Shakespeare Project Set for Public Hearing

HVSF Tent

Philipstown Supervisor John Van Tassel says he will issue a permit for HVSF to erect its tent in 2022 on old tennis courts at the former Garrison golf course. (HVSF)

Town supervisor says he will issue temporary permit

Over the last month, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s goal of converting the former Garrison golf course into a permanent home advanced on two fronts, as the Philipstown Planning Board slated a public hearing for Jan. 27 and Supervisor John Van Tassel said he would allow HVSF to perform temporarily at its new location under its current tent.

The Planning Board has been considering HVSF’s concept of a theater and cultural campus on donated land at Route 9 and Snake Hill Road. Its plans include an indoor theater and housing for staff, as well as a tent, restaurant, inn and other facilities.

In proceedings separate from the Planning Board review, HVSF has asked the Town Board for a special-event permit so it can erect its existing tent, previously used at Boscobel, on former tennis courts at the new location.

On Jan. 6, at the Town Board’s formal monthly meeting in Town Hall, Van Tassel said that he had consulted his Town Board colleagues and now awaits confirmation from Garrison’s emergency services that they can handle calls at the new site. When it arrives, “I will be issuing a special-event permit to the Shakespeare Festival to operate at The Garrison” in 2022, he said.

Councilor Robert Flaherty added that HVSF wanted a two-year permit, but that Town Board members “all decided we would give them one year.” Flaherty, Van Tassel and Stephen Gaba, the town attorney, each observed that HVSF obtained one-year permits annually for more than three decades at Boscobel.

Gaba also explained that by law the town supervisor grants special-event permits, also known as parade permits. If an applicant qualifies, the supervisor “really has to issue the permit,” he said.

For HVSF to turn its long-range hopes into reality, the site must be rezoned, so the troupe submitted paperwork to that end. “But I don’t think it’s quite ready for action by the Town Board,” Gaba said. The property is in a planned development district, within the town’s rural conservation zone. Approved in 2005, the PDD featured the golf course, which has closed.

At the meeting, Garrison residents Joe Regele and Tim Nolan opposed giving HVSF a special-event permit, which, they contended, is for a parade, golf tournament, outdoor concert or similar affair, not a string of plays.

“The application is flawed,” Regele asserted.

“The whole, underlying premise” of the law “is to prevent long-term impactful events,” Nolan argued. “This is, to me, on the face of it, clearly a violation.” He termed an HVSF permit “a work-around” and conceded that, in this case, the ramifications might be minimal. Even so, “that isn’t the rule of law,” he said.

Van Tassel said that HVSF is addressing questions he posed about parking and that he asked Putnam County Sheriff Kevin McConville to station a deputy at the intersection of Route 9 and Snake Hill Road to assist with traffic when HVSF performs, until a traffic light can be installed.

The supervisor described HVSF as “a wonderful cultural” organization, which provides economic benefits as well, “and I wouldn’t want to lose it.”

At the December meeting of the Planning Board, HVSF outlined its plan to construct a bridge near Snake Hill Road and provided data on projected traffic and headcounts when its performances occur on the same days as weddings and restaurant and hotel bookings. The Planning Board and its consultants had expressed concerns about traffic if multiple events took place simultaneously.

“HVSF has committed to not having Saturday afternoon matinees at the indoor theater when there are also afternoon weddings,” John Canning of Kimley Horn, an HVSF consultant, wrote in a Dec. 13 memo. Consequently, the maximum number of people on-site in the middle of the afternoon — the busiest time for traffic on Route 9 — would drop from 1,100 to 920, and the maximum number of “vehicle trips” to 77.

“The Garrison has never [scheduled] and will never schedule more than one wedding on a single day,” Canning told the Planning Board.

The Planning Board scheduled the Jan. 27 public hearing for 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, with a Zoom link for those who cannot attend in person.

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15 thoughts on “Shakespeare Project Set for Public Hearing

  1. Deep in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Expanded Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) before the Philipstown Planning Board, which was prepared by six consultants, a project manager and lawyers, is the erroneous claim that HVSF will be saving us from suburban sprawl by moving its operations from Boscobel to the former Garrison Country Club.

