Endorses dirt roads, school merger study, fire and ambulance cooperation
Describing Philipstown as a “suburban community,” an 18-member volunteer committee last month presented its draft to the Town Board of a newly updated comprehensive plan that calls for preserving the town’s rural and natural resources while encouraging more diverse housing and studying the creation of a unified school district.
The draft, which was prepared over the past three years, is designed to guide planning over at least the next decade. It flows from the current plan, adopted in 2006, which prompted a thorough zoning code overhaul in 2011.
The 30-page document, available at philipstown2020.org, “is a starting point” for public discussion, the committee’s chair, Nat Prentice, told the board on Dec. 3. He opposed calling the draft an “update” because “we think we have the makings of a new plan.” It includes 149 action items, 34 strategies and 13 goals.
Some of its recommendations touch on past controversies.
For example, the draft encourages Philipstown to “explore further cooperation between emergency services, considering manpower needs.” Ten years ago, a study recommended consolidating the administration of the town’s four volunteer fire departments and two ambulance corps, generating fierce pushback.
The document also suggests the town explore “creating a unified Philipstown school district.” The Haldane, Garrison and Lakeland districts all serve parts of the town, and Haldane and Garrison are relatively small, with about 800 and 220 students, respectively. “Tax rates vary significantly between the districts,” it notes, advocating that the town “seek a fair and balanced tax strategy.”
The draft dips into the debate over dirt roads, recommending that Philipstown preserve them by employing “techniques and materials that enhance their safety, aesthetics, resilience and regeneration, without adversely impacting the environment.” Over the last decade, clashes occurred between the Town Board and residents, and among neighbors, when the board paved some stretches of dirt roads.
According to the plan, the issues facing the town “are at once very similar to and also very different from those” that confronted Philipstown 15 years ago, although the population has remained about the same, at just under 10,000.
“Preservation of the town’s residential character and natural condition are still of utmost importance, as is the protection of the town’s environmental features, especially the quality of our water,” it says.
The document places Philipstown squarely within the New York metropolitan region and says that “we don’t yet know if the spike in relocations of people leaving” the city because of the COVID-19 pandemic “will continue after the virus is controlled. We also don’t know whether working and schooling from home will become a permanent way of life in Philipstown.” But it’s clear, the draft states, online shopping “is transforming the American ‘downtown’ and affecting the actions local businesses must take to remain relevant and successful.”
The plan notes that tourism has increased exponentially over the last 15 years but that the allure of hiking areas along Route 9D north of Cold Spring has led to safety concerns and will require a “visitor-management strategy.”
Bordered by the Hudson River and crossed by mountains, Philipstown predates the American Revolution and covers 51.5 square miles. So far, the town “has retained its bucolic feel, low-density residential character and peaceful sense of place and connection,” the draft notes. “Preservation of these remains the focus” of the initiative. “Philipstown is a unique place characterized by great natural beauty, historic places, and a sense of small-town community. This uniqueness is fragile and could be lost through a rapid influx of development.”
The draft warns that rising housing costs — also mentioned as a concern in in the 2006 plan — could threaten Philipstown’s small-town character. Along with other remedies to increase the housing stock, it suggests the development of “accessory dwelling units” (small, independent living spaces, such as garage apartments, tiny cottages behind main residences, or “granny flats” added to a single-family homes) “allowed by right” (considered legal, although a permit and reviews may be necessary), as well as two-and three-family houses “with appropriate controls on location and impact”; mixed-use development that blends housing with commercial establishments; incentives for owners who provide affordable housing; and possibly policies to prevent the loss of diversified housing to short-term rentals.
Other goals include “integrated transportation” that reflects Philipstown’s “smart streets” program, which considers pedestrian and bicycle trips, sidewalks, and trails, as well as cars and highways; to promote farming; and to develop partnerships with neighboring municipalities.
Nat Prentice (chair)
Mary Kate Ephraim