after the 52-acre lake on its 2,091-acre property.

Proposals like these are galore in Sullivan, but many are never built. Town Supervisor Jim Galligan says Double Diamond has shown signs it will follow through on its paper plans. The company has built 17 similar projects across the country. Its top executives have flown into the Sullivan County Airport to attend local hearings and answer the myriad questions that come with such a complex project.

"They're a pretty big outfit," Galligan said. "And they do what they tell you they're going to do."

Double Diamond's proposal has piqued the interest of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is now tussling with Forestburgh officials over who will lead the project's environmental review. The DEC wants to take charge because the project borders state parkland and could impact regional resources like bald eagles and the nearby Neversink River, it said.

"This is an extraordinary project," said Willie Janeway, director of the DEC's Region 3. "We would usually defer to the towns, unless the impacts rise to a level where they are regional and state impacts."

Galligan fears that a state review would delay the project, which stands to boost Forestburgh's tax base by $33 million. He thinks Forestburgh could handle the project quicker, not because its review would be less stringent, but because Lost Lake would be priority No. 1 on the town's already short agenda. The Town Board has hired an experienced engineering company, C.T. Male & Associates of Latham, to review Double Diamond's plan.

"It will be our main focus, while the DEC has to review thousands of projects," Galligan said.

Town lawmakers are enthusiastic about the project because of its potential to boost the tax base and create new jobs. Many residents are concerned about issues like density and traffic on sparsely traveled country roads. Galligan said the number of lots proposed can be misleading because residents of other Double Diamond projects purchased several lots for privacy, but only built one home. Lost Lake could more than triple the population of Forestburgh if the full scale of its plan is built. Lawmakers expect shovel to hit dirt no sooner than 2012.

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Recession? What recession?

It might be true the housing market is tanking, especially the new home construction industry where national builders such as D.R. Horton lost billions last year and pulled out of New York.

But you wouldn't know it by surveying plans for more than 5,000 homes, condos and apartments in Sullivan's core development corridor.

In Thompson, 11 new projects are in the pipeline for 2,833 units, with the biggest being developer Robert Berman's Rock Hill Town Center, a 1,340 home, condo and townhouse proposal in Rock Hill that's targeting future employees of a reborn Concord and expanding Stewart International Airport.

In Fallsburg, 18 major housing projects before the Planning Board propose 2,411 units, a mixture of second homes, townhouses, condos and apartment units in a town with lots of seasonal homes and bungalows.

But the numbers are deceptive, town officials say. Several major housing projects fizzled last year, even ones that seemed like sure bets.

In Fallsburg, D.R. Horton, the nation's largest homebuilder, last summer walked away from its approved subdivision The Grande in Hurleyville after building just 15 of 111 homes, and is trying to sell the property. Pulte Homes, another national builder, has put plans on hold for 450 units near Morningside Park.

Still, plans keep coming. "I think what they are anticipating is by the time they get approval, the market will get vibrant again, so there will be money to invest in building," Building Inspector Allen Frishman said.

Thompson Planning Board Chairman Jim Lyttle says scores of developers, even in good times, disappeared when they couldn't get backing to build.

"Just with the economy, you ain't going to see anything happen."

Victor Whitman

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