As a 40-year resident of Philipstown and a member of the board of directors of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, I am distressed at the controversy that has erupted over the proposed move to The Garrison golf course, and am concerned that much of the objection is based more on emotion than reality. Simply objecting to change is not enough, since change is going to come.
I understand that golfers are upset that the golf course will be closed, but after many years of losses, the owner is unwilling to continue to subsidize the course. So the course will be closed, and the obvious question is what comes next.
Replacing a failed golf course with a housing development is the usual outcome. Fortunately, the owner is not planning that. Instead the plan is to convert most of the course to parkland, trees and meadows.
HVSF’s footprint on the 200-plus acre site would be small: New structures, pathways and parking would occupy 5 acres, in addition to the 6 acres of existing structures. Today, none of the property is subject to conservation easements. The proposal calls for all of it to be protected. The HVSF tent will not be on the top of the ridge line, as some have claimed, and it would provide somewhat fewer seats than HVSF’s current tent. After years of the site only being available to paying golfers, local residents will be able to enjoy the magnificent views from this property, and it is contemplated that the facilities, when not otherwise occupied, would be available for community uses. The reality is that since HVSF does not have the option of returning to Boscobel after its final season there this summer, it has to move somewhere.
Opponents of the plan are concerned that the site will turn into some sort of massive performance venue that will attract mobs of people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The proposal before the Philipstown Planning Board covers the next 30 years and does include the possibility of a small indoor venue, an outdoor community pavilion and in-season lodging for actors. (The site is already zoned for a 40-room hotel and spa.) But those are all well in the future, if they happen at all. And conservation easements and other deeded restrictions will prohibit anything beyond what is approved by the Planning Board.
Some who object to the plan say that it will reduce the amount of property taxes paid on the property, to the detriment of the community. This may be partially true, but HVSF will continue to pay property and other taxes on the commercial parts of the property that it will control, and if the commercial aspects of the property were abandoned and the property given to a tax-exempt entity, there would be no property taxes paid.
Great care has been taken in developing this proposal, both from an environmental and community standpoint, and both the owner and HVSF have made significant alterations to the plan to meet some concerns that have been raised.
I would hope that those who object to the plan for The Garrison think about what is actually being proposed, rather than objecting to what they fear might possibly happen if the myriad safeguards that are a fundamental part of this plan are somehow evaded. Change is coming to The Garrison and to Philipstown, and if it is not this plan, it will be something else. If the “something else” does not include HVSF, then Philipstown will be the poorer for it.
Ned Whitney, Garrison
I am impressed by the HVSF’s plans for their new home and the design professionals involved. I’ve heard that the Planning Board has received a stack of negative letters and relatively few from those who are positive. I have been positive all along and assume that many others are also, but it seems we need to speak up
I’ve lived here for 35 years. We are privileged to have this lauded professional theater company in our community. It is an economic engine for Philipstown. It gave summer jobs to my children and to many local teens. I am not a golfer, so I didn’t often see the spectacular view, but I am glad that it will be available to all theater-goers and to those, like me, who will exercise on the planned walking trails.
Golf courses are notorious for being ecologically unsound. They use tons of water, pesticides and fertilizer. They are a food desert for animals and pollinators. The plan to replace grass with meadows and woodlands will be an environmental game-changer.
The time of most consistent traffic will be later in the evening, after the plays and when traffic on Route 9 is light, and the number of cars won’t be any larger than the number now at Boscobel, as the new tent is a bit smaller. The Route 9 and Snake Hill Road intersection has seen fatalities. Because of the plan, it is much more likely that a traffic light will be permitted there.
Live theater companies are difficult to sustain. Expenses always outpace the income from ticket sales. It is brilliant that the expense of housing the actors will be lowered by building small cabins, increasing by only 14 rooms the number already approved for that property.
With 33 years in our community the festival is a textbook example of a local business worthy of our support. It is a far cry from a developer. Imagine what a real developer would do to that property. I’m surprised and saddened by the negativity around this generous gift to our important cultural institution.
Jackie Grant, Garrison
I recently had the pleasure of walking The Garrison golf course with a staff member from the HVSF. I heard about its vision for the property and we discussed the positive and negative feedback received by HVSF following the announcement of their plans.
It was clear to me that they are listening intently and addressing concerns through a thoughtful design process. They have engaged Nelson Byrd Woltz, a world-class landscape design firm. If you are unfamiliar with their work, take a minute to peruse some stunning examples at nbwla.com.
