Not so long ago, the Hudson Valley was contested land.
For years, various proposals for large-scale housing developments and industrial facilities — recycling plants, power plants, and even waste dumping grounds — galvanized residents and environmental preservationists to push for protection of our natural resources. Many locals will recall the six-year battle to stop St. Lawrence Cement from building a massive plant in Hudson. That plan was eventually defeated, thanks in large part to the hard work of a small, but dedicated, bunch of civilian volunteers.
At the same time, there has been a big push by Scenic Hudson, the Open Space Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and a variety of local and regional land trusts to preserve open space. This effort has resulted in thousands of acres — including wetlands and other fragile ecosystems — being protected. Valuable farmland has been preserved, and many public parks have sprouted up along the Hudson waterfront.
But of course, development — whether residential or commercial — is a vital part of our local economy. Not surprisingly, developers and environmentalists have often been at odds over the best ways to use the land. But recently, the battle lines seem to have been redrawn. Poorly conceived development plans continue to be a threat. But there is a growing consensus that well-designed, sensitively sited residential and mixed-use projects are the ideal way to resurrect depressed downtowns and restore abandoned industrial sites to productivity. More and more, folks on both sides — from environmentalists to government officials to developers — agree that striking a balance between open-space preservation and desirable development is the key to the Valley’s future.
Achieving this goal, however, requires effective planning, and therein lies the rub. New York is a home-rule state, which means that municipal governments and local planning boards have the power to make important land-use decisions for their specific area. The result: a patchwork of inconsistent zoning requirements across the Valley. What is needed is a region-wide master plan — at least that is the consensus of two regional leaders, one an environmental preservationist, the other a major residential developer.
Hudson Valley spoke with Ned Sullivan, who has been the high-energy president of the environmental group Scenic Hudson for a decade. During his tenure, Sullivan (also a savvy businessman) has broadened the organization’s mission to include an emphasis on smart economic growth and a state energy conservation plan. He has also worked to form coalitions with similar organizations, and overseen a dramatic expansion of educational programs and community outreach.
We also checked in with Martin Ginsburg, president and chief executive officer of Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC). Based in Valhalla, the 46-year-old firm is a leading developer in Westchester County, and has built (or plans to build) developments in Yonkers, Hastings, Sleepy Hollow, Cornwall, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, and Ossining. His new Harbors at Haverstraw, a sprawling luxury condo and townhouse development on the river, has garnered several awards from national and local building associations; Ginsburg hopes it will help revitalize the once-downtrodden village. Clearly a successful businessman, Ginsburg also strives to strengthen local communities. He helped restore ferry service to Haverstraw, was instrumental in the formation of Historic Hudson River Towns, and has reportedly donated more than $2 million to charitable causes and arts organizations.
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Photograph by Michael Polito
Q&A with Ned Sullivan
President, Scenic Hudson
In 2007, Scenic Hudson announced the Saving the Land That Matters Most initiative, a commitment to preserve 65,000 acres over the next decade.
Describe how that project came to be.
Ned Sullivan: In the 400th anniversary year of Henry Hudson’s historic sail up the river that bears his name, there are going to be celebrations — from Manhattan all the way up to Albany and beyond — of New York’s history. We felt it was equally if not more important to leave a lasting legacy of our most important asset in the Hudson Valley, which is the beauty and ecological and agricultural resources. Linking people with the Hudson and providing public access is a key part of our mission. It’s also a collaborative effort: we can’t do 65,000 acres by ourselves. So we’ve reached out to the other land trusts so that our work complements theirs.
In essence, then, this effort is a master plan for preservation of open space along the Hudson?
NS: That’s right. It takes extraordinary effort and energy to reach out, come up with a common plan, and get everybody working together. We’ve had external acknowledgement by the Pew Charitable Trust, who believe the plan is the first of its kind [in the nation]. The Trust for Public Land is emulating Scenic Hudson’s model for preservation efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. They have issued a challenge grant, saying that they will provide matching funds for any private resources that we are able to raise that will help us with this.
What’s the overall cost?
NS: It’s in the half-billion dollar range. This is going to require a private-public partnership. There are federal programs that have provided significant levels of resources for protection of historic regions. Also, this is in New York City’s backyard, the farmland we’re protecting in Dutchess and Columbia counties is the breadbasket of the city. We’re already making tremendous progress and have so far saved 2,000 acres — 3,000 if you count the acres [obtained by] the other collaborators.
