Horton Road Project Faces Continued Scrutiny

Concerns aired about environmental impacts

Residents and environmentalists last month continued to raise questions about a 25-home development proposed for a 210-acre tract in northern Philipstown.

Known as the Hudson Highlands Reserve, the project is under review by the Philipstown Planning Board, which last discussed the application at its Nov. 18 meeting. The site, which contains a small lake, is bounded by Route 9, East Mountain Road North and Horton Road.

Each of the proposed homes would have 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and sit on a 1-acre lot. They would sell for $1 million to $3 million, according to information provided a few years ago by the developer, Horton Road LLC, based in New York City. An earlier concept included an equestrian center, but the developers scrapped that after a 2019 public hearing. They returned with updated plans last spring. 

Horton Road LLC calls the development a “conservation subdivision” but critics object because the homes would not be grouped closely together. (By arranging buildings compactly, conservation subdivsions typically can preserve open space and obtain zoning-law breaks, such as higher density.)

In a mid-September memo, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust acknowledged Horton Road LLC’s “intentions in altering their plans to better protect sensitive environmental areas,” but added that “we believe the updated plans do not create a conservation subdivision. The plans still do not reflect clustered development that preserves the important environmental resources on the land.”

Citing that memo, a grassroots organization called Concerned Citizens for Philipstown on Oct. 24 began circulating an online petition urging the Planning Board to reject the proposed development because “the plan strongly resembles a traditional subdivision that does not prioritize the protection of open space, natural resources or wildlife habitat.” 

Even without the equestrian center, it said, details of the plan “pose many of the same — along with some potentially new — environmental risks.” As of Wednesday (Dec. 1), the petition at change.org had 304 signatures; it follows a similar petition in 2019 that collected 577 names.

Richard O’Rourke, a lawyer for Horton Road LLC, told the Planning Board on Nov. 18 that with the new plan “82 percent of the land shall remain undisturbed.” Under the 2019 plan, 45.7 acres would have been disturbed, but that figure is now 38.5 acres, he explained. In addition, the earlier proposal included 11 acres of impervious surfaces; that will decline to 8 acres.

Along with related changes, “we consider these to be very significant mitigation measures,” O’Rourke said.

Planning Board Member Heidi Wendel responded that “there’s still a large number of houses and they’re spaced pretty far apart. There’s going to be a huge disturbance to the natural landscape. That doesn’t seem mitigated.”

The developer also recently proposed creating access to the site from East Mountain Road North, but when Neal Zuckerman, who chairs the Planning Board, took an informal poll, no member supported it. 

“We only threw it out there as an alternative” for consideration, O’Rourke said. “Eliminate it! We’re done.”

Ulises Liceaga of Horton Road LLC thanked the board members “for the hard work you do. This is what makes this town so special, and that’s why we like it.”

Shakespeare Festival

In a letter to the Planning Board, Davis McCallum, the artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival who happens to live on East Mountain Road, said he supported the petition and Hudson Highlands Land Trust position about the project, adding that he wanted “to draw a distinction between the transformation of the currently developed Garrison golf course into an ecologically sustainable home for a local nonprofit arts organization and the Hudson Highlands Reserve project, a commercial real estate developer applying to build a suburban-style housing division on previously undisturbed land.” 

The HVSF proposal, he wrote, “is the kind of thoughtful land conservation solution that ensures a vibrant future for our community while preserving open space and permanently protecting 200 currently vulnerable acres from further subdivision and development.” 

By comparison, he wrote, Hudson Highlands Reserve would be “exactly the purely profit-driven development” that philanthropist Chris Davis intended to prevent by donating The Garrison property to HVSF and HHLT.

The Planning Board continued its review of the HVSF proposal on Tuesday (Nov. 30), with Zuckerman congratulating the festival on receiving a $2 million state regional development grant.

The grant “says a lot for the project; it says a lot about its promise and its broad appeal,” Zuckerman said. “I think I speak for the board when I say — and I hope my colleagues are in alignment — that everyone feels that this project has great value for this community. I don’t think this conversation we’ve been on is a debate about its merits as a social benefit.”

Nonetheless, he said, “this board is tasked, obligatorily, with performing [due] diligence” as it continues a state-mandated environmental quality review of HVSF’s plans. “We represent the town — no one individual; no one group. We represent the town and its interests. And as I’ve said many, many times, we balance property rights, individual property rights, with community rights. That’s the work we’re doing.”

Then the board settled into another two hours and 20 minutes of its line-by-line review of the environmental-quality document.

3 thoughts on “Horton Road Project Faces Continued Scrutiny

  1. We wish to correct an erroneous statement made in your paper by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival that its plans for The Garrison will protect the land from “suburban-style development” similar to the proposed Hudson Highlands Reserve.

    Chris Davis, who is donating the land at The Garrison, protected it from such development when he bought it years ago and the community, at a charette on the future of Philipstown, put in place zoning and regulations which we understood were to protect the land into the future. So the threat of The Garrison property becoming a suburban-style housing estate if the HVSF plan doesn’t go through is an empty one.

    The Garrison was designated a Scenic Protection Overlay District to “protect the town’s scenic beauty and rural character,” and those regulations specify “ridgeline and hillside” protection, among much else. The zoning is Rural Conservation, which does not allow for suburban-type housing or an outdoor permanent theater, an indoor theater, a pavilion, rehearsal space, offices, guest lodging, box office, back-of-house facilities or hospitality facilities, including toilets for hundreds of people.

    In order for the proposed plan to go forward, any or all of these the following have to be thrown out the window: the community-agreed-upon comprehensive plan; the Scenic Protection Overlay District; Rural Conservation zoning; the environmental impact on the land and the hamlet of Garrison, and the effects of hundreds of cars and more than 1,000 people at any one time until after 11 p.m., compared to 70 plus golfers at any one time who disappear at dusk.

    To hear the developer’s traffic expert talk in glib terms about the numbers of cars and people that would be at The Garrison with a Saturday matinee plus evening performance in two theaters plus two weddings at peak summer times is disheartening. The proposal will enable three large wedding venues (Boscobel, Highlands, The Garrison) and two theaters at The Garrison to function simultaneously. This would result in a huge increase in traffic and a further splitting in half of Garrison by the four-lane highway with traffic light that Route 9 will effective become.

    It’s great that the chemically fertilized mono culture of the golf course will no longer exist. However, any environmentalist knows that a huge increase in cars and people has a correspondingly large environmental impact. A simple “move up the hill from Boscobel” this is not.

    As longtime supporters of HVSF, we want it to have a home with a view, a longer season as is in the plan, and actor housing. But as long time residents within sight and sound of The Garrison who have fought hard to keep the rural nature of this area intact, we know that if this plan is built out, this area will be changed utterly.

    We would like to see compromise in line with current zoning that, e.g., preserves the sweep of the land from the lake up the rise without cutting it in half with a parking lot; moves the site of the proposed tent off the highest contour; deals with 1,000 toilet flushes a night with some eco-friendly plan rather than saying the surrounding water basin can be drawn on (i.e., us and our neighbors who already have trouble sometimes in the summer with recharge in our 500-foot deep wells); and trees around the tent as a buffer, as well as a buffer between the Davis-retained land and the festival.

    The task is to weigh the clear good that the festival brings to the Hudson Valley and beyond while also considering the huge impact on this specific part of the world.

  2. I recently received a mailing from HVSF informing me how much I will benefit when — not if — it changes my quiet, rural area to a bustling theatrical “destination.” I wondered: Will they be the same kind of benefits I’ve received from the triple lines of cars parked below Breakneck Ridge? Will they be the same kind of benefits I’ve received from the snarled mess at Anthony’s Nose and the Bear Mountain Bridge? Will they be the same kind of benefits that make parking impossible at Constitution Marsh? Because if that’s what HVSF has in mind for me on that treacherous stretch of Route 9 and Travis Corners Road, well then, I can’t wait.

    Twenty years ago I received an uncannily similar mailing from a developer who wanted to turn what is now the Garrison Institute into Point Lookout, a massive retirement complex which would have completely changed Garrison. Here we go again, only this time it’s an inside job.

    We should all be grateful to Chris Davis for everything he has done for our area, but that doesn’t mean he should be given free rein to do whatever he wants with the heart of Garrison. No one wants The Garrison turned into condos, but I suspect few want to see it turned into Tanglewood, the massive music festival in Massachusetts, either.

    Hey there, Philipstown Town Board! You have our backs, right? You wouldn’t issue HVSF a special-events permit and al-low it to circumvent the Planning, Zoning and Conservation boards, as well as the citizens of Philipstown, would you? Yes, there’s big-time money and local pressure involved, but our Town Board wouldn’t sell us out to an inside developer after we’ve managed to hold off the outside ones, would it?

    No one is saying HVSF shouldn’t grow. But growth should mean getting bigger, not becoming monstrous. Looks like our way of life is once again in jeopardy.

  3. In your account of the Nov. 30 Philipstown Planning Board meeting, its chair, Neal Zuckerman, is quoted as saying: “I think I speak for the board when I say — and I hope my colleagues are in alignment — that everyone feels that this project has great value for this community. I don’t think this conversation we’ve been on is a debate about its merits as a social benefit.”

    He is correct: There has been no substantive discussion of what in the development proposal provides social benefits to Garrison, and in what ways it will degrade our rural character. Maybe as the “conversation” proceeds, there will be.

    In the meantime, Zuckerman might consider asking his colleagues to speak for themselves before “aligning” them with his own views, and he might consider whether his supplying a public-relations voice for the applicant is part of the Planning Board’s mission.