HVSF Makes Revisions to Plan

Parcel plan

Chris Davis expanded his gift to HVSF to 97 acres.

Moves performer housing, Snake Hill Road entrance

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which hopes to move next year from its longtime home at Boscobel to donated land at The Garrison golf course, told the Philipstown Planning Board on May 13 that it had made a few modifications to the proposed expansion.

The HVSF is in the early stages of seeking town approval for its plans. The seven-member Planning Board is reviewing a state-mandated environmental assessment form, but the Town Board must change the zoning on the site, at Route 9 and Snake Hill Road in Garrison, to allow it to be used as a performance space.

At the Planning Board session, which was held by Zoom and lasted nearly three hours, board members worked their way through Part 2 of the three-part environmental assessment. The meeting was devoted to the HSVF project; the board will continue its review at its monthly meeting on June 17.

Chris Davis, who owns The Garrison, last fall donated 52 acres of the 200-acre site to HVSF. He initially planned to downsize the golf course from 18 to nine holes but last month announced he instead would close the course later this year and donate 74 acres to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust for conservation. He also expanded his gift to the HVSF to 97 acres. The remaining 30 acres will be used for a private residence.

HVSF told the board that, based on feedback at earlier meetings, it had moved a proposed entrance on Snake Hill Road farther west to improve traffic sight lines. It also said that feedback and the additional land from Davis allowed it to reduce and split the number of buildings for performer and guest lodging.

HVSF plan

The revised plan reduces the number of performer lodging and splits them into two areas at upper right (13) and upper left (11) and creates a new Snake Hill Road entrance at bottom center (23).

The initial plan had called for the construction of 19 buildings in the northeast part of the property; that was reduced to 11 — six buildings in the northeast with 10 additional parking spaces and a single building with five units located on what is now the first fairway.

HVSF said it also plans to reconfigure the Route 9 entrance; devote more acreage to meadows and trees; and remove the golf course pro shop and cart barn and expand an overflow lot by 20 spaces.

Neal Zuckerman, who chairs the Planning Board, noted during the meeting that it had “received a voluminous set of memos” from residents in response to the HVSF proposal but that “no one is taking a tally of pro and con; that is not the purpose of this board. The purpose is that we get insight about the project. We are reading your memos for thoughts to help us think about the impact of this project.”

Once the board completes its environmental assessment, it will hold a public hearing, he said. The board has hired a consulting firm, AKRF, to assist with its review of documents and studies submitted by HVSF regarding topics such as traffic and noise.

Kim Conner, a board member, thanked the HVSF team for being responsive to feedback. “I appreciate that you listened to the comments that we had and adjusted things like the housing and the Snake Hill Road entrance,” she said. “It’s not so common that an applicant actually listens.”

Davis, who attended the meeting, responded that “we listen to the comments because we’re neighbors and know many of you in the community and as friends. We don’t want to embarrass you and we want to do something that we’re all proud of.”

If it can get approvals from the town, HVSF said that in May 2022 it would install a temporary tent at the site for the summer season; repair the entry roads; upgrade the parking lots; add lighting; and install basic landscaping.

With further permits, in 2023 and 2024 it would construct a permanent tent with slightly fewer seats than the Boscobel tent, which has 535; a 1,200-square-foot box office and welcome center; and a 4,000-square-foot “back of house” building with dressing rooms for the actors. It also plans to add a 20-room hotel.

The Garrison has a restaurant and events venue that will remain in operation. That part of the project would remain for-profit and stay on the property tax rolls; the remainder of the parcel — about 170 acres with a market value of about $8 million — presumably would be removed because of the nonprofit status of the HVSF and the land trust.

For the 2021 season, HVSF will perform under its tent at Boscobel on Route 9D in Garrison, where it had operated for 32 summers through 2019 before its 2020 performances were canceled because of pandemic restrictions. It also is moving its administrative offices on Tuesday (June 1) from Main Street in Cold Spring to the manager’s office at The Garrison.

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2 thoughts on “HVSF Makes Revisions to Plan

  1. I’m writing in wholehearted support of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s plans to move from Boscobel to a new, permanent home on a portion of the current Garrison Golf Club. I’m certain with continued refinement of the festival’s site and use plans, coupled with the extensive conservation outcomes anticipated for most of the Club’s property, this will be the very best, and achievable, reuse for this special landscape, benefiting Philipstown long into the future.

    Although no longer a resident of the town following our move five years ago, I lived there 16 years and return often for work and to enjoy all that the area offers, including performances of the HVSF. My perspective on this project is perhaps unique: as a land conservationist through a 12-year tenure as executive director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust; as a former HVSF board member for over 10 years; and, a passionate golfer who’s played many rounds at the Garrison Golf Course and will miss it.

    Undoubtedly, HVSF’s plans, even when considered over the 20 years to 30 years it’s expected to take for completion, are ambitious. But ultimately, this project’s footprint and “touch” on the land and environment will be incredibly light, most assuredly less so than the 2005 approved Planned Development District 40-room hotel and continued operation of a public golf course — think vast water use and chemicals — or actual residential or commercial development.

    I’m certain with its proposed siting, design and landscaping, the smaller-than-current HVSF performance structure will recede into landscape of the lesser ridgeline upon which it will be constructed. Combining HVSF’s relatively low impact plans with Chris Davis’ remarkably generous conservation donation of 74 acres to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, I’m hard pressed to think of any other reasonable scenario producing such positive outcomes for this bucolic property.

    Undoubtedly, there is much work to be done to finalize the site plan and gain Planning Board approval. But, with Part II of the Environmental Assessment Form formally accepted during the Planning Board’s most recent meeting on June 22, I’m certain the Shakespeare Festival and its world-class consultants will continue to quickly develop model solutions to mitigate or eliminate any impacts identified in their multiple studies, thus benefiting the landscape, the neighbors and all Philipstown.

    Having attended 125+ Planning Board meetings in the past and watched several of the recent online meetings, I’m utterly confident this thoughtful board, guided by its expert advisors, will ultimately approve a site plan that allows the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to remain, and thrive, in Philipstown. In doing so, they ensure that the public benefits of additional local jobs, a major conserved landscape with enhanced biodiversity, and an affordable arts experience for both residents and visitors alike, can be realized.

    Thus, I encourage the Planning Board to continue its careful but efficient review process so that the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival can move to its new, permanent home in 2022.

  2. Philipstown has supported and developed in many ways an emphasis on conservation, climate-change mitigation and development of our rural qualities. Many regulations from rezoning to wetlands-monitoring show that we acknowledge the fragility of open space and the strong need for its protection.

    Some portion of the Garrison Golf Course has been given to the Hudson Highland Land Trust. That’s a good start but in no way justifies the destruction in the remaining land.