LEGOLAND NY clears another key hurdle

By Richard J. Bayne 

Times Herald-Record

GOSHEN – The Town Board Thursday approved some crucial zoning changes needed to put the proposed $500 million Legoland New York theme park on a path toward its final round of approvals from the town Planning Board.

“This is a major hurdle,” Phil Royle, Legoland’s community relations head, said after Thursday’s votes. “This is an important step to bring Legoland New York to fruition.”

After 11 months of environmental review by the town Planning Board, which wrapped Aug. 17, Legoland had to secure the zoning changes from the Town Board or the project would have stopped dead. The Town Board voted two local laws granting the zoning approvals following two hours of often heated public comment during which many residents and outside interests voiced support for the project and the economic development it would bring. Others begged the Town Board not to approve the zoning, saying it would destroy the character of the town and trigger massive traffic jams and water shortages.

At one point, Marlin Maduras, a 20-year town resident warned the board their approvals would leave a legacy of bad air and water years from now. “You’ve forgotten how to say ‘No,’ ” Maduras said.

The first speaker of the night was Katie Worthington, president and CEO of the Winter Haven, Fla., Chamber of Commerce, who talked about how Legoland has been an asset to her community.

The board approved four resolutions pertaining to the Legoland park, which is to be built on 150 acres of a 522-acre site near Route 17's Exit 125, off Harriman Drive. All four votes were 4-1, with the “no’ vote coming from Councilman Kenneth Newbold each time. “Legoland is a great organization,” Newbold said. “This just isn’t the place for it.”

Before the vote, three members said they had researched Legoland’s operations in Florida and California, and all came back with favorable reports. Bloomfield said a key factor in his decision is escalating costs and static revenues. “People aren’t leaving became of traffic,” Goshen Supervisor Douglas Bloomfield said. “They’re leaving because they can’t afford to stay here.”

Traffic has been a key focus for critics, who point to frequent jams on Route 17. They warn that the expressway would be hit with a double whammy because the Resorts World Catskills casino is scheduled to open in March in the Town of Thompson. But Councilman George Lyons said Legoland had addressed proposed traffic problems, including offering to build a bridge over Route 17.

In a telephone interview Thursday, attorney Michael Sussman, who has been representing opponents, said he plans to file a lawsuit challenging the project once the approval process is complete. In recent months, opponents have argued that the review process has focused only on the Goshen site, and failed to consider what Sussman calls the “cumulative impact,” on the region.

“The casino (in Thompson) and development in that area is going to create a traffic backlog that will be unbelievable,” Sussman said.