Updated policy guide also proposes school consolidation
Unanimously approved Nov. 17 by the five-member Town Board, the Philipstown Comprehensive Plan 2030 proposes merging the town, Nelsonville and Cold Spring, and combining the Haldane and Garrison schools into a single district that includes areas of Continental Village now in the Westchester-based Lakeland district.
The document, an update and expansion of the 2006 plan, is intended to guide policy for the next nine years, with reviews in between. Assisted by grant money and community input, a volunteer committee labored for four years to produce the 37-page report, available at bit.ly/comp-2030.
The plan encourages Philipstown and the two villages “to consider consolidation of jurisdictions to increase community cohesion and provide more equitable representation and distribution of services.”
Likewise, it endorses “further cooperation among school districts and/or the possibility of creating a unified Philipstown school district that serves residents in Garrison, Cold Spring, Nelsonville, North Highlands and Continental Village.”
Top 5 Action Items for 2022
Proposed by comp plan committee
1. Amend the building code to mandate the use of renewable energy for primary heating sources on new construction or renovations.
2. Establish sites for electric-car charging and mandate car-charging stations for new developments based on the number of parking spaces.
3. Develop a solar energy policy along the lines recommended by Scenic Hudson’s How to Solar Now blueprint for communities.
4. Create a Community Preservation Plan to update the National Resources Protection Plan using the most recent Natural Resource Inventory and Open Space Index and appoint an advisory board to oversee the implementation of this plan.
5. Prevent overburdening of the town’s infrastructure by visitors. Provide alternative access to visitor attractions that does not infringe on residents’ safety and privacy.
The committee described the present school tax situation as “complex” because rates vary significantly between districts, so that owners of properties with equal market values may pay widely divergent taxes.
The plan calls for increasing tax revenues “by attracting commercial development in locations with suitable infrastructure,” while balancing revenue from development against costs of extending services to new homes or businesses.
Along with local consolidation, the plan suggests “responsible regionalism” partnerships to deal with:
- Technical and “connectivity” problems;
- Climate-change mitigation;
- Transportation innovations, such as a possible boat service between Philipstown and West Point and Highlands Falls across the Hudson River; and
- Managing increased tourism.
It also promotes action to ensure that tourism and tourism-related businesses “do not threaten the character of the town or the safety and privacy of its residents.”
To sustain Philipstown’s rural and historic character and reduce pollution, it recommends:
- Preserving historic dirt roads and maintaining them with materials and methods that do not harm the environment;
- The formation of a tree advisory committee;
- Creating an inventory of historic structures and sites;
- Setting up electric-car charging sites;
- Establishing a solar energy policy;
- Mandating use of renewable energy in construction or renovations; and
- “Conservation development” in new complexes to cluster buildings together to preserve open space and avoid fragmentation, plus stricter regulations so developments billed as conservation subdivisions live up to the name.
Further, it advocates:
- Identifying “critical land for preservation”
- Safeguarding aquifers, streams and wetlands that “help mitigate the impact of climate change”; and
- Protecting water resources from septic contamination” and road de-icing.
In addition, it champions small-scale food production, town-wide composting and farming.
Citing “a chronic need for a wide range of housing” as escalating costs threaten “small-town character,” the plan recommends, with appropriate controls:
- Increasing the availability of rental and occupant-owned houses, accessory dwelling apartments, two- and three-family residences, and multifamily buildings;
- Incentives for keeping units as affordable permanent housing; and
- Policies to prevent short-term rentals — houses or apartments transformed into Airbnb and other vacation/weekend accommodations — from decreasing housing stocks.
It likewise favors adaptive re-use of structures and concentration of new commercial development in mixed-use or industrial areas and discourages “big-box architecture, strip commercial development and urban sprawl in general,” while welcoming home-based businesses; “small-scale, mixed-use, village-type centers,” and professional-office sites that fit “with the scale of Philipstown” and can “decrease commuting time” and “stimulate the daytime economy.”
Advocating transportation approaches that look beyond private cars, the plan calls for retaining existing horse trails and making new paths for bicycling and walking to link (for example) Cold Spring and Garrison Landing; the Cold Spring train station, Boscobel and Constitution Marsh; and libraries, schools and other civic/public places, and to connect to regional trails. It also suggests public-private partnerships to fund public transportation.
To help “ensure that residents enjoy good health” physically and mentally, the plan endorses restricting “youth access to tobacco, e-cigs/vape products, [and] alcohol”; prohibiting smoking and vaping in town government buildings and parks; addressing senior needs for housing, transportation, and social and medical services; encouraging more health care facilities to locate in town; and enhancement of recreational activities and facilities, possibly including a town swimming pool.
Town Board members praised the document.
“It paints a vision of a place I want to be. That’s what’s exciting” about it, Councilor Jason Angell declared.
Nat Prentice, who led the volunteer committee, thanked the Town Board “for putting up with it” for so long.
“Now that we’ve got it, let’s use it,” he said. The work continues, though. Even before the board approved the plan, he and other volunteers began circulating, and debating, a list of suggested priorities for 2022. It’s “our first crack; let’s just call it that,” Prentice told the Town Board.