Shea Says PCNR Story a Political Ploy

Rebuts assertions about Open Space property in Garrison

By Kevin E. Foley

Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, running unopposed in next week’s Nov. 5 election, sharply criticized a Putnam County News and Recorder (PCNR) story by reporter Tim Greco in this week’s edition of that publication.

Richard Shea Photo by Frank Famularo

Richard Shea
Photo by Frank Famularo

In an interview with The Paper Oct. 30, which he sought, Shea said the Greco story was “composed of misinformation intended to muddy the waters right before Election Day.” He further described the article as an “obvious political ploy on the part of the PCNR.”

The PCNR story in question suggested that a new air of controversy now surrounded the recent approval by the Town’s Planning Board of a subdivision of a 60-acre property owned by the Open Space Institute (OSI) into three 20-acre lots. The property known as Glynclffe contains the historic Hamilton Fish mansion.

Among other things, the article states, “at issue is whether the approval of a subdivision of three lots for residential housing was fast tracked by the Philipstown Town Planning Board.”

While Shea had no direct role in the approval, the chairman of the Planning Board, Michael Leonard, is a running mate of Shea’s as a candidate for a Town Board seat. John Van Tassel, running for re-election as a council member, is the third member of the Democratic team.

Lee Erickson (Republican-Conservative) and Cathy Sapeta (Conservative) are also running for the two open council positions.

Shea was incensed at the implication that the Planning Board approval was anything other than appropriate in both its public six-month process and its adherence to the town’s zoning code which required that the OSI property be divided into no less than 20-acre lots. He also expressed exasperation at the article’s failure to offer clear evidence that there was in fact real community controversy attached to the issue.

Greco cited a nameless Facebook posting, which began “Something is rotten in Philipstown” as proof that there was upset in the community. The article also said Facebook “lit up” in the aftermath of the PCNR debate on Oct. 21, where this issue did first surface. However, a review by The Paper of the Facebook thread Greco references revealed as much controversy over his attempts to introduce and argue the issue on the local FB page than the actual Planning Board issue itself.

At the PCNR debate the issue arose only because reporter Annie Chesnut asked the candidates for Town Board if the OSI application had been fast-tracked. She prefaced her question with the statement: “The Hamilton Fish Mansion is in danger of being destroyed.” In reply Leonard said the OSI application had been thoroughly reviewed in the same way another 18 applications had been during his tenure as a member and then chairman of the Planning Board. He described the review process, including site visits, in detail.

Shea said no one had come forward during the Planning Board process to raise objections to the approval and that no one had contacted him since it was approved Aug. 18. Shea has a well-established reputation for granting meetings with local citizens with complaints.

The Greco article infers that the approval of “a subdivision for residential housing” means an actual construction project is imminent. He also compared unfavorably the OSI approval with the planning review process for the proposed Butterfield project in Cold Spring. He writes in part: “The fate of the former Hamilton Fish mansion is in stark contrast to what is happening in Cold Spring at the Butterfield development, where many in the community seemed resolved to cling to the decrepit former Butterfield Hospital, which, in its current form, has notably less historic significance (than the Fish Mansion).”

Shea was bewildered by this comparison pointing out that no building permits have been sought on any of the three OSI parcels nor have the parcels even been sold. And he said further that no one has suggested anything about the Fish Mansion let alone that its “fate” had somehow been determined. He also said that the Butterfield project, which involves significant proposed construction, is a matter before the Village of Cold Spring government and comes under the village’s zoning code and Planning Board, not the town’s.

Loss of ball field

A related issue raised by the Greco article is any potential change to or loss of the ball fields on the one-acre property behind the town recreation center. The acre sits on one of the now 20-acre lots owned by OSI. The anonymous FB post Greco cited asked the question, after quoting from the OSI’s mission statement: “How does building two mansions for the rich and taking away open outdoor space used by the Rec. department help sustain the community, offer public enjoyment and conserve habitat?”

“Let’s not forget that OSI gave the town the 30,000-square-foot recreation center building and the 22 acres the center is on as well as the 18-acre town park just up the road. They have been incredibly generous to the town. We wouldn’t have the recreation program we do without OSI,” said Shea, noting that Greco made no mention of these OSI gifts to the town.

Lee Erickson, during the PCNR debate, as noted by Greco, did raise the possible loss of the ball field as a matter of concern and said, “I thought it should have been brought to the public a little more.” Although he complained about what he calls the “echo chamber” of having five Democrats on the town board, Erickson did not criticize the actual Planning Board process or the approval of sub-dividing OSI’s private property.

Shea said people should not assume the ball fields are lost and that he and the rest of the Town Board will be following the issue closely and will be communicating regularly with OSI.

16 thoughts on “Shea Says PCNR Story a Political Ploy

  1. Bravo, Supervisor Shea for once again talking straight and laying out the facts, and kudos to Kevin Foley and The Paper for sticking to the facts and eschewing innuendo.

  2. Just out of curiosity, if I had asked the Town Board last November if there were “any plans” for a subdivision, would the answer have been yes? So, as of right now, there are no “plans” for the recreation field, but how about on November 6? I think it time that everyone has a frank discussion about the “non-profit” motives in Philipstown.

