Opposition to Berman's Massive Development Project Building In Rock Hill
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Source: FedEx Will Occupy Warehouses / Distribution Space Proposed - Company Won't Confirm Plans
Thompson Planning Board Holding Public Hearing Tomorrow Night
(Editor's Note: The SullivanTimes was made aware about FedEx as the commercial tenant after conducting interviews with those quoted below, except for the source who did not want to be identified. In fairness to those who are quoted by name, their statements are based only on information about a generic warehouse/ distribution center at the time of the interviews and statements).
ROCK HILL - More than a decade after it was first proposed, what is now Robert Berman's warehouse / distribution center project - is getting a public hearing on Wednesday (7 pm) before the Town of Thompson Planning Board.
The project - known as Avon Commercial Park at Rock Hill Town Center - would include three warehouses to be built on some 231 acres of the 560 acres owned primarily by Berman's Glen Wild Land Company LLC. The site is located north of New York State Route 17 and Rock Hill Drive, east of Edwards Road, south of Marsh Road, and east and west of Glen Wild Road (County Route 58).
Berman, the founder of Empire Resorts that led to what is now Resorts World Catskills, is seeking the Thompson board's approval on the warehouse/ distribution facility. He acquired the 560 acres between 2004 and 2006 for $4.89 million, according to Berman's own 2015 declaration from a lawsuit in which he was the defendant in a lawsuit filed by a former partner.
One source who did not want to be identified told The SullivanTimes late Monday that the occupant of the warehouses, if built, will be FedEx, but that could not be independently confirmed at press time. The SullivanTimes this morning reached out to a spokesperson at FedEx for comment about any plans for Rock Hill. David Westrick, a spokesperson for FedEx, sent the following email to The SullivanTimes at 3:30 pm Tuesday:
"FedEx Ground is constantly evaluating how best to optimize our network to meet growing customer demand for our services. Our plans are adjusted as needed based on our ongoing analysis of a number of factors. As a matter of practice, FedEx does not publicly discuss specifics of a project until all aspects have been finalized."
ProPublica published an article in December 2020 that discussed the company's workplace safety record. The article revealed that the Memphis company had 10 fatalities in 2019 at its warehouse facilities nationwide.
(Below is a sample job ad for a FedEx warehouse package handler at the Maybrook facility in Orange County).
As for Berman's original site plan in 2009, it called for the inclusion of 217 single family homes. But Berman and his team have, at least for now, eliminated the residential portion of the project for the current submission to the Planning Board.
However, they have said in a lengthy document sent to the Board that the entire "Modified Project" could accommodate "up to 1,396 dwelling units" as described in the 2009 Town Center Project included in the Site Plan review application before the Planning Board.
The applicants stated that the residential component is still included as part of the overall “Modified Project” for purposes of review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
According to the applicant's Environmental Review Technical Memorandum prepared by Andrew Mavian of EDR:
"The 2009 Town Center project was a mixed-use development containing residential and commercial uses. The Avon Commercial Park is the proposed development component of the Modified Project and consists of three warehousing buildings, utility connections to town sewer and on-site water wells, car and truck parking, a 500,000-gallon water storage tank for a fire sprinkler system, and associated stormwater management facilities. The Avon Commercial Park component is situated on the southern 231 acres of the Project Site. No changes are proposed to the remaining 329 acres of the Town Center project in the northern portion of the Project Site."
In an August 2021 application from Berman to the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), he stated that there would be private investment of $70 million.
"IDA financial assistance is essential to the Avon Commercial Park’s success. Financial assistance is required in order to stay financially viable in this competitive marketplace. 100% of similarly-situation projects in New York State receive financial assistance from their local Industrial Development Agencies."
An exhibit attached to Berman's application filed in August with the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency
Berman's application (seen above) reveals that the project is estimated to create 250 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Loughlin, chair of the IDA, has been involved in long running litigation with one of Berman's other companies. She recused herself from an introductory discussion about the project at the IDA's August 16, 2021 meeting.
Below is an excerpt from the minutes of that meeting.
Attorney Steven Mogel, who was retained in June by the Lake Communities Alliance to help fight the project, spoke at length with The SullivanTimes late Monday. (The Lake Communities Alliance is an association consisting of members of Lake Louise Marie, Wanaksink Lake, Masten Lake, Emerald Green, Yankee Lake, Beaver Lake, Wolf Lake, as well as Iroquois Spring Summer Camp and Rock Hill).
"They (Avon Commercial) are basing their application on an environmental impact statement from 2009..they are applying 2008 standards and they are adding real property that was never part of the initial application," Mogel said Monday.
He added that he is "unpleasantly surprised" that the applicant "would try to push this project forward before the Planning Board for a site plan and special use permit approval at this stage. But more importantly, they are chopping out the housing that was proposed for the over 55 population and they are adding a two million square foot warehouse distribution facility."
Mogel said that "calling it 'Avon Commercial' is misleading...this is industrial use. And its environmental impact must legally and ethically be assessed."
He also believes that the applicant is vastly underestimating the amount of truck traffic.
"They estimate 250 additional truck trips per day for this development but if you look at the official way you determine truck trips...it's 1,087 trucks per day. Mogel said he based that on data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trips Generation Manual (10th edition).
Mogel said that figure represents a 266 percent increase in truck traffic during peak times compared to the 250 figure given by the applicant. .
Those residents lining up against the project cite the enormous truck traffic and the resulting pollution, the strain such a project might place on the existing water/sewage systems and the tranquil quality of life in Rock Hill that would be disrupted. Many of the residents who emailed the Board in recent days say they have lived in Rock Hill full time or part time for decades.
One of the leaders of the Lake Communities Alliance is Michael Miller, a past president of the New York State Bar Association. He is one of at about a dozen residents who have written to the Board in recent days opposing the project. His letter is below.
Randy Resnick, chair of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development who owns multiple businesses in Rock Hill, including the popular Trading Post supermarket, says he supports the project.
"The restaurant business, the supermarket business, the gas station business, the bar business..every store in town would benefit from the development in Rock Hill, " Resnick said.
He added that as chair of the Partnership, he is concerned that opposition to this project, combined with the IDA's recent six-month moratorium on new applicants, sends a message that Sullivan County is not open for business.
Asked for this thoughts about the project, Town of Thompson Supervisor Bill Rieber told The SullivanTimes:
“As a longstanding policy I do not take public positions on any specific matter currently before the planning board as it is their job to independently review all applications with no influence or bias, either pro or con. Any comments from me could be construed as something they aren't intended to be. My track record overall is supportive of smart, balanced, controlled growth that creates jobs and opportunities while maintaining the overall character of our area.”
Below is a current screenshot from Berman's Avon Road Partners website talking about the project.