The conventional argument is that the region needs jobs and environmental preservation gets in the way of that. Has that conversation changed?
NS: I was a founding member of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation (HVEDC), whose mission is to promote the Hudson Valley for green economic development across the country and internationally. HVEDC conducted a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 corporate-executive site selection consultants and realty brokers. The survey is very telling: the assets most identified with the Hudson Valley were scenic beauty, nature, and quality of life. Just this spring, three solar companies announced they are planning to establish headquarters here. Those kinds of decisions tell me we’re having an impact by protecting the beauty of the area.
How did Scenic Hudson get started?
NS: We protected Storm King Mountain from a proposed power pumping station 36 years ago. It took 17 years to stop. In the second year of the battle, there was a pivotal court decision called the Scenic Hudson decision. It gave citizens who didn’t have a direct economic interest in a major government decision or corporate project the right to have a standing in court: to bring in expert witnesses, and introduce scientific information about the impact of a project on a natural resource.
Is that why Scenic Hudson is credited with launching the modern environmental movement?
NS: Yes. The Scenic Hudson decision is the cornerstone of the National Environmental Policy Act — this country’s seminal environmental statute. It requires environmental impact statements for projects that are federally sponsored or have federal permits. Dozens of states have passed environmental quality review acts, which require environmental impact statements and the government to ask the public what it thinks.
We’ve gone beyond that battle, and created 40 public parks and preserves. We’ve protected about 27,000 acres along the river. We’ve worked to clean up the river, whether it’s getting rid of PCBs or stopping the discharge of pollutants. We’ve participated in the campaigns to get the river designated as an American Heritage River by the president and for Congress to designate the entire Valley a National Heritage Area. We’re also a force in Albany, working to ensure our reps are looking out for the environment despite the difficult fiscal climate. Finally, we’re a major force in protecting farmland.
Photograph by Michael Polito
What role has Scenic Hudson played in the review of proposed developments?
NS: We’re a voice to ensure that environmental factors are considered, and that public access to the river is a part of the picture. We think that the cities are the right place for development to occur — thoughtfully planned, and with public input. The right kind of development strengthens our city centers and makes them great places to live and work.
What are the deciding factors in determining your involvement in a proposed development?
NS: The importance of the resources that are at risk, and the degree of threat. We can’t be everywhere.
What are the top three challenges in accomplishing this mission?
NS: First, the lack of a shared vision of what constitutes good development. We need a common understanding, a shared recognition to preserve what makes the Valley so unique and beautiful. Second is the lack of comprehensive plans and zoning. Communities need to implement the local waterfront redevelopment plans that identify the areas that should be protected from a natural resources, cultural, and historic perspective, as well as the areas where development should occur, and put zoning in place. This provides the guidance, but communities have to implement it. So the final thing is coming up with the political will to ensure that development occurs where it’s supposed to.
What spurred your interest in environmental issues?
NS: I was born in Yonkers and grew up playing in the streets. When I was in fifth grade, my family moved to northern Westchester, and I had woods and streams in my backyard. I went away to school in the Berkshires, to Williams College, and flourished, hiking in the mountains and cross-country skiing. That’s where I first got involved in environmental work. There was a development project proposed for the flanks of Mount Greylock, which would have put a scar on the side of Massachusetts’ highest mountain. The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group had an office right on campus, so I got involved in fighting the project.
While earning your degree in environmental science from the Yale School of Forestry, you were also pursuing a business degree from the School of Management. That’s a little unusual. What opportunities arose that utilized both types of training?
NS: I got a job in the banking business immediately after graduate school, where I was helping to finance renewable energy projects in New England. I also developed a financial strategy for cleaning up Boston Harbor. It was a multibillion-dollar undertaking. We had to write the legislation to create an agency whose mission was to clean up the harbor by building wastewater infrastructure.
How did you find your way back to the Hudson Valley?
NS: I became the deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation and oversaw New York State’s hazardous waste clean-up program. Then I was recruited to become the environmental commissioner for the state of Maine. In the process I met my wife. I moved to Maine, a year later she followed, and then we had a child and a stepdaughter. After four years, my wife said, “Let’s go back to the Hudson Valley.” We wanted to raise our child close to family. We came back and I went to work for Scenic Hudson. My wife, Tara, is the executive director of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial.