  3. I’m a parent of a child who goes to after-school care and summer camp at the Philipstown Recreation Center. I’m very curious what you mean by “Currently, there are no plans to alter that field,” which in my mind does not guarantee this field will not be altered in the future. I feel that is a very vague piece of information that can be changed after the election. What steps do you plan to take to “secure” continued use of the field? I think this is all information voters have a right to know prior to election day.

  4. If memories in town are too fleeting, just re-read the article to be reminded that the reason we even have the Rec facilities we do is through the generosity of OSI, and the reason the facilities and services remain so affordable is because our Town government, led by Supervisor Shea, has kept taxes low and services high through hard work and smart budgeting and planning. Attempts to create controversy out of nothing are frankly an insult to the hard work of our Town council and the generosity of OSI. Stick to the facts, know history, and stop empty conspiracy theorizing about good people who work hard for so many.

  5. Is this what we call journalism these days….nameless Facebook posting? Greco cited a nameless Facebook posting, which began “Something is rotten in Philipstown” as proof that there was upset in the community.

  6. Not sure how raising important questions about the Philipstown Recreation facilities and a subdivision at its doorstep is a political ploy? This seems like an issue that should be important to everyone, regardless of politics.

  7. I couldn’t agree with Mr. Plummer more. If anyone has a problem with the “elected” officials or the boards in general they have every right to criticize, but base it on fact, not conspiracy theories.

    All Planning Board meetings are video recorded and you can FOIL a copy at the Town Hall. Yes, you can go back in time and see exactly how the process worked and determine for yourself if the process was followed correctly. Another important “fact” is that both the PCNR and Philipstown.Info/The Paper are present at and report on the Planning Board Meetings. If the demolition of the Fish Mansion or construction of any kind was discussed don’t you think it would have made a sensational headline that week? Or maybe both papers are also complicit in this cover-up? The plot thickens!

  8. According to the minutes of June 20, “Mr. Watson said that the property is not Rec Center property. He said that the reason the line is where it is, is because he had not actually seen evidence with the discussion of there having been a historic landscape associated with the Fish mansion and they wanted the ability to create a landscape that would enhance the view of the Fish mansion. Mr. Watson said that is the reason why this property was not part of the rec center. He said that this is under contract with Lostand Foundation and in all likelihood at some point in the future, the Lostand Foundation will expand and they’ll be very little change on the outside.

    “Ms. Martin said that the use for the Philipstown Rec Department may diminish. Mr. Watson said that it may, yes.”

    That leaves the specific question of the mansion. Is it going to be saved?

  9. Mr. Plummer made some very valid points regarding remembering history. I do remember this parcel of land being a major significant issue of discussion when a developer wanted to put in senior housing and build a number of new buildings. I do remember that with the assistance of Scenic Hudson/OSI the community rallied against building. I do remember OSI benefited by purchasing the parcel, as they have most of the property along the Hudson from Yonkers to Albany. I do remember and recognize the contribution OSI has made to the community. I do remember that for the most part, most of the OSI property is off the tax rolls and contributes to my overall tax burden. I do remember and recognize that OSI is a not-for-profit, multimillion dollar business that turns a profit to stay in business. I do remember that this is OSI’s property, like those that owned it before them. I don’t remember hearing about the OSI subdivision proposal before the Greco article. Why? Maybe it’s just me?

  10. Let us advance the facts and not be distracted by personal attacks to people or the local media. Open Space Institute plays a large role in our town, and as such, it should not be exempted from scrutiny, critic or applause when warranted.

    No sacred cows in our town, or overreaction when it is the subject of discussion. I am okay if OSI adheres to its stated charter. However, if it diverts from its declared goals, we not only want to know about it, but as a taxpaying citizens of Philipstown you and I have the right to learn the how, when and why.

  11. According to the foundation’s 2012 990 filing with the IRS, the Lostand Foundation is a Jonathan Rose (Garrison Institute) foundation that had about $14.5 million in assets at the end of 2012. These funds are distributed primarily to environmental groups. I had never heard of this foundation until now either.

  12. The real story here is that the people who are OSI have enabled my family, and our families, to play in the gym and on the fields where I once played as a boy, under the auspices of the Capuchins. This group of people and their organization was able to do so because of the vision, cooperation and leadership of the members our recent Town Boards. Similarly spectacular has been the generosity of the Rose family to this community, in creating a spiritual center that continues a century of spiritualism and retreat, by our sacred river and in our beloved landscapes, in continuum with the spirit of the original gift to the Capuchins.

    And it was the heroic act of Fr. Bernard Smith of the Capuchins, that deeded these fields to these stewards of the land, instead of selling to a developer who planned a large housing project. Through many acts of generosity, we now have playing fields and a Rec Center. This is the real history of Philipstown, a history of myriad examples of giving, in the spirit of stewardship.

  13. What I find amazing is the lack of objectivity on the part of the PCNR. Is its goal to “stir up the crazies” to divide our community the same way Roger Ailes is trying to divide our nation?