    The argument goes thus: The cost borne by the taxpayer is already high because the golf course was never developed with homes that would have generated property tax income. Therefore, the HVSF proposal will save money because the tax revenue that would have been generated by the handful of houses that could be built under present zoning would be less than the cost of the additional children who would live in those houses and attend the Garrison School, using statewide average costs.

    Here HVSF claims that building houses would in one instance generate more tax income and in the second instance generate increased tax costs.
    Aside from that, the Garrison School can absorb considerably more children per class than the current 13 at little to no cost; the district does not conform to statewide averages. High school tuition paid by the district to Haldane and O’Neill has always been considerably reduced by a drift to private schools (currently about 40 percent of students when they complete the eighth grade). So this argument is null and void, victim to another instance where these top-class consultants have zero knowledge of our town.

    Philipstown, according to pages 103/104, Tables 25 and 26 of the EAF, lost about $155,000 annually in property taxes be-cause the golf course was not used for housing. This proposal is asking us to increase that loss to about $280,000 per annum.

    At the same time, the festival will no longer pay large annual costs for rent at Boscobel or erecting, taking down and storing its tent. A gain for HVSF is a loss in tax income for the town, and especially Garrison, as school taxes are the major component.

    I understand that the nonprofit Scenic Hudson makes a payment to the town in lieu of taxes for many of the areas it owns. However, I would be happy to bear the cost of extra taxes in return for a moderation in the scope of the HVSF plan.

    We don’t need to be saved from sprawl. We already saved ourselves nearly 20 years ago and re-committed ourselves with the November update to the comprehensive plan. Please attend the Planning Board’s public hearing on this project at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, in person or by Zoom.

  2. A Life on Our Planet, available on Netflix, is hard to watch, but please see it. What we have done to our planet is devastating. What we are leaving for our children to deal with is heartbreaking. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that we are at Code Red on the planet.

    So why is Garrison, one of the area’s most privileged and sensitive to environmental stewardship on the planet, allowing HVSF to come in with a major commercial development and tear up what has been so hard won? With all of our smarts and wealth, we should be demonstrating the best green leadership — a pilot project of what is needed planet-wide.

    I am not opposed to HVSF being here; I am opposed to the scale of what it is proposing. It is too much.

    New York City is full of theaters that desperately need our patronage right now. We do not need to bring a regional center here. With the current plan, thousands will arrive daily, creating congestion and transforming our home into a tourist attraction.

    Up to now, the community has had no opportunity to have a conversation about this except through indirect channels like this paper. Please come to the first public hearing on Jan. 27. We can shape what is happening. It is not a done deal, but once it is done there will be no going back.

  3. Our Shakespeare Festival is at the heart of the Philipstown community. I have attended its performances for a quarter-century, observing HVSF as a splendid gathering of the full diversity of our people — children to seniors. Whatever enhances its ability to continue should be encouraged.

    The proposed move to a site beside Route 9 is just that; it is a wonderful opportunity for permanent stability. With it will come new public access to Highlands vistas previously open to a few golfers. The privately heavily subsidized golf course is closed permanently, in any event.

    The building site is on land already developed. It is modest in necessary scale and tiny in proportion to the tens of thousands of acres of permanently conserved public parklands to which it is peripheral, and adds substantial new area. A new traffic light at the theater’s Route 9 entry will deliver safety and congestion improvement over prior irregular congestion at Route 9D of the Boscobel site.

    I urge our officials to approve HVSF’s plans because of their many benefits to our community.

  4. There was a timely section in The New York Times on Jan. 16 about “overtourism” and “sustainable sightseeing” that we as a community should take to heart. Our beautiful Philipstown is in danger of becoming a tourist destination that threatens to overwhelm the stated mission/vision of both our comprehensive plan and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust to preserve our rural character and scenic beauty.

    Garrison has three major wedding venue destinations, a retreat center and potentially a major cultural center in its midst. Its 2,500 inhabitants, who opted for a quiet, rural home, are beginning to feel beleaguered. Hiking on a weekend or beautiful weekday is no longer a quiet walk in nature. Anthony’s Nose is a zoo. Route 9 is horrible.

    We need to weigh carefully the consequences, intended and unintended, on our community of overtourism and large-scale development, cultural or otherwise.

  5. Philipstown is culturally rich beyond anything that could be expected of a town of our size. It is rich in landscape and history, from the riverside to the Highlands, from the Great Chain across the Hudson to the Foundry that helped win the Civil War.

    Living here, we are heirs to it all and responsible for it all. We need to be — and can be — both conservators and, where needed, visionaries looking past what is to what could be. Among our very greatest treasures is the Shakespeare Festival, now in a visionary phase, guided by steady hands.

    The shared vision of a conservation-minded philanthropist and thoroughly experienced Festival leaders, the plan is to relocate the Festival to a Highland location well-known to us all. This will be its permanent home, preserving the hallmark tent theater, providing living quarters for the seasonal acting company and strengthened educational programs. This is an extraordinary gift to Philipstown, to the tri-state region and the State of New York. I have confidence in this vision, and we all should.

    I don’t know that any theater festival in North America does as much to refresh and stage the works of the world’s greatest playwright, alongside the work of emerging American playwrights. Night after night, those words, those dilemmas and passions and loves project out into our lives. For that time the Festival tent becomes the center of Philipstown, deservedly so.

    We must not set a Great Chain of our own making in the way of this project. Care for it, help it find its way.

  6. Thy ambition,
    Thou scarlet sin, robb’d this bewailing land.

    ~Shakespeare, Henry VIII

    In their new role as land stewards, I had hoped the dramatic beauty of the land would take the lead in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s move to the Garrison Golf Course. The property has spectacular river views and open space. When Chris Davis purchased it, he saved the rural and scenic character of the neighborhood. Then work by the community put protections in place via town codes and overlays to ensure that the fragile balance of conserving our natural and cultural character would be preserved.

    Now given this generous donation, HVSF seeks to have these protections waived. Their Environmental Application Form shows the placement of their tent plus back of house facilities on the highest hillside at The Garrison. The view north to Storm King Mountain is to the birthplace of the environmental movement and Scenic Hudson. It would be a folly to impose manmade structures upon this ridge, especially with other river view sites possible there.

    HVSF is not simply moving their tent a few miles down the road. I find their larger plans out of keeping with the community character and values of Philipstown. As stated in the Philipstown Comprehensive Plan, the first goal is to sustain our rural and historic character. There is a fine balance between the natural and cultural in this remarkable town. The meadows and gardens are a good start and the charming homegrown theater company of the past would be welcome. But the scale of the plans for the buildings and parking lots need to be climate-smart and ecological as well and to be more aligned with the rural nature here and respectful of the protections they are asking to have rolled back.

  7. A little note of gratitude for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

    Around 15 years ago, I was hired soon out of college to be a part of the Festival. That job would give me enough working weeks to enter my union which has since been the backbone of my career as an artist – providing essential security, stability, guidance and health insurance.

    I met two of my closest friends that first summer, so too providing some of the most trusted support, nurturance and care of my life to me and my family.

    They met at the Festival themselves, fell in love, married and now have a child together — a daughter who is now one of my own daughter’s best friends. My oldest daughter. She was born shortly after I married the man I worked with my third year working at the Festival.

    My husband and I have gone on to have two more children together. Our son will celebrate his first birthday the day after the Festival’s public hearing for the Philipstown Planning Board.

    This past summer I was hired as a choreographer for the Festival. One day, I brought both my daughters to dance under the Festival’s tent. It was just us three. To try and describe their experience would be a disservice. But I have had it myself. I had it that first summer and have every summer since…I might call it transcendence. Most call it magic. They call it “that Place”!

    We have now been Cold Spring residents since July 2019, called back to the magic that brought us together. Our oldest daughter will enter Haldane in the fall. We celebrate Halloween like we never thought possible.

    To say that the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has shaped the course of my life would be a gross understatement.

    Our family was, in great part, born of the opportunities the Festival provided for us. Our children now carry on that opportunity and potential into the community. I would wish that for every young family whether they are residents or just spending a weekend.

    We are so grateful to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and we wish them many more more seasons to come.

  8. How lucky are we to have Hudson Valley Shakespeare in our town! I have carefully looked at their plans for using the former space at the Garrison Golf Course. I believe that this theater company, which has always shown regard for conservation and the environment in their mission, is the perfect steward for this beautiful land. As a nonprofit that depends upon audience and community support, Hudson Valley Shakespeare has a mission that is intrinsically tied to benefiting our community.

    The current plan makes a minor impact on the land while allowing the residents of Philipstown access to a variety of resources. Hudson Valley Shakespeare offers career-building opportunities for our community. Many local teenagers and college students have found work at the Shakespeare festival, and the experiences gained there have led them to land jobs as they move on in their lives. Additionally, Hudson Valley Shakespeare does a lot of community outreach. Personally, I have acted in their production of Our Town and I have participated in their playwriting workshops and contest. I have also, of course, been an audience member at many of their productions.

    I am excited that the proposed plan allows Hudson Valley Shakespeare to create housing for artists on site. At the moment, actors have to travel back and forth to Boscobel for rehearsals, which is taxing for them and for the environment. It seems like the move to the golf course and the proposed plan actually puts less of a traffic burden on Philipstown in this way, since actors do not have to travel to and from the performance space daily. Also, moving the already minimal Shakespeare traffic from 9D to Route 9 detangles the performance traffic from the weekend tourist traffic in Cold Spring.

    Thank you so much to the Planning Board for its time and careful attention to Philipstown’s needs. I am so happy to support this project by Hudson Valley Shakespeare.

  9. We have read with interest the various letters supporting and opposing the new Hudson Valley Shakespeare Project, and we sympathize with our neighbors who worry that it will bring increased traffic, sound pollution, and a disruption of the rural character that makes Philipstown precious to us all, but at the end of the day, we remain supporters of HVSF’s new plans. Here is why.

    Growth. The pressure from increased development and tourism that has radically increased during the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay. In fact, it was already happening before 2020 because of social media. The question, we believe, is not can we stop this trend, but how do we best manage it. Having a critical open space in the heart of our community, under the use and stewardship of a nonprofit organization with deep roots in our town, is far superior to a golf course catering to an almost exclusively well-to-do clientele, or another luxury housing development (even one on a small scale), or a larger upscale hotel complex.

    Traffic. We are concerned about traffic jams on Route 9 and the Snake Hill intersection, but we almost lost a family member in a crash there and have witnessed horrific accidents at that site on a regular basis. We think it is past time that a traffic light and adequate safety measures were put in place. The fact that HVSF provides sufficient parking is a plus in our minds.

    Diversity. Philipstown remains a racially homogenous community, and HVSF has a proven track record administering a diverse educational outreach program that will be expanded under their new plan. Providing economical housing for artists working with the festival is another much-needed opportunity to change the kind of people who can call Philipstown home.

    Ecology. The Garrison is a stunning golf course and have nothing against the game. But keeping a manicured stretch of endless grass required excessive irrigation, pesticides, and herbicides. This open space, which more people will now enjoy, can be managed with an ecological lens, reducing chemical inputs into our ecosystem.

    Scale. Friends have raised concerns about the scale of the HVSF campus, but it seems clear that future expansion plans will occur over a significant time period, allowing the community to adapt as the festival grows.

    Like many of our neighbors, HVSF has enriched our family in ways large and small – from providing summer jobs, to teaching our kids in school, to creating memorable nights of theater. This project is an important change to our town, and we encourage people to show up and ask HVSF and their consultants tough questions, but we also disagree with the idea of reflexive opposition to any kind of development. Societies inevitably grow and evolve, and a plan for Philipstown that puts art, diversity, and inclusion at the heart of our community seems to us to be a positive vision for the future.

  10. No reason not to have HVSF on the golf course site. That’s change. No reason to sign off on a regional entertainment complex. That’s change management.

    To the particulars:

    Re: hotel complexes, the proposal does in fact include one. (Planning Board documents.)

    Re: water usage, most of the golf course irrigation was sourced from surface water. Potable water use is forecast to double if the development is built out as planned. (Planning Board documents.)

    Re: traffic signals. Net net, they cause more accidents, not fewer. (Planning Board documents.) No elixir there.

    Put simply: What’s on the table now is grossly out-of-scale, and it’s got a lousy site plan. It’s time for wise heads to come forward and broker a project that works for the HVSF, and for its host community.

  11. I write to enthusiastically support the move of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to a new, permanent home, at the Garrison golf course.

    For some years, my husband had been campaigning for us to buy a home in the Garrison area. But it was only after seeing my first performance under the tent at Boscobel that I was finally ready to commit. I was so moved by the integration of the beauty of the Hudson Valley and the mind-blowing creativity of the performance that I felt confident in planting roots in the town.

    Since that summer more than 10 years ago, I have attended almost all of the offerings of HVSF each year, and each year, I am reminded how lucky we are to have this cultural richness just down the road. While Boscobel has provided a lovely temporary residence for HVSF, we must seize this once-in-a-lifetime chance for a permanent home at the Garrison golf club. The new site is equally beautiful, and by providing housing for artists and doubling the ingress and egress, the move will make this gem even more accessible than the site at Boscobel. As a member of the board of a local environmental organization, I am proud that HVSF has also made careful plans to limit the environmental impact of the move, revitalizing the old golf course and opening the space to the public. I strongly urge approval of the project.

  12. As a former director of the World Bank in Washington DC and an economist who has worked on economic and social development issues around the world for 50 years, I have been impressed by the impact of the Shakespeare Festival on local jobs and incomes. That impact can sometimes be taken for granted. Or, as the songwriter Joni Mitchell put it in the 1970s, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

    A recent letter to this newspaper suggested that Philipstown is already “overdeveloped.” That the area attracts a large number of walkers should be something to celebrate rather than complain about, while reasonably insisting that local parking and safety rules should be respected. Not everyone has moved here to enjoy a “quiet, rustic” setting. Many are long-term residents whose families depend on every dollar that the local economy can generate. And it would take a great deal of “bad” development to upset the balance of what will remain an idyllic combination of country and urban attractions.

    Apart from being a sparkling jewel in its own right that other communities might envy, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is an important part of the local community. Concluding the planning process successfully will be good for the festival but also for Philipstown, which has demonstrated its ability in the past to build on its existing advantages rather than take them for granted.

  13. No amount of benign environmental impact studies, rose-tinted revenue and traffic projections, promised jobs and community benefit statements can obscure the fact that taking a festival that for 30 years has been a transient, under the stars, open-air attraction of a brief but treasured Northeast summer (and making it a permanent) is a good idea. The festival’s seasonal reappearance each year (its inherent transience) could be the one abiding characteristic that makes it successful, and yearround permanence may be its potentially flawed overreach – with empty winter seats, and a slow but costly demise. It could fail, and fail spectacularly, leaving permanently widened roads, and how many unused structures?

    Take away the open air tent, the stars, the warm summer breezes and views up the slot, and for much of the year, you’re merely hawking tickets to Elizabethan plays without the benefit of breathtaking river views and leafed out rolling hillsides. Joseph Papp knew enough not to put a cover on the theater in Central Park, and it’s free of charge. How does HVSF think they can do it in Garrison for a hefty sum and succeed?

  14. Regarding HVSF’s new home, we can all continue to debate and present arguments and data in support of our positions: tax benefit or tax loss (and to whom), reduced accidents (broadside collisions) or increased accidents (rear-end collisions) because of a traffic light, potable water versus surface water use, etc.

    Most of us agree that HVSF is a cultural gift to the community, that it is managed by talented professionals and beloved by donors, audiences and performers, alike. Chris Davis is an environmental steward who has been dedicated and generous to the Garrison community and to our nonprofits for many years. HVSF was asked to project their plans far into the future. This has had benefits and drawbacks, for although their plan speaks to strategic, phased growth over time, the vision may loom large in the mind’s eye today.

    As a nonprofit leader in the community, my vote is to trust HVSF and its leadership to consider the land, the company and our concerns with great care and the benefit of all.

    Cross is the executive director of Manitoga.

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