Where do you live?
NS: In Red Hook.
What’s your favorite spot on the river?
NS: I’d say Poets’ Walk [in Red Hook]. When I came down from Maine and was trying to decide whether I was going to work for Scenic Hudson, I went to Poets’ Walk. That really inspired me.
How do you spend your free time?
NS: I love to bicycle, cross-country ski, and spend time with my family. My daughter comes to a lot of Scenic Hudson’s events.
Do you think that badly conceived development will ever cease to be a threat?
NS: No. But we can dream that there will actually be a master plan for the Valley, where there would be agreement on what should be protected and where development should occur; and what kind of development would maintain the historic character [of the region] and make people want to come here, making this an incredible tourist destination.
Photograph by Michael Polito
Q&A with Martin Ginsburg
President and CEO, Ginsburg Development Companies
In your view, what makes Harbors at Haverstraw a showcase project?
Martin Ginsburg: This is the only master-plan waterfront currently under construction (as far as I know) on the Hudson River; it’s almost two miles of waterfront. We worked with the village and it took four years to develop the master plan. This was an abandoned industrial site. Before we were involved, the site had been proposed as a compost and recycling facility.
Do prospective buyers realize what a great location this is?
MG: We still have to be discovered. A major undersell is that Haverstraw does not have a good reputation. It still has crime, but we’re going to end up with a lot of charm. We’re improving it a lot.
We’re completely redoing Main Street. We acquired two buildings, one of which is the Stone Building on Broad Street. We’ve totally renovated it, and Rockland Community College has an extension center in the building. We also acquired a five-and-dime building and have completely renovated the façade. We’re soliciting to bring in a retail occupant. We have a commitment to build 180 affordable units. We’ve worked with HOGAR Inc., a local affordable housing advocate, [to contribute money to renovate] 30 existing homes.
In 2000, you also helped to initiate ferry service from Haverstraw to the train station in Ossining. How important is that to the project?
MG: It’s the key to the whole thing. Right now the ferry is used by 500 to 600 people a day. We had another ferry running from here to Yonkers and then down to Wall Street, but the funding for that one is being cut off. We hope to get it reactivated at some point.
What is the potential of the river, in your view?
MG: We appreciate the beauty, the history, and the uniqueness of the Hudson River. We have 20 million people living in proximity to the river, of whom a fraction actually enjoys it.
What are the main challenges in building developments in this region?
MG: Long-term vision is solely lacking throughout the Hudson River Valley. It’s pathetic how such a major resource is totally neglected. Everything is done piecemeal. There’s the potential to have tourists go up the river. But today, even if you have a luxury boat, you hardly have any places to stop, and when you get there, there’s nothing there. You have to create destinations, a string of pearls on the Hudson River, to drive a major multibillion dollar tourist industry that would help activate river towns.
But isn’t Harbors a residential development? Why would a tourist want to go there?
MG: Tourists would want to explore the public access waterfront trail. We’re going to have 20 historic markers, and we are placing sculptures along the walkway. Our vision is to extend this so that all [river] communities pick up some aspect of sculpture on the river. Combined with Dia:Beacon and Storm King [Art Center], you could have the largest outdoor museum in the world.
Another aspect is boat access. The plan includes a pier that would handle ferries and cruise ships. And we’re planning a major restaurant and inn. We have a deal with Buzzy O’Keefe, one of New York’s top restaurateurs, to do this. With New York City greeting 46 million tourists a year, a lot of them would be coming up the river if we had destinations in place.
Any other projects you’re planning that could tie in with tourism?
MG: We have a project we’re hoping to do in Ossining, if the economy improves. It is potentially a kick-off site for one of these pearls on the Hudson River. A number of defunct businesses were on the site. Potentially it’s a major tourist destination, with the [proposed] Sing Sing Museum. I’ve been advocating for that. There are also plans for a riverfront park. The ferry pier is already operating.
Most river towns don’t have this focus of how important the river is as a generator for their local economy. There should be a river-wide vision. On the environmental side, Scenic Hudson is working on that.
I believe everything they stand for, except their vision is defense, and this requires offense. You have to say you’re doing more, not less. They don’t like to see new development. They have a tendency to say, “Let’s make it all green.” You take these old industrial sites, which were once the economic vitality of the town, and you put in green lawns and parking lots. Towns made into parks that are totally underutilized for the most part.
