By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE Town of Bethel residents cautiously welcomed a $22 million plan to replace the historic White Lake Mansion House with a health spa.
Speaking at a public hearing during Tuesday’s Bethel Planning Board meeting, just under a dozen locals said the new hotel, which promises up to 100 jobs, could be a boon to the economy.
But they also worried about the possibility it could become yet another unfinished effort in the town, exacerbated if the site also is devoid of one of the very first successful summer hotels in Sullivan County.
The current Mansion House dates back to 1848, its unoccupied Greek Revival architecture slowly deteriorating near the corner of routes 17B and 55 at White Lake’s western edge.
The company that now owns the property, Globe Developers, plans to tear down the old hotel and replace it with a replica that would house offices, conference facilities and an indoor/outdoor dining area.
Behind the replica would be two other three-story buildings, each containing 36 timeshare suites, separated by a pool. Underneath one of those buildings would be the spa; underneath the other, a parking garage.
An initial attempt three years ago failed to get off the ground, leading residents to worry that the same could happen here again after the old hotel is demolished, to boot.
“To that end, I think it’s important the Town of Bethel require a bond on this project,” White Lake resident Hal Teitelbaum told the planning board. “… I do like having development in Sullivan County… but I would like them to be successful.”
“Make sure you have the financials as a background,” agreed Bethel resident Dawn Ryder.
White Lake businesswoman Judith Maidenbaum noted that many of her customers at the Fat Lady Café appreciate the view of the Mansion House across Kauneonga Lake, and she insisted the proposed replica is not as authentic as it could be.
“This is a historic and beautiful building,” she remarked, acknowledging she once contemplated buying it but could not afford to do so. “… It would be nice to feel you [the developers] respected that history.”
Smallwood’s Karen London urged the developers to do all they can to save the present structure before choosing to build a replica, no matter how faithful.
Other speakers also expressed concern about the spa’s potential effect on the water table, though Planning Board Chairman Dan Gettel said an on-site well delivers 35 gallons per minute. Regardless, a water study is under way, said the developers’ engineer.
Whether Bethel will require a bond or other financial guarantee remains to be seen, but in the meantime, most speakers seemed to look forward to the project.
“It will greatly contribute to our economy here in Sullivan County,” predicted Allan Scott, a Smallwood resident speaking as president of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.
Written comments are being accepted by the township for another two weeks, and Gettel said the board will “digest” them before moving forward.