Legoland Project Clears Key Environmental Hurdle
John Jordan | July 2017
GOSHEN—The controversial $500-million LEGOLAND New York project secured a key approval on July 20th of its Final Environmental Impact Statement, a significant hurdle in its bid to win municipal approvals for the project so it can move forward later this year with construction of the theme park.
Approximately 200 people packed the Orange County Emergency Services Center in Goshen where the Planning Board by a 5-1 margin accepted developer Merlin Entertainment’s FEIS for the project. The Planning Board set a deadline of Aug. 4th for the public to submit comments on the FEIS. The next step for the project is for the Planning Board to issue a findings statement on the FEIS that could include further remediation measures to be taken by the developer.
Supporters of the project as well as opponents of the project that included members of the Concerned Citizens of the Hudson Valley were on hand for the Planning Board session that was not a public hearing.
The proposal for the LEGOLAND New York resort includes a theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions and a 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel. The theme park will be geared toward families with children aged two to 12 and is expected to attract between 1.5 million and 2.5 million visitors each year.
The project that would involve building a children’s theme park on 153 acres of the 523 acres of land controlled by Merlin Entertainments adjoining Route 17 in Goshen still has a number of hurdles to clear before construction can begin. The Planning Board must approve the findings statement and later also approve site plan, a special permit, clearing and grading permit and a subdivision for a commercial recreational facility. The Town Board also must approve the project as well.
The project is expected to create approximately 800 construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs and 300 part-time jobs once operational.
In its deliberations, the Planning Board spent a considerable amount of time discussing the planned road improvements, specifically the relocation and reconfiguration of Exit 125 to improve traffic flow off of Route 17 and into the theme park. The proposed new Exit 125 cost is to be borne by Merlin Entertainments, but its design is being finalized in cooperation with the New York State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in order to meet DOT and FHWA guidelines as Route 17 is eventually to be converted to a federal interstate highway—I-86.
During the board’s deliberations, Planning Board member David Gawronski repeatedly expressed his issue of “not being able to wrap my head around” the visual and environmental impacts of the design of the new Exit 125. Planning Board Vice Chairman Phil Dropkin stressed that traffic was one of the major issues that needed to be addressed and that the revised plan, which now calls for the new Exit 125, adequately addressed those concerns.
Phil Royle, head of project and community relations for LEGOLAND New York, said after the Planning Board vote, “We thank the Goshen Planning Board for its thorough review of the detailed FEIS. We believe its decision to deem the FEIS to be complete recognizes the full transparency and complete responsiveness Legoland and its consultants have put into the process, and we commit to continuing to be fully transparent and responsive as the review process continues. We look forward to the board’s finding statement issuance and the Town Board’s review.”
Royle said that infrastructure improvements, including the new Exit 125 would cost approximately $40 million. Merlin has told Town of Goshen officials that it will pay the entire cost for the project, but has reserved the right to request funding assistance from New York State.
Maureen Halahan, president of the Orange County Partnership, said, “The board worked tirelessly to ensure that everything was reviewed properly and in the end the 5 to 1 vote clearly displayed their confidence in the project bringing Legoland one step closer to site plan approval and approval of the zoning change. This is a very positive step in the comprehensive review of the project.”
The developer will initially invest $350 million in the development and a total of more than $500 million over the first five years of the theme park and resort’s operation. In December 2016, LEGOLAND New York was awarded $3 million in funding commitments from New York State’s Consolidated Funding Application program. Previously the project secured $3.1 million in committed CFA funding in 2014 and another $1 million in 2015. It should be noted that the $7.1 million in CFA funding commitments for the project thus far have yet to be funded and forwarded to Merlin since the project has not secured approvals as yet from the Town of Goshen.