I think they consider us a good developer, but that’s like a Democrat saying someone’s a good Republican, or vice versa.
Photograph by Michael Polito
When it comes to the right type of design for new developments on the river, there’s a lot of emphasis on New Urbanism, a style of architecture that promotes mixed-use, walkable, energy-efficient communities. What’s your opinion?
MG: It’s so easy to screw up development on the river. Tarrytown has a new development right now [Hudson Harbor], and the style of architecture is New Urbanist. Well, there’s New Urbanist and river architecture. There’s a difference. I would not put a downtown on the river. River architecture is more playful and lighter. It’s easy to blow it.
How do you try not to blow it?
MG: I’m an architect, and we’ve always been an environmentally sensitive developer. We are always conscious of doing things contextually. Our objective is to fit appropriate development in a particular location.
Are you a native New Yorker?
MG: Yes, I was born in the Bronx. We moved to Queens and I commuted back to the Bronx to go to the Bronx High School of Science. I’m a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I moved to New Mexico for two or three years, then I came back to New York and worked as an architect.
How did you become a developer?
MG: I have a brother who’s an attorney, and another brother who’s an architect. We chipped in and bought a lot, and built a house, in Westchester County. We sold it in 1964 and that was our start. We have a lot of income properties we’ve developed over the years as well.
Do you live on the Hudson River?
MG: I live in Dobbs Ferry, overlooking the river. I’ve been enjoying living on the river for some time. I built my first condo on the esplanade in northwestern Yonkers in the 1960s, and I moved in.
What was it about the river that appealed to you originally?
MG: I saw it as beautiful and neglected. There were a lot of people working on the purification of the river. What we have to focus on is making this river work again, for the benefit of the residents and the entire state. Let’s get the river towns focused on working together. New York is a very parochial state. Towns don’t talk to each other.
How are you helping change that?
MG: Every year I promote Flower Villages on the Hudson. I donate money to every village to help them put flowers out, and then I have a landscape architect who inspects every village. We award first, second, and third prizes. I picked this idea up in Europe. France has unbelievable flower villages. If we can get to that quality of life, it would be tremendous.
Do you have a favorite spot on the river?
MG: Wherever I go, I’m amazed at this river. It’s different in every location. I’m a Hudson River fanatic. You have all these unique aspects and most people who live here don’t even know it. I would love to be able to hike along the river; you can do that in portions, but not along its entire length.
Do you travel a lot?
MG: I do. I go to the Caribbean, Switzerland, and Italy. I like to walk and hike. If a place is beautiful and I’m with my wife, that’s all I need.
And that’s what you would like to happen here? Have a beautiful place that’s walkable?
MG: Yes, that’s usable, that people can come and enjoy and, quite frankly, see people as part of the scenery. It enhances the experience when you see people.
Next up: Recent open space victories, new developments — and the projects that scored on our “A” and “F” lists
Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson
Recent Open Space Victories
Black Creek Preserve
Town of Esopus, Ulster
This little-known preserve on the western shore of the Hudson consists of 130 acres of lovely woods intersected by Black Creek, one of the few Hudson feeders that hasn’t been degraded by pollution. Near the trailhead is an unusual suspension bridge over the creek, and after passing several vernal pools — small bodies of water that are incubators for amphibians — the trail winds down to a beach littered with skipping stones. On a recent visit, a pair of pileated woodpeckers flitted among some tall evergreens, waves gently broke along the beach, and fishing boats floated placidly on the river.
Scenic Hudson acquired the land in 1992 and opened it to the public in 1999. “It’s a wonderful place for families,” said Steve Rosenberg, senior vice president of Scenic Hudson and executive director of the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc. “Young kids don’t like a boring straight trail. They prefer lots of nooks and crannies and interesting twists and turns,” such as they’ll find at Black Creek. An unsullied view of the Hyde Park estates across the river is another attractive feature.
The park is part of the Black Creek Wetlands Complex, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation identified as a conservation priority in its Draft 2009 Open Space Conservation Plan. It provides habitat for the threatened northern cricket frog and is an important area for breeding and migrating waterfowl, as well as river otters. The park is located off Route 9W, adjacent to Winding Brook Acres cottages.
Roosevelt Farm Lane
Hyde Park, Dutchess
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home and Library is a national park and one of the most visited attractions in the Hudson Valley. A proposed shopping mall, which was to be located directly across the road, prompted Scenic Hudson to purchase the 334-acre site in 2004. The property was subsequently transferred to the National Park Service, and is now open to the public, serving as a pedestrian link to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat.
The land was once owned by FDR, who planted it with experimental tree plots (the president had an abiding interest in agriculture and silvaculture). The nearly two-mile-long road he traveled to reach Eleanor’s house has been restored. There weren’t enough funds to fix the old bridge (designed and built by Roosevelt), so the park service constructed a new one over the creek. The original survives, however, and can be viewed by visitors.
The village of Tivoli, a collection of charming houses, restaurants, and businesses heavily patronized by the nearby Bard College community, extends all the way to the Hudson. Long ago, there was a bulkhead along the shore where boats could tie-up, providing residents with access to the river. But half a century ago — when the rail lines began deploying faster trains on the riverside tracks — the shore became off-limits, according to Tivoli Mayor Tom Cordier. “We’ve had a waterfront committee for almost 20 years looking to reconnect the village with the waterfront and rebuild the bulkhead,” he said.
Now it’s about to happen. Within the next few months, the village will close on the purchase of two-and-a-half riverside acres from CSX. Scenic Hudson is footing the $40,000 bill, and the village is seeking grants from the New York Department of State, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and other state agencies to pay for construction of the bulkhead, a fence, benches, a small parking lot, and other improvements, which Cordier estimates will cost from $3-$4 million.
The fence will protect children and pets from the railroad tracks, and the plan includes floating docks. The two-and-a-half acre park is emblematic of numerous initiatives underway by Scenic Hudson to acquire or improve municipal land along the river, as part of its Save the Land That Matters Most campaign. Tivoli is one of five Hudson River communities that have received funds, ranging from $35,000 to $350,000, from Scenic Hudson for creation of a park or enhancement of an existing one.
Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson
Owned by the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society, these 48 acres of forest and wetlands just received permanent protection through a conservation easement secured by Scenic Hudson and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Bordering Route 9 in the Highlands, the land is contiguous with other properties protected by easements, including Saunders Farm, a working farm whose annual art installations and square dances have become a center for the Garrison/Philipstown community. A trail crossing the farm will be extended across the sanctuary, with access provided off Route 9. The sanctuary consists of wetlands and forested slopes rising to a ridge. It has abundant bird life, and a bear has been sighted within the vicinity, according to Andy Chmar, executive director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.
Chmar said the Watergrass Sanctuary fills in the missing link of a huge tract of land which is forever protected from development, and preserves the view shed from surrounding parks, including Bear Mountain and Storm King. Hence its preservation is critical to maintaining the rural, wild character of the scenic Highlands, a region of the river that for generations was known as “America’s Rhine.”
The sanctuary land was donated to the National Audubon Society by the de Rham family in 1980 and transferred to the local Audubon Society chapter. Chmar noted that the area is a very desirable place to live and therefore is under a lot of development pressure, which makes establishment of the sanctuary all the more critical. “We want to ensure it remains an accessible, publicly protected landscape,” he said.
Riverside charm: New townhomes with Victorian details at Cold Spring Landing
Photograph courtesy of Unicorn Contracting Corp.
Developments In the News
Cold Spring Landing, Cold Spring
The block of 10 townhomes on the Cold Spring waterfront was completed just over a year ago, but you’d never know it. With their gabled roofs, dormers, Victorian porches, bay windows, turrets and large chimneys, these brick-and-wood-sided houses, arrayed in a row hugging the sidewalk, look a hundred years old. Stylistically, the development fits in perfectly with the quaint architecture and early 19th-century townscape of the surrounding village. The houses are a few steps away from a waterfront gazebo and pier and a block away from the train station, which whisks commuters to Manhattan in just over an hour.
The site, a former lumberyard, presented a rare opportunity to develop in a village center on the waterfront, notes developer Paul Guillaro, the president of Unicorn Contracting Corp., based in Garrison. It’s also in a historic district. “We worked with the village and their historical board and planning board,” he said — a process that included determining the existing sightlines on the street so that the new buildings could be properly aligned. He also was required to use natural products — cedar instead of cement-board or vinyl siding, cooper details, wood-framed windows with divided panes — which was very costly. As we go to press, three of the waterfront townhouses have sold for over $1 million; the remainder are being rented. Guillaro says he’s sure they all would have sold if the economy hadn’t taken a nosedive.
Hudson Landing, Kingston
After six years of review, AVR Realty’s proposal to build what would be the largest waterfront development on the Hudson River got environmental approval from the Kingston Planning Board in April. Located on the former site of a cement plant and limestone quarry, Hudson Landing will consist of 1,682 units — a combination of single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments, along with retail shops, a restaurant, and other commercial buildings.
Public input by community and historic preservation groups, environmental organizations, and — especially — Scenic Hudson (which, along with other organizations, proposed an alternative plan) led to many changes in the original proposal, which would have created massive suburban sprawl along the Hudson shoreline. The approved project has been significantly downsized — though critics say it’s still too big — and will consist of two New Urbanist-style villages separated by a wide swath of parkland and fronted by a mile-long waterfront promenade. The buildings will be laid out in a grid, with the architecture reflecting traditional local styles.
A forested ridge will be protected (instead of covered with houses, as called for in the original plan), to some extent preserving the views from the river. A proposed marina has been scrapped in favor of a launching area for kayaks and other nonmotorized craft. There is also a plan to provide shuttle service to the Rhinecliff train station, which is located across the river near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.
The New Urbanist redesign requires a zoning change, after which AVR will submit a site plan to the planning board for the first phase, which will be for 200 to 300 units. Dan Simone, director of engineering and planning for the Yonkers-based firm, said construction could begin next year, depending on the market. He said AVR would be targeting empty-nesters, second-home buyers, and commuters in its marketing efforts. Simone said that this is the first New Urbanist project undertaken by AVR, which also developed the Waterfront at Fishkill. Asked whether the New Urbanist plan would result in a cost savings, he responded, “We don’t see it. What you save in site work, you make up in increased costs in finishing. You’re pretty much breaking even from a cost perspective.”
An urban retreat: Harbors at Haverstraw offers luxe amenities and river views
Photograph courtesy of GDC
Harbors at Haverstraw, Haverstraw
An abandoned industrial site at Haverstraw now boasts splashing fountains and immaculately landscaped grounds, courtesy of Harbors at Haverstraw, which, when completed, will be comprised of 500 townhomes and condominiums commanding a stunning view of the Hudson River. More than half of the buildings have been completed, with units selling from $250,000 to more than $1 million (for a waterfront view).
The grid layout suggests a New Urbanist plan. But developer Martin Ginsburg, of Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC), says his project deploys a lighter, more whimsical style of architecture, including turrets, miniature lighthouses, and other fanciful details. Harbors combines the pleasures of a resort with the convenience of urban living. Residents have access to a pool, fitness center, lounge, and café/restaurant. They can also catch the ferry to the train station at Ossining.
The development is within walking distance of the village of Haverstraw, whose depressed downtown is getting a face-lift with funds provided by GDC and state and federal grants. GDC has worked with the municipality to create a master plan for two miles of waterfront, which includes a public walkway, a parking garage lined with small storefronts, a pier accommodating both ferries and river cruise ships, a marina, restoration of a small estuary preserve, and affordable housing units in the village. GDC has also installed several large sculptures and a historic plaque along the walkway at Harbors, the beginnings of an art and history path that Ginsburg hopes will attract tourists.
Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, Towns of Shandaken and Middletown
In one of the most highly contested developments in recent years, Crossroads Ventures LLC is proposing to build two large hotels, 139 townhouses, and 120 timeshare units — a total of 629 units — adjacent to the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center, in the heart of the Catskills. One of the hotels would include a luxury spa, and the other would be oriented toward families. A conference center and 18-hole golf course are included in the plan, which would span two mountainsides. A new trail and chairlift that the state could construct up the neighboring ski center would be in close proximity to some of the units, enabling guests to ski from their rooms. First proposed a decade ago, the resort has been altered and downsized after conservation groups — many formed just to fight the development — objected to the impacts of construction on the Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies water to New York City. That opposition prompted the state, under the administration of former governor Eliot Spitzer, to form an agreement with the developer in which it would purchase the 1,200 acres slated for development in the Ashokan watershed and preserve it; the developer agreed to move that portion of the project to a new site on Highmount mountain, reducing the number of units slightly and clustering them more tightly in a new design. Crossland Ventures also agreed to design the buildings to green standards and eliminate, or at least reduce, the use of pesticides on the golf course.
Supporters say the project would be a showcase for green development and create desperately needed jobs in the area, which a century ago was a popular tourist destination. Vocal opponents — who have organized into several active community groups — contend it would result in traffic congestion, destruction of a mountaintop, creation of an eyesore in a forest preserve, and degradation of the pristine water resources that feed the New York City reservoirs.
The state DEC, which is in charge of the review, is requiring the developer to submit a supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the 75 acres of new development on Highmount. A spokesperson said Crossroads Ventures planned to submit the document this summer. The DEC did not return phone calls asking about the status of the state land purchase and ski center improvements; calls to Crossroads Ventures were also not returned.
Eco-friendly Dooley Square is a fine example of adaptive reuse, says Scenic Hudson
Photograph by Frank Roberts
Rating the Developments: Scenic Hudson Weighs In
The “A” List: Models of Excellence
Dooley Square in Poughkeepsie. This complex of businesses and restaurants gets high marks for its adaptive reuse of an old industrial building, its downtown location adjacent to the train station, its utilization of geothermal energy for heating, and its mixture of uses, according to Jeff Anzevino, assistant director of land use advocacy at Scenic Hudson.
Hudson Park in Yonkers. The two-phase development includes a series of nine- to 14-story buildings appropriately scaled for the city. The location — between the ferry terminal and the train station — is ideal, and the site incorporates both residential and commercial uses. It fronts a public walkway on the waterfront, and has a small park. “It’s a perfect example of an infill project on vacant industrial land,” says Anzevino. “The land was going to waste; now it’s housing people and putting people to work.”
Hudson Harbor in Tarrytown. Located on a former industrial site, this neo-traditional development of condos and four-story townhouses fits in with the existing community. The buildings — which utilize geothermal energy and environmentally friendly materials — are within walking distance of the train station and ferry dock. And they border a waterfront walkway and park created by Scenic Hudson, which worked with the developer on the plan.
Newburgh Waterfront Plan. The city selected Leyland Alliance, based in Tuxedo Park, to develop a 30-acre “dead zone” created by urban renewal in the 1960s. In essence, Leyland’s New Urbanist plan will rebuild the missing city and connect the restaurants on the waterfront to Broadway and the Orange County Community College campus. It will consist of a variety of townhouses, condos, and apartments — including affordable units — as well as commercial buildings and public spaces. More than two years in the making, the plan is currently awaiting the necessary financing, which has been delayed by the economic downturn. Leyland Alliance also is the developer for Warwick Grove, a traditional-neighborhood residential complex in Warwick that also gets top grades from Scenic Hudson.
The “F” List: Detriments to the Landscape
Corbin Hill, Fort Montgomery. Located just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, this sprawling housing development on a hillside in the Hudson Highlands is a jarring note. The removal of trees, naked lawns, the drab color of the buildings, and uninspiring architecture intrude on a landscape that’s recognized as one of the state’s most scenic areas (it is adjacent to Palisades Interstate Park and within sight of the Appalachian Trail).
Plum Point on Hudson, New Windsor. Begun in the 1980s, the final phase of this massive housing development is nearing completion. The rows of barracks-like housing, plunked atop an engineered slope that shows evidence of erosional scars, overlooks the Hudson, destroying the views along the river. “The buildings are all white and totally monolithic,” says Anzevino. (He notes that another riverside development, Riverview Condominiums in Port Ewen, also misses the mark for being conspicuous and ugly.) Open space is lacking, and the development is isolated from existing communities, resulting in more cars on the road.
“Death by 1,000 Cuts.” This term was used by writer and Hudson River environmentalist Robert Boyle to refer to the construction of single-family houses, “the small-scale developments that have a huge impact collectively,” as Anzevino puts it. The building of a house here, a house there is the most insidious threat; it eventually results in many trees being cut down. Open Space Institute President Joe Martens notes that, in his 14 years of riding Amtrak between Albany and New York City, he’s observed a huge increase in the number of single-family units on the ridges overlooking the river. The trend “detracts from the attractiveness of the Valley for everyone not living in those houses,” he says. “And it’s happening right now. New construction sites are cropping up that are highly visible.”