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