"Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!"

"Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!"

— Dorothy, "The Wizard of Oz," 1939

My trip last week included no lions and no tigers. And while I didn't see any bears, aside from those of the wooden variety, I'm sure they were around somewhere.

I set out up Route 97 from Port Jervis — one of the region's prettiest and most striking drives — and then farther into Sullivan County on Route 55, to the gatehouse of The Chapin Estate.

That Chapin Estate.

You'll recall that I've written critically about The Chapin Estate, a gated community of primarily tony houses for people who aren't worried about where the next payment to the electrical company is coming from. I posited that what is going on in Sullivan County's Town of Bethel is akin to what happened a couple of decades ago farther north in Lew Beach.

There, Larry Rockefeller very adroitly became a land developer to the wealthy and, conveniently, the state of New York ended up owning thousands of acres right next to Rockefeller's land. Think of the coincidence.

So it was that Allan Scott, former Bethel supervisor and now a private consultant, called. He wanted to broker a meeting; he said I should see the Chapin place. Might change my mind.

At The Chapin Estate's headquarters, honcho Steve Dubrovsky comes across as unassuming. His business card is one of those that includes less information, not more. His company and his name. No title, no e-mail, one phone number. He is the founder and managing partner of the Woodstone Cos., the outfit behind Chapin.

Having toured Chapin, and spoken with Dubrovsky for some two hours, here's what I can tell you:

Chapin, by all appearances, is an environmentally sound and sensitive development. Sales of the lots include covenants about suitable building materials and not whacking all the trees. In most cases, you never see the houses.Currently, none of the homeowners has children attending local schools. Given the nature of the development — pricey, second-home kind of thing — that's likely to continue. As Dubrovsky and his backers point out (his supporters are especially relentless about this), that's a boon to local taxpayers.Dubrovsky did not paint himself as driven by some desire to be a virtuous environmentalist. He indeed believes that building a house need not require ripping out all the trees. And he enjoys the wildlife.

"I'm not a raving environmentalist, I'm really not," he said. "I like the eagles flying around, and I think it's good business."

In my view, the emphasis is on that last part. It's profitable to be an environmentalist.

Some 150 lots have been sold so far, for prices ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. In land sales alone, I did some quick figuring, and told him it sounded like a $50 million enterprise. He replied, maybe $60 million.My comparison of him to Rockefeller was overblown, he professed. Dubrovsky noted that some nearby land is already protected. As for the state buying land in tandem with him, he said, "I wish I had the influence to get that done."

Here are my thoughts: It's a nice development; it's well-done. Protestations aside, it caters mostly to people who have money. No sin in that, but these are not your average Bethel residents.

The question for Bethel, and indeed Sullivan County, is this: Are we going to encourage and support housing for the working stiff? Or will we object at every turn to the development of $175,000 homes, or, God forbid, apartments for renters? We'll whine and moan about the traffic, the schools, the children, the burden of a growing community.

In a lot of places, they're grateful to have such burdens. Life could be tougher.

Douglas Cunningham is business editor; his commentary appears on Mondays. Reach him at dcunningham@th-record.com or 346-3202. To see past columns about Bethel, go to recordonline.com, click on news, then columns, then Cunningham's name for an archive.