Shea reports on talks with County Executive and Guillaro on Butterfield

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

In a low-key but detail-laden meeting on a hot night, the Philipstown Town Board Wednesday (July 17) considered seeking a $700,000 grant for the Hudson Fjord Trail and discussed the proposed Butterfield redevelopment, in which the town government has both a strong interest and limited jurisdiction.

Updating his colleagues on the latest trail project initiatives, Supervisor Richard Shea asked them to “think about this a little bit” before a vote later this month on submitting the application. According to the supervisor, Philipstown would be the main applicant for the grant, to fund improvements to two small parking areas on Route 9D, one across from Little Stony Point and the other near the Breakneck Trail access point, and for related trail work. Anticipated cost for this portion of the overall project is $1.27 million, Shea said.

Vehicles line Route 9D near hiking trail access points. Photo by Mike Armstrong
Vehicles line Route 9D near hiking trail access points. Photo by Mike Armstrong

Paralleling the Hudson River and Metro-North tracks, the Hudson Fjord Trail would run from Cold Spring to Beacon (and perhaps eventually south from Cold Spring and across the river) to provide a safe route to walkers and bicyclists, currently forced to use the road or narrow shoulder next to speeding cars. At present, some pedestrians, especially children, also take the dangerous approach of walking along the railroad tracks.

Shea said a grant application is due Aug. 12 to New York state. As he explained, the grant itself would be for $700,000; anonymous donors have pledged $575,000 in matching money through the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, and the town and its five likely partners would have to provide $90,000 as their contribution.

Rather than cold cash, the latter could be “in-kind” contributed services, such as use of town equipment or personnel. “Even though it’s in-kind, it still comes down to money,” acknowledged Shea, who has already devoted hours to the trail project himself. “It always comes down to money.” At the same time, he added, given the size of the grant, “if you’re going to pass up well over $90,000, you’re missing a big opportunity.”

“We will reap the benefits, a lot,” by pursuing the grant, Councilor John Van Tassel commented.

The route of the proposed Fjord Trail parallels the Hudson River and railroad tracks, past such sights as Bannerman's Island. Photo by L.S. Armstrong
The route of the proposed Fjord Trail parallels the Hudson River and railroad tracks, past such sights as Bannerman’s Island. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Other government jurisdictions likely to share the $90,000 obligation are Cold Spring, whose Village Board passed a resolution July 9 backing the grant application; Beacon; Town of Fishkill, Dutchess County, and Putnam County.  Shea said he also would approach Nelsonville’s board about joining in. “We’re not going it alone. We can’t come up with $90,000” singlehandedly, he said. But if all the area governments pitch in, “it seems doable.”

Shea said that Metro-North Railroad and the State Department of Transportation (DOT) have been involved in trail planning, with the bulk of the work undertaken so far by ad hoc groups of local citizens, environmental groups, and government officials. Metro-North wants people to use the railroad and the DOT wants to keep traffic moving on Route 9D, Shea said. “And everybody wants to do it safely. It could benefit everybody” to have the trail.

Councilor Nancy Montgomery urged, as part of future informational drive, a campaign through Metro-North “to get people to use the train to get there. It’s very exciting,” she said of the whole project.

Shea said that a state decision on awarding the grant should come this fall and that if Philipstown and its partners are successful, “you could see some of the things happening next year” as work gets underway.

Butterfield project

Shea also reported on a private meeting held earlier that day in which he and Montgomery discussed the proposed Butterfield Hospital redevelopment with Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, Cold Spring Mayor Ralph Falloon, and Butterfield owner-developer Paul Guillaro.

The purpose was “just to see where Butterfield stands right now,” Shea said. He noted that the proposed rezoning, necessary for Guillaro’s planned complex, is working its way through the Cold Spring Planning Board. “That’s out of the town’s bailiwick,” he said of the rezoning and government approval process on Butterfield.

He and Montgomery both emphasized that because the old hospital property is in Cold Spring, the village government is in charge. Guillaro plans a complex with a town-county-village headquarters and space for a post office, retiree-age condominiums, three single-family homes, and commercial-retail square, with – local senior citizens and their supporters hope – a senior citizen center in the mix, too.

“Our concern is for the seniors – where do the seniors fit in,” Shea said. Since 2010, the town has backed the concept of a governmental presence at Butterfield and its commitment to getting a senior citizen facility hasn’t wavered, he said.

Likewise, he said he wants “to consolidate the courts.” Cold Spring, Philipstown, and Nelsonville each maintains its own justice court and there has been talk at the town level and beyond for several years for merging them into one court, under a common roof, to save money and avoid duplication.

Montgomery recalled that the town has been consistently interested in space at Butterfield. However, she reiterated, the town government has no legal role in the planning-oversight or rezoning. “I want to know where the county stands and where the village stands and what the process is,” she said.

“We need to work with the county,” Shea said. “The village needs to work with the county. We all need to work together. The county executive is very committed to getting county services over here and doing something for seniors over here,” he said. If the county proceeds with providing senior-citizen services at Butterfield, “I think it behooves us to support it” and for the Village of Cold Spring to support it, he added.

Along with the benefits of a senior center and consolidated courts and upgraded government offices, “this could turn out to be revenue-positive,” Shea said. “It’s taxable.” A revenue-positive project generates more in local tax income than it costs in public services.

“You would hope,” remarked Councilor Dave Merandy, who said he is not committed to backing Guillaro’s planned project. Merandy also observed that the county executive does not constitute the entire county government and said he wants to know the county legislators’ views.

Montgomery pointed out that if the town leases space at Butterfield, as opposed to owning a municipal building, the structure containing the leased government space remains privately-owned “and it’s still all taxable property.”

Shea said he understands Merandy’s concerns but that Putnam’s legislators are hesitant to say much as long as such issues as the rezoning question are unresolved. “This is an opportunity to strike a balance,” with a good development, he said. “Something is going to go there,” on the Butterfield property, he warned. “People shouldn’t look at it and think this is all going to go away” if the proposed government-commercial-housing plan fails to win approval.

The Butterfield site is currently zoned B4, which allows medical-hospital uses as well as construction of a housing tract and a village-government office, but does not permit offices of higher levels of government or the form of mixed usage Guillaro’s plan envisions.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government