Philipstown Residents Divided Over HVSF Plans 

Public hearing

There was a full house at a public hearing on Jan. 27 concerning plans for the former Garrison golf course. (Photo by Leonard Sparks)

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Some see environmental stewardship, others a threat

Philipstown residents last week filled Town Hall and Zoom screens and debated a proposal by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to transform the former Garrison golf course into a theater and cultural campus.

They were participating in a public hearing convened Jan. 27 by the Philipstown Planning Board, which is conducting a state-mandated environmental review of the plan to create a permanent home on 97 donated acres bordered by Philipse Brook Road, Snake Hill Road and Route 9.

The Planning Board’s job “is to balance community rights with property rights,” said Neal Zuckerman, who chairs the panel. “I’m glad we’re here. We’re able to have the public weigh in. It’s a core part of our democratic process.”

Nearly 40 residents addressed the board. After three hours, two dozen still wanted to comment, so the board scheduled another session for Feb. 17.

If the board issues a “negative declaration,” meaning it finds no potential harm to the environment, HVSF still must submit site plans and get approval from the Town Board to change the property’s zoning to allow for performances.

Last month, Supervisor John Van Tassel said he would issue a permit for HVSF to erect its existing tent on the site for the 2022 season. The troupe previously used the tent for summer performances at Boscobel, its base for more than 30 years.

Along with installing a year-round tent, HVSF’s long-term plans for the new site include an indoor theater; actors’ housing; a visitor center-box office; outdoor pavilion; backstage structure; 20-room hotel (half the size of one permitted under the golf club’s 2005 zoning); retention of a restaurant and banquet hall; paths; picnic lawns; a restored natural landscape; parking; and reconfigured entrances from Snake Hill Road and Route 9, with a possible traffic light at the intersection.

HVSF garden render

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival plans in 2022 to move from its location at Boscobel to land that was part of The Garrison golf course.

Chris Davis, who gave the golf course to HVSF, is also donating about 74 acres to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (which has received 57 so far), while keeping a 27.5-acre private parcel. “We have the opportunity to substantially protect this land” through the HVSF and HHLT partnerships, he said Jan. 27.

The golf course was unlikely to continue indefinitely, some residents observed. “Something is going to happen there, and this is the best of all possible” options, said Claudio Marzollo, of Lane Gate Road, near Nelsonville. (A century ago, an athletic training center for wealthy men occupied the site.)

“There’s a reason we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world: The people, like those proposing this project, who have striven to conserve the natural beauty, to balance conservation with public access to recreation and the arts within these natural surroundings,” said Fred Martin, of Garrison, who recalled joyful outings on the golf course. “The fact so much of this space will still be conserved, still be publicly accessible, albeit in different recreational and artistic circumstances, makes me grateful.”

Allison Pataki of Garrison, too, praised HVSF and HHLT as organizations that “value the beauty of the town.” She also termed a traffic light “essential” at the Route 9-Snake Hill Road intersection, where “horrific accidents” have occurred.

Nelsonville resident Erin Muir and Tara Vamos of Cold Spring lauded HVSF’s plans for transforming golf greens into meadows. A landscape architect, Muir noted that typically “there’s 4 to 7 pounds of pesticides and herbicides put on golf courses per acre. We need to do right by this piece of earth that we have really been hurting the whole time it’s been a golf course.”

A natural landscape “will be a huge improvement over what we have” now, Vamos concurred.

Jeff Mikkelson, a Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce leader and village resident, said the chamber — a group “very much against large-scale commercial development; very much in favor of land and water conservation” and preserving community character — concluded that “this is a great project for the environment, the community and the local economy.”

Richard Butensky, of North Highlands, said HVSF’s plans mesh with Philipstown’s latest comprehensive plan, which he helped draft. “I can’t see a more environmentally sensitive use of this property, and a better use for the community,” he said. “The Shakespeare Festival has proven over the decades to be a good neighbor.”

Retired actor Peter Maloney, who lives across from Boscobel, declared he “never had a problem with noise, vandalism” or anything else from HVSF productions.

However, some Garrison residents expressed misgivings about what HVSF could do going forward.

“We’re concerned this will bring great change to the whole neighborhood,” said Jack Dickerhof, of Travis Corners Road, a golf course neighbor. “Too much is being planned for that relatively small place.”

Patricia Berwald focused on use of Snake Hill Road, across from her house, for access. “Why does the entrance have to be there?” She also said that with a stoplight, trucks “will have to rev down and rev up” at the Snake Hill-Route 9 intersection. “It’s just got to get a lot more noisy,” she said. Berwald suggested the traffic light only function during HVSF performances.

“My biggest concern is what happens to our neighborhood,” said Stephen Wallis, of Philipse Brook Road. At present, his view consists of “just woods,” he explained. But HVSF wants to construct actor housing. “All of a sudden, we’re looking at having transient actors in front of us, not owning property, with no skin in the game,” he said. “I fear that Garrison as we know it might be destroyed,” with its residents “the forgotten ones. We’ll be collateral damage to a huge commercial development.” Thus, “the residents of Garrison are counting on” the Planning Board “to have our back,” he emphasized.

 Joe Regele predicted HVSF’s project “is going to have a negative impact on the taxpayers of Garrison” and warned that a traffic light may only spur drivers to speed to get through the Snake Hill-Route 9 intersection to beat the red.

5 thoughts on “Philipstown Residents Divided Over HVSF Plans 

  1. I sat through the debate at Philipstown Town Hall; it seemed to rival the complete works of Shakespeare in length and, at times, theater. Only around 10 persons spoke against the proposed HVSF plans. The vast majority were in favor, and most strongly in favor. Those against were largely people neighboring the golf course. They have good reason to “kick the tires.”

    Unfortunately, many of those against had a tendency to exaggerate. I’m a relatively new resident to Cold Spring. I am very happy here. That happiness is largely due to the people who live here, such as Chris Davis and Davis McCallum. They are generous of spirit, fair and transparent. I can tell they care about our community. I trust them. And I trust them to do what is best for our community.

  2. My family has lived off Snake Hill Road for more than 73 years, so I feel I can speak of our country road with some knowledge. It has been, for the most part, a quiet road; there aren’t many houses and the tortuous nature of the curves dissuades heavy traffic. It is part of “rural Garrison” as much as the dirt roads of Old Albany Post and Philipse Brook. All the people who live on this road do so because they value their privacy.

    That peace and quiet is about to be disrupted by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival plans for The Garrison, and for no apparent reason. I do not object to Shakespeare moving nearby. In the past I have been an ardent supporter and attendee. But I strongly object to the two-lane highway which will be constructed onto our little country road, especially since an entrance/exit already exists.

    It can’t possibly be cost-effective to build a road over the stream at a steep incline. There is plenty of land farther north on Route 9 where it would not interfere with Coleman or Frazier Road. It would also eliminate the need to cut down trees and build across the stream, disturbing the waterway. HVSF’s current plan will earn the enmity of every one of its neighbors, which is not the wisest way to begin a project which ultimately will depend on the goodwill of the community.

  3. We really enjoy living in Garrison. We love the dirt roads, our neighbors and being in the woods.

    We enjoyed the Shakespeare Festival. Our dog Delilah acted in one of the productions in 2005. The Times said she was innately funny. We loved the festival being part of our community. We loved picnicking on the lawn at Boscobel house. The festival was a summer rite of passage.

    We think it is very generous of Chris Davis to donate the land for the festival. What I do not look forward to is a Cultural Campus, with a wedding venue and Hotel. This will be our own Legoland theme park, but with Shakespeare as the star.

    The cultural campus will take over Garrison, it will not be part of the community. The cultural campus will have to increase programs to raise money to sustain the hotel and year-round theater. It will have to be a national arts destination event center, drawing people from far and wide, like Legoland. The roads will not be able to handle the cultural campus, Snake Hill will have to be straightened and widened. Route 9 will have to have an additional lane added for turning northbound. There will be no tax benefit as it is a nonprofit. Sales tax goes to the county. The attendees will not be spending money in Cold Spring at the restaurants and shops, as that will be a little out of the way. The Shakespeare cultural campus will decrease our quality of life, property values and destroy our amazing community all in the name of business disguised as art.

  4. Count me as one wary but welcoming Philipstown resident with regards to the HVSF application.

    Wary, because of the local traffic implications. This will bring many more people in cars to the backroads of Garrison, from Avery Road, Philipsbrook Road to Albany Post Road, Canopus Hill Road, etc., whether they are sight-seeing or lost due to faulty and/or circuitous GPS navigation. This is a potentially serious quality-of-life issue for residents who just want to take a walk on a dirt road. We have already seen “hotspots” that have been discovered, and subsequently loved to death, in Philipstown (e.g., Indian Brook Falls and Breakneck Ridge).

    The widening, “highway-fication” of Route 9 is also a major concern that could result from the increase in traffic volume. If unchecked, this would undoubtedly degrade quality of life in Philipstown.

    Welcoming, because this could be the most culturally and aesthetically pleasing land use alternative for this property. Who could be against performance art under a tent in such a beautiful setting? And, it leaves open a lot of land for wildlife and recreation, and not subdivision for private development. For that, Philipstown residents should be thankful.

    I ask our Town Board members to please consider the scale of this project. Is it appropriate? What can be done to reduce potential negative impact on the community?

  5. Although the HVSF proposal raises valid concerns and might provide unwanted inconveniences to a number of people, it has to be said: It could be worse.

    Given the educational, cultural and environmental impacts that the phased plