Letters: Shakespeare Plans

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s plans for developing 90 acres of the Garrison Golf Club property include striking its Boscobel tent and replacing it with another, this one to be set permanently on the crown of the golf course ridgeline.

That, however, is but a small part of the HVSF vision to transform itself into a cultural center with the avowed goal of becoming a year-round regional attraction. Its 30-odd permanent structure plan is wildly out of physical proportion for Philipstown, intends to draw thousands of visitors each week and would eradicate forever a sweeping view of the Hudson, the Highlands and the Shawangunks.

The festival’s design plans, contained in documents sitting with the Philipstown Planning Board, include installation of a permanent theater tent on the ridgetop (seating 520); construction of a back-of-house building; construction of a year-round theater (seating 250); artist accommodations (about 20 structures); hotel accommodations (up to 40 rooms); continued operation of the bar and restaurant (about 40 tables); continued operation of the wedding/special event hall (200-plus capacity); and an outdoor pavilion.

There are also plans for a box office and welcome center; picnic lawns and gardens; a public park; administrative offices; restructuring and widening of the Snake Hill Road driveway and associated on-site bridge/culvert to 20 feet; reconfiguration of and additions to internal driveways (20-foot width); installation of additional parking (471 spaces); construction of a single-family residence; reduction of the golf course from 18 to nine holes; and relocation of the pro shop, cart barn and course parking to Snake Hill Road.

Analysis and discussion of the many details — traffic density and safety; noise pollution; light pollution; impact on flora, fauna, Philipse Brook and Constitution Marsh; pressure on the aquifer; handling of septic; loss of tax revenues caused by shifting 90 acres of taxable property to tax-exempt status — is taking place under the aegis of the Planning Board.

Love it or hate it, all of us in the community can agree that this is a very, very large project, and that it’s going to have consequences — planned and unintended — that will reverberate down the years.

It’s most unfortunate that with ramifications this extensive, it’s been ignored by this publication (nothing on the December Planning Board session, two site walks or the January special meeting devoted to this topic).

HVSF is a cultural gem, and our open space is irreplaceable. That is a tough nut. It’s hard to make good decisions on issues as complex and consequential as this one without knowing all the facts. What Abraham Lincoln (just turning 212, by the way) said to Stephen Douglas in 1858 is as true today as it was then: “In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything.”

I hope this paper is able at some point to locate for itself a role in assembling and delivering the facts and fresh developments as this most consequential of development plans unfolds.

 Tim Nolan, Garrison

Taliesin is the name of a sixth-century Welsh poet and bard. It means “shining brow,” which Frank Lloyd Wright used as a guiding principle when deciding where to place a building on a hill. Never on top. Always under the brow, so it fits comfortably and at ease with its neighbors — the trees and ridges and hills.

I hope and pray that the HVSF will listen to that good advice and not site their permanent new tent on top — like a carbuncle — of one of the most beautiful ridge lines in the eastern U.S. On that ridge line now sits the 11th hole of the Garrison golf course, with a glorious view looking north up the Hudson, to Storm King Mountain, and beyond, on a clear day, to the Catskills. If we have to lose one of the top 100 best-designed golf courses in the U.S., at least let us not desecrate the land while we’re at it.

HVSF promises to be sensitive. OK, HVSF. Please, live up that promise. Taliesin!

Robert Cutler, Garrison

I live about three minutes from the golf course. We have 38 acres here which we have made forever wild pursuant to a conservation easement and have struggled to preserve. It is probably the largest wetland in our area, teeming with all kinds of wildlife.

I have also been on the Hudson Highlands Land Trust board and a participant in and supporter of preserving the Fort Defiance Hill area, which through the hard work of many has expanded to more than 150 acres.

I am aware of how fragile our natural environment is and how much constant pressure there is on the wild things that live here. I see every day how much climate change is a negative impact and stressor.

Like many, we came here for the rural character of the area and, like many, we do not want to bring the city to us.

The HVSF project sounds lovely in many respects — the theater, the potential for a community focal point. In many ways it has more appeal to us than does a golf course. Nonetheless, our greatest concern is the scale and environmental impact.

We moved here with our children the same year that the planet became more urban than rural. Being connected to nature has had profound impact on my kids — hopefully, on my grandkids — and to everyone who visits this place, as it does on all of us.

I am monitoring, as closely as my time permits, just how large HVSF wants to make this. I appreciate that it wants a permanent home but am concerned what it might do to many of our permanent homes. What will it do to water, air, noise, traffic, wildlife (I know how many foxes, raptors, bobcat, etc., call this their home)? Will it suddenly send a neighborhood of Canada geese over here to muddy up what is one of the largest wetlands in our area?

We worry about traffic on Route 9 and traffic lights. I know that many like the idea of a light at Travis Corners and Route 9; we don’t. It will be an annoyance every day.

We worry about the unintended consequences of an expansion of Route 9. When we purchased this property 24 years ago, a big criterion was silence. You cannot hear Route 9 from our home and we want to keep it that way.

Thank you to all for everyone’s focus and attention on making sure that this project is, indeed, a net plus for our special human community, and the wild, non-human part of it.

Susan Coleman, Garrison

I urge HVSF to contemplate quite seriously the flaws in its plan.

My family has lived in Garrison for about 100 years. We have seen the changes from agricultural to summer houses to commuters to recent ex-urbanites. Values that we treasure seem to be fragile. The rural aspect — so highly praised — is under threat, as if it is merely a backdrop for individual entertainment. On the contrary, there is a strong active group of people who cherish the rural aspects. They realize the importance of environmental stewardship.

My concern about the development of the property is just that: development. No matter how many or few acres are involved, no matter how thoughtfully you plan to construct, no matter how important you believe this project is, the land will be damaged beyond repair. That is a huge self-regarding blow to our community.

You may not realize that open (unbuilt-on) land is vitally important. It is not something inert waiting for the person with “vision.” If you think about The Garrison golf course land, consider the many vital reasons that land must be conserved.

Betsy Calhoun, Garrison

19 thoughts on “Letters: Shakespeare Plans

  1. Aside from all of the abuses to our countryside, why must we continue to lose tax revenue here in Philipstown? It makes absolutely no sense! Who or whom got greased on this venture?

  2. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival plans to move and expand present an enormous impact on Philipstown (“Putnam Legislators Applaud HVSF Plans,” Feb. 19). Why would such a significant change not require some kind of referendum of the citizens of Philipstown?

  3. It’s an excellent idea but, as someone who lives half a mile away from the site, I think the traffic impact on Route 9 is problematic. When the weather is good and the economy is good, which it will be eventually, the highway is a dangerous race-track during the evening commute — just when the theater guests would be arriving. Also, the property tax impact, particularly on the Garrison school, could be large.

  4. The sky is not falling. Philipstown is known throughout the Hudson Valley as a place that takes planning very seriously. I have been an elected official and steward of the town for 20 years. During that time, I have seen many proposals for projects, some good and others that were doomed to fail.

    The proposal put forth for the Garrison golf course has the potential to be great. This is a multi-year, phased project that will go through intensive review, and I am confident that it will ultimately be a wonderful asset for the whole community.

    Shea is the Philipstown supervisor.

    • Richard Shea, as Philipstown’s “steward for 20 years,” assures us that the town takes planning “very seriously” and promises the proposal is being subjected to an “intensive review.” That’s good to hear.

      However, in the next breath, he asserts that the project “has the potential to be great” and that he is “confident that it will ultimately be a wonderful asset for the whole community.”

      Wonderful it may be, but one has to ask just how intense that review will be now that the supervisor has so conspicuously prejudiced the deliberations of the Planning Board, whose members are appointed by Shea and the board he chairs.

      • Mr. O’Rourke rightly points out that Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea’s public advocacy of the proposed Shakespeare/Garrison Golf Club development raises questions about the ability of the Planning Board appointed and funded by the Town Board to do its work in an evenhanded way. That’s regrettable: The Planning Board is conducting its analysis of the project in a fair, open and transparent fashion.

        The core of the problem is not the integrity of the Planning Board — it’s the fact that Shea is unaware of, or dismissive of, the concerns of a substantial and growing number of his constituents. He has at least twice publicly advocated for the project. Board Member John Van Tassel has backed the project, which is all the more concerning since he is running for supervisor. Putnam County Legislator Nancy Montgomery is supporting the project.

        None have referenced with any specificity community concerns. Each would do well to change that. They can do so by word, in the columns of our local papers, or, more felicitously, by action. Montgomery, Shea and Van Tassel might consider attending a Planning Board site walk as an acknowledgement at least of the fact that enthusiasm for a project loaded with irrevocable consequences for Philipstown is far from universally acclaimed.

  5. Throughout these letters and comments, many similar themes seem to emerge. We residents of Garrison want to protect nature. We love our stunning views. We care about our neighborhoods and the tranquility of our lives here. We are apprehensive about negative impacts on any of these.

    Fortunately, our neighbors at HVSF care about these issues, too. They have addressed them in a FAQ document that can be found at https://hvshakespeare.org/questions-about-hvsfs-future-answered/. This document includes site plans showing expected siting; discussion of ecological effects of the change from golf course to a park-like campus; plans for traffic management; measurements of decibel levels during performances and intermissions; plans for the avoidance of light pollution; and much additional data covering the concerns that have, understandably, been raised.

    Full disclosure: I am both a resident of Garrison and an arts lover, and had earlier asked many of these same questions directly of the HVSF board and staff members (as can anyone, by using the email address at the end of the FAQ). I have found the HVSF team to be open, receptive to questions, and able to supply thoughtful, direct, and factual answers. I’m looking forward to the Festival’s next act.

  6. Before reading the HVSF website, be icy clear on two facts.

    One, HVSF plans to eradicate 80 acres of gorgeous Hudson Highlands open space (designated as such by Philipstown) and replace it with 25 buildings (HVSF data presented to the Philipstown Planning Board).

    Two, the proposal perches the primary performance tent (a permanent fixture, not the up-in-summer, down-in-fall affair erected at Boscobel these past 30-odd years) squarely atop the highest point of the golf course ridge. That siting eliminates for the community one of the most striking views in the Hudson Valley, perhaps in the world — unless you have a ticket to that night’s Shakespeare performance.

    If you’re OK with that setup, by all means move along to the HVSF website.

    Also worth reading, as part of a full understanding of the project, is the state-required Environmental Assessment Form, HVSF/Garrison Golf Club Full EAF, which describes the project specifics and their environmental implications.

    Past that, the newly revised Philipstown Comprehensive Plan at https://sites.google.com/view/philipstown2020 helps place the project in context. The plan, newly redrafted, is worth reading in detail. As you read, note how profoundly at odds HVSF’s proposal is with the plan’s assessment of what makes Philipstown unique and how to keep us that way.

    An excerpt from the Plan helps: 

    “Although nearly 15 years have passed since the adoption of the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, Philipstown remains remarkably unchanged in many respects. Most notably, our Town has retained its bucolic feel, low-density residential character and peaceful sense of place and connection. Cold Spring serves as the Town’s main center of retail activity and community gathering. The preservation of these aspects of Philipstown remains the focus of the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan intends to combine best practices in sustainable planning with community input to inform policies that will preserve these enviable assets for generations to come.

    “Specifically, the Plan re-establishes goals to develop a variety of housing types at various price points in locations that have the infrastructure and amenities to support them. It also acknowledges that large-scale residential development of any kind faces a myriad of challenges, including significant environmental constraints (such as sensitive wetlands and wetland buffers, steep slopes, and public drinking water watersheds and aquifers) and the lack of existing infrastructure (such as public water and sewer utilities, and substandard roads in terms of surface, width, drainage and sight lines).”

    There is much more to say about this project, many more reasons to believe it is terribly inappropriate, and through the long evaluative and public input process ahead, awareness will increase.

    In the meantime, when perusing the HVSF website and its FAQs, apply the first rule of Internet reading: consider the source.

  7. Since moving to Philipstown in 1993, I have admired and supported the mission and vision of the HVSF, as well as its productions and educational outreach programs.

    As a former board member, I have been a witness to their longing for a permanent home and I am grateful and happy for the generous gift of land in Garrison. Further, I am grateful and impressed with the thoughtfulness and deep sense of responsibility HVSF has assumed in accepting this gift. This includes reverence for the incomparable natural beauty of the Hudson Valley and well-researched ideas for the care of the land in the most environmentally conscientious ways as they share the gift with the public.

    As residents of Philipstown, we are fortunate to have a volunteer Planning Board of thoughtful and intelligent citizens who donate their time to examine details of the long- and short-term proposed use and care of the land. It is difficult to look ahead 30 years or more but that is what the Planning Board has requested in its due diligence. HVSF staff and experts have taken a cooperative approach with the concerns of the Planning Board. Dialogues and walks on the land and plan modifications are examples of their commitment.

    With other arts organizations and the Chamber of Commerce, HVSF has taken a collaborative approach in conversations and sharing ideas and opportunities as we work together going forward. I admire and commend the generous spirit they have embraced as the grateful recipients and stewards of such a gift.

  8. All that glitters is not gold. Golf courses may appear natural, but it’s just window dressing. When you peel back the curtain — or rather the thin mat of grass with shallow roots — it’s nothing more than monoculture on life support with a high price tag: a huge carbon footprint, not to mention all the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that make their way into our water.

    The greenhouse gas emissions from mowing, along with fertilizer and pesticide production, watering and leaf-blowing were found by University of California to be four times greater than the amount of carbon stored by grass. In other words, a conventional lawn produces more carbon dioxide than it absorbs.

    From a climate and environmental perspective, I welcome the HVSF endeavor, and I believe they will be a model for environmental sustainability in the performing arts. Part of the Garrison Golf Course would be conserved, land that is vulnerable to being sold to development or subdivision, and in addition the land itself will be greatly enhanced. Large portions of the land will be converted to meadows, wildflower gardens and less intensively managed green spaces. This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and draw carbon out of the atmosphere. And wildlife would benefit greatly from the addition of pollinator gardens.

    I look forward to the day that I can walk the grounds, enjoy the magnificent views of the Hudson River, hear the buzz of bees, the chirp of birds and vibrant sounds of people enjoying a good play.

    Ford is the Climate Smart Program coordinator for Philipstown.

    • Krystal Ford reminds us that “all that glitters is not gold.” The Bard could not have put it better, though perhaps not in the way Ms. Ford intends.

      She writes of meadows and wildflower gardens, of bees buzzing and birds chirping, and all the wildlife that will benefit from the move. Presumably she means those creatures that are not displaced by the 520-seat theater, rehearsal spaces, parking lots and access roads.

      She mentions not the environmental stresses of hundreds of cars idling in traffic to access and exit the site, or the strain on the aquifer from new houses, a hotel and offices, or the light and noise pollution from wedding receptions, restaurant operations and theater performances occurring simultaneously on any given weekend through the spring, summer and fall.

      She looks forward to taking in a play and the magnificent views of the Hudson. But while she’s looking out, will anyone looking in from up to 30 miles away perceive a scenic blight from the largest new construction atop the Highlands ridge line in many years?

      With this move, Ms. Ford avers, the site will be saved from “developers.” But we should be clear: Whatever else it may be, the HVSF is a developer. What else to call an organization that would take a green field site and bulldoze roads, pave parking lots, build houses, a hotel, office space and a theater?

      The proposed HVSF move to The Garrison may, on balance, be a good thing for the community, for a combination of economic, artistic and cultural reasons. It’s a close call. But there is simply no credible case that it is per se environmentally preferable to the status quo. That superficial glisten deserves every bit of the “intense scrutiny” local politicians have promised.

  9. A Philipstown resident, Joe Regele, shared a list of a dozen places other than the Garrison Golf Course where HVSF could settle in without increasing traffic dangers, extensive new construction, compromising the rural aspect of the neighborhood or emitting sound and lights to a much larger area than one would imagine possible. My favorite is the Philipstown Recreation Department property.

    The popular idea of “open-air” entertainment is, “I love this place so much! Now let’s make some little changes!”

  10. I have been a resident in Cold Spring for 22 years. My relationship with HVSF, first as an audience member and later as a costume designer, spans almost as long. Since being involved with HVSF, I have seen the company develop in many sustainable and thoughtful ways, evolving from a two-show season to a slate of three to four shows and an expanded education program.

    I would like to talk about the community engagement aspect of HVSF from my perspective. We have loaned costumes to local schools and to The Philipstown Depot Theatre for their productions, sharing resources and fostering relationships which enhance the community. Each season the company employs many local high schoolers and college students as house staff and concessions servers. These relationships will continue to grow and expand once HVSF can have a permanent home in Philipstown.