As someone who has spent 20 years working in sustainable land use, I can assure you that the vision is spot on. HVSF’s new home will be an asset for our community. The performances, classes, employment opportunities and visitor experience are sure to be first-rate. I am confident that their plans for managing traffic will be thoughtful and minimize inconvenience to residents.
Dave Llewellyn, Nelsonville
I have loved Garrison since the mid-1980s, when I spent most of my weekends here with my high school friends. Hot summer days were spent splashing in Indian Brook Falls and sitting on the big granite boulders along the Hudson. There was even a kiss at the Gazebo on Garrison’s Landing (and no, I’m not saying who).
A little over 15 years ago, when my husband and I were ready to move out of the city, I wanted to show him Garrison. Right away, this was where he wanted to live, too. As a Midwesterner, the opportunity to raise his children in a place with wide-open spaces, fresh air and friendly neighbors spoke to his roots as well.
Quickly, the HVSF became synonymous with summer. One of our favorite things to do with friends from out of town was to take them for a picnic on the lawn of Boscobel and see a performance. Fifteen years and two children later, HVSF now gives our whole family joy. Summers, our children can’t wait for the first show of the season, when we book two whole rows, have a huge, group picnic, watch the play, and have ice cream at intermission. Two summers ago, opening night of Robin Hood, with real thunder as a backdrop for the scripted storm in Sherwood Forest was pure magic.
I can understand the concerns in the community about HVSF moving to The Garrison. As a resident of South Highland Road and someone who has to cross Route 9 at Travis Corners almost daily, I’m definitely anxious about the traffic. And I moved where I did because I, too, want peace and quiet and to keep our little piece of heaven as green as possible.
I moved to Garrison because I love this environment and community. I joined the board of the HVSF because I love the festival. I consider myself to be a guardian of my home and its surrounding environment, and as a member of the board of HVSF, at no time have I found my loyalties to be in conflict. In fact, it is my belief that this gift will not only help preserve the peace and green space in Garrison, but improve it.
Golf may look beautiful and be literally green, but it is not environmentally green. Far from having a negative environmental impact, the HVSF plan will have a positive impact on the environment, not only by limiting future development through conservation easements that provide permanent protection, but also by discontinuing golf operations with its enormous adverse water and chemical impact. With its plans to restore those lands to ecologically diverse meadows and woodlands, acres and acres of Garrison land will be improved by this gift.
The limited number of seats envisioned for the new tent (fewer than are in the current tent) should not significantly increase vehicular traffic, and what increases will occur will largely be concentrated outside of rush hour. It is my hope that the comprehensive traffic study that HVSF has commissioned to study the anticipated increase in traffic will help constructively and meaningfully address the problematic intersection at Travis Corners and Route 9. As a member of the board, I will advocate for a solution that will improve and not worsen this condition because to do so is in the best interest of both this community and of HVSF.
Largely overlooked in the discussions about this project is what the community is gaining over and above the phenomenal theater experience that HVSF has already been bringing to the region for more than 30 years. Chris Davis is gifting to this community more than 200 acres of permanently conserved land of which HVSF will be the steward of about half. This is miles and miles of green space preserved for future generations of people from our community. While other golf courses around the country go out of business and are turned into massive real estate developments and shopping malls, we have been given this extraordinary opportunity to enrich and preserve our home, our landscape and our lives.
I am so grateful to Chris Davis for this extraordinary gift to HVSF and to this community. I know that it means generations of wonderful memories, like the ones I have of Garrison, for generations to come.
Sarena Straus, Garrison
I write to support the application of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to establish a performing arts campus on portions of the Garrison Golf Course property in Garrison.
Members of my family have been residents of Philipstown since the 1850s. My wife Anne and I moved here in 1987 and lived in my grandfather’s house, Cat Rock, until 2013 when we sold it. We now live on Old West Point Road West in a cottage that used to be part of the estate.
In the footsteps of the old-time Garrison families, Chris Davis is one of several current-generation philanthropists who has worked to improve the community with their generosity. We are immensely grateful for Mr. Davis’s contributions to wise land use, protected outdoor recreation and open space. His work has been an inspiration to others, including me, to see how each of us, with our energy and resources, can make our community an even nicer place to live and raise our children.
