Caverns gets needed zoning change


By Patsy Nicosia

Following a second public hearing on Howe Caverns’ proposed expansion, the Town of Cobleskill has approved the zoning change needed to move the project ahead.
Built around Dinosaur Canyon with full-sized animatronic replicas of such species as Diplodocus, Triceratops, Pterandon, and Tyrannosaurus Rex, the project also includes a year-round RV park, a 40mph zipline and 25mph mountain coaster, a tree canopy tour, water sports area, new gemstone mining building, and depending on the economy, a 250-room hotel and attached 50,000 square-foot indoor water park.
All but the 175-200-site RV park would have been permitted under the existing zoning; Supervisor Tom Murray and councilmen unanimously approved the change from Rural Residential to a Planned Development District last Monday.
At the first hearing on the project, held in June, some raised questions about the project’s impact on local wells and traffic.
Neighbor Mike Fahy said he’d never had bought his retirement home on Sagendorf Corners Road if he’d known of those plans and last Monday he made that point again.
“I have no option but to oppose this,” Mr. Fahy said, listing all that he has to look forward to with an RV park as his neighbor: “Acres of blacktop, blaring music, barking dogs, screaming kids, and maybe screaming parents.”
John Sagendorf, past general manager at Howe Caverns, said barriers to expansion when he was there were capital and risk to the corporation’s shareholders.
He called the project “a promising scenario” and thanked Howe Caverns Development LLC’s Emil Galasso, but also asked that he move ahead slowly and keep the entire process in front of the public eye.
“We were always good neighbors,” Mr. Sagendorf said. “Let us not be blinded by greed…[and] hold the developer to the highest standard. We all know things can go wrong…”
Linda Holmes asked if the water park, if it’s eventually built, would be open for day use, and was told yes.
When asked if , should the project fall through, it would then be easier for Cobleskill Stone Products, which Mr. Galasso also owns, to mine the Caverns, John Lemere, attorney and spokesman for Howe Caverns Development, answered “absolutely not.”
“We wouldn’t build this unless everything was in place,” added Mr. Galasso.
Once started, he said, “it will be completed.”
The Caverns’ expansion is projected to create 300 new jobs and an additional 450 jobs at local businesses.
Construction is proposed to begin late this year with the zipline and mountain coaster opening in 2011 and Dinosaur Canyon completed by December 2012.