    As a freelance designer, working for many companies, HVSF is my favorite place to work. The atmosphere fostered be-tween staff, production and visiting artists is truly special and something I cherish.

    I have taken a great deal of time to check out the future plans and FAQ on HVSF’s website. It is very clearly and thoughtfully laid out, covering all aspects of the site plan. I welcome this amazing opportunity to have this center for the arts and the community here in the place I call home.

  11. In his reply to “Shakespeare Plans,” Mr. O’Rourke makes excellent points about The Garrison and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s plans to move there. It is true that this use may not be “per se environmentally preferable,” or that HVSF’s plans should rightfully be called a “development,” with the parking lots and noises and pollutions and what not.

    On the other hand, we have to decide on what our community deems beneficial use, and the answer seems to be somewhere between zero development and zero access to anyone. The whole reason for conservation is to conserve nature and allow people to enjoy it while it lasts. One extreme or the other is not the answer.

    As far as I know, the Davis family bought this property 20 or so years ago with the idea of keeping it out of development. It is prime real estate and a lucrative development site.

    A Shakespeare theater, with its nuisance and cars and parking lots and noise, may not be the most preferable environmental option (even though we don’t have a real problem with pollution, noise and usage here in Philipstown), but at least the beauty is used for something! I still resent that there’s no Dockside by the river. Well meaning environmentalists took that beautiful site out of circulation for no reason. It used to be where I showed off my home to out-of-town visitors and enjoyed French fries fires on the grass summer nights. Look at it now.

    There’s no purpose to conserve nature if the aim is that no one can use it. I think we can be both respectful and of environment and still make use of land and enjoy Hudson Valley nature. I agree with Krystal Ford.

  12. Zero access? Mr. Davis’ description of the golf property acreage he has newly committed to preserving in no way shape or form includes a reference to zero public access. I suspect his vision is entirely to the contrary.

    HVSF has promised limited public access, though it is currently struggling to describe the when and where of it, as well as how it might be controlled. Like so many aspects of the proposed development, the public access aspect has not been thought through. It’s clear even now, however, that this is envisioned as a ticketed entertainment venue. The community comes second. When it’s showtime, the lights go down and the public goes home.

    • From “Garrison’s Mojo is Back,” The New York Post, June 1, 2008:

      In 1986, the club was sold to a group from Long Island and sold again in 1989 to a group of Japanese investors. “They overpaid for it,” Dwyer said. “Because of that, they never put any money into keeping it up and the course suffered.”

      Sharon and Chris Davis, a couple from New York City, owned a farm nearby and, in 1998, heard the golf course was up for sale. Rather than see it turn into a sea of condominiums, they joined forces with a group known as the Open Space Institute and bought the golf course as a buffer against development.

      • Chris and Sharron did indeed save the golf course, and we all have been very lucky to have been able to play golf there for these past 20 plus years, as well as to look at the gorgeous sunsets from its ridge, cross country ski on it, etc. But Open Space Institute did not have anything to do with this, although they do save a truly impressive amount of open space elsewhere (Mystery Point being a good local example). Worth a Google to find out more about OSI.

  13. Attending a Shakespeare performance at Boscobel has been a multifaceted wondrous experience. You wend over the lawns, past fruit trees, through a formal rose garden. You lug a picnic dinner (with wine) that has become quite a project. But worth it as you look out over the Hudson from your elevated site (card table or blanket). Boscobel itself stands elegant and imposing. You feel “special” to be a guest of the mansion.

    The performers take great advantage of the unique setting as they open by running up as if emerging from the river marshes. The scale at Boscobel is a good match for an ephemeral fantasy: the tent, the dirt floor, using the extra space of lawns.

    The sad part: At the Garrison location, where you will experience a simulation of previous magic, there won’t be the history, the intimate scale, the sharing of a special treasure. The ambiance is irrevocably lost.

  14. All aspects of HVSF having a permanent home in place of a money losing golf course will benefit Garrison: jobs for teens, arts for all, customers for restaurants and other businesses, infrastructure, remediating a death-trap intersection, a more desirable community supporting home values. Why is anyone objecting? [via Facebook]