The HVSF has also worked to improve our community. For over 30 years, it has brought theater lovers to the beautiful Boscobel campus, enabling visitors to revel in that venue’s spectacular views and rich heritage while providing a world-class theater experience in its open-air tent, and enhancing the education of Hudson Valley students.
Now Mr. Davis has donated a substantial tract of land so that the HVSF might have a permanent home, free from the constraints necessary to operate as Boscobel’s tenant.
A number of our neighbors have concerns about crowds, traffic, environmental degradation, parking, the loss of the golf-course, noise, and other things. Some say that HVSF will become a “major developer” and build out the property with many buildings. I respect those concerns and take them seriously. But, as with any major change to our landscapes and our lives, compromise enables progress.
I don’t see a problem with crowds; crowds have been coming to Boscobel to picnic and see the HVSF performances for over 30 years. Crowds have been coming to use The Garrison’s restaurant and event facilities for years. That they might, on a weekend night, be on the same campus at the same time doesn’t bother me: with the right infrastructure, they, and Philipstown, can handle them.
Traffic? Boscobel has only a single entrance / exit; at least The Garrison property has two two-way entrances / exits. Getting onto the fast-moving Route 9 will be a challenge, but thorough traffic studies and road improvements are part of the plan.
Rather than environmental degradation, I see environmental improvement. Golf courses, with their monoculture of grass, huge needs for water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, are notoriously impactful on the ecosystem. (Some of my golfing friends remind me that maintaining a golf course does not have to be so environmentally destructive, and I agree). Re-wilding the hillsides, creating gardens and walking trails amongst pollinator plants and native trees would be a welcome and refreshing change. 88 acres of trees were felled to build the Garrison Golf Course. Wildlife and people will benefit from restoring the original habitats.
The parking arrangements that I see in the plans seem to me attractive, appropriate, and practical.
The Planning Board has asked that all plans – for 30 years out – be part of the HVSF’s application. That makes it look as if a large construction project will be under way. If the construction of a small cottage village to house artists starts 20 years from now, I say “fine.” The amount of land to be used in that cottage scheme is barely more than a few acres. Having housed actors and staff in our own home in the early days of HVSF, I know what a treat it is to have these creative people nearby.
Noise from HVSF programs has never been a problem for the neighbors at Boscobel, although there have been complaints from some neighbors in years past when Boscobel allowed loud wedding receptions. Nevertheless, HVSF has commissioned a thorough acoustical study for the Garrison site.
Overall, I see the HVSF proposal as exciting, bold, daring, and hugely valuable to the environment, to wildlife, and to the community. Their ambitions have been encouraged by the amazing gift of land from Mr. Davis; the project will improve the cultural and intellectual life of all of us in Philipstown. It is the kind of thing that generations of Philipstown families would have been proud to support wholeheartedly.
Fred Osborn, Garrison
If there were ever a win-win outcome, this is it. The transformation of The Garrison golf course to permanent open space, with HVSF as a unique cultural amenity that economically supports the communities in which it resides, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
We, as residents and as taxpayers, need to encourage our local authorities to support this extraordinary and important contribution to our community.
I first aspired to play the Garrison golf course in the early 1990s and have played here many times (never very well). I have been a resident of Cold Spring for almost two decades, and, importantly, acknowledge that the world and our place within it is changing. Unabated and uncontrolled suburban growth presents dire consequences to our open air, food and water supplies, and can lead to noise and traffic issues and overburdened municipal services like schools.
As a former public official responsible for economic development, as well as a fiduciary and board member to several park and land conservation groups, I know firsthand how difficult finding the right balance between growth and conservation can be, and how unique the proposed solution really is. “The responsible use of land” is a hallmark of great public policy. The public land use review process plays a key role in achieving this balance.
It’s never easy for people to accept change; the fear of the unknown is innate to all of us. I urge our community leaders to remember that HVSF has been a terrific community partner for over 30 years and makes immeasurable positive contributions to each of our daily lives. Any change may affect us each slightly differently but through the deliberate review process, I’m confident that reasonable people can exchange their respective views and an even better plan may result.
This proposed plan conserves the bulk of The Garrison golf course as open space forever, facilitates a unique cultural use with economic opportunities and provides huge upside advantages for all the members of our communities.
Improved quality of life, positive financial impact from job creation and the associated economic multiplier to our local economy uniquely combine to make Chris Davis’s gift and the HVSF plan a true win-win-win for all of us. Please urge your local representatives to support this plan.
Robert Lieber, Cold Spring
I remember the very first HVSF summer at Boscobel. I was on the board and had the assignment to negotiate the first lease.
The summer prior there was a performance at Manitou of Midsummer’s Night Dream and the HVSF was born. The festival grew organically and became a jewel in our community. Many of us brought our friends to experience the beauty of the river and this unique way of enjoying and experiencing Shakespeare. We were so proud.
HVSF Summer Camp was born and the educational programs soon followed. Teens were employed to sell raffle tickets concessions and usher. Year after year new performers and directors brought their artistic interpretations of the old texts to welcoming audiences. Proud of our hometown festival the lawn of Boscobel became the highlight of summer evenings. HVSF has been woven into the fabric of Philipstown.
Now at the next crossroads can we really question the value of HVSF? The studies address all the concerns of traffic, (less) noise, environment, growth, views and future growth.
What is not addressed is that immeasurable value of a summer evening gathering with families and friends, the joy of introducing our children and now grandchildren to the communal experience of being part of something excellent in our own backyard. Being an audience member is being part of the collaborative process of creating art. We experience human connection with both the actors and our fellow audience members.
The minds at work and the generosity of this gift are not to be feared but celebrated. Dig in and understand the facts. This new home will not hurt our hometown but will allow the HVSF to continue to be one of our greatest assets.
Carolyn Rossi Copeland, Garrison
I have watched the HVSF develop from the gym of a school, to the forests of Manitoba to its glorious home under the tent of Boscobel with the gorgeous Hudson River and Constitution Marsh as its backdrop.
My husband and I joined many pre-performance picnickers, sometimes with family, and we even shared delectables and beverages with strangers, on the magnificent airy, elegant grounds. Never was there anyone unruly, never was there any chaos or noise, and the birds continued to chirp happily til sunset. I know — I’m a birder. After the performance, within an hour, cars left very quietly, and orderly in line to their various destinations. I doubt that Cold Spring was ever aware of the theater traﬃc.
On the other hand, reading all the protests of the Garrison residents that about The Garrison golf course: I have dined at the Hudson Valley Inn there and could not help but be aware of the raucous, inebriated wedding guests down the hall from the restaurant. And the neighbors are concerned about the traﬃc from HVSF!
I remember Philipstown from the 1980s. Many folks in Garrison either have short memories or were not in Garrison at that time. The lovely property was sold to a developer in the 1980s and Philipstown held its breath. Finally, a Japanese investors group purchased the property with also an eye to developing many condominiums. Plans were moving forward.
We should be blessing Chris Davis, an Open Space Institute board member, who arranged to co-invest with OSI and save the property from plans that were becoming very “concrete.” If memory serves, Chris invested heavily in restoring the golf course and the surrounding buildings and made it the absolutely gorgeous grounds and venue it became. It is his choice to sell his private property if he is not getting the return on his investment he needed. So instead of selling it to another developer, he oﬀered it to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Is this not kismet? Pun intended.
Working with OSI, Chris is highly aware of the importance of maintaining land for wildlife, which is why the partnership invested in the property in the first place. I have never known the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society or Constitution Marsh (National Audubon), which abuts Boscobel, to voice wildlife concerns with HVSF at Boscobel. PHAS and Constitution Marsh jointly run an Eagle Fest Program every February at Boscobel.
I have walked on trails in Boscobel and did not note any disturbances in nature, and the turtles from Constitution Marsh still ascend to Boscobel to lay their eggs every spring.
Families who attend performances, from my observations, have been nothing but polite, courteous, and appreciative of the nature that abounds, as well as the lovely productions that emanate from the tent. The grounds are maintained beautifully and kept spotless and Philipstown was always appreciative of the jewel in the midst.
Davis McCallum as artistic director of the HVSF has spent years exploring characters, people, history and certainly the culture of the Hudson Valley. He has exhibited only interest in working his productions safely and sensitively with the environment. He has also exhibited openness in discussing ideas and concerns and working with the community.
So, I believe those in Garrison who object — decades after Chris saved the Golf Course from true developers — and Philipstown has benefited gloriously having the HVSF in Cold Spring, are disingenuous when they express concern about the HVSF in “their backyard.” Let’s be delighted to have them as our good stewards and neighbors.
Adele Stern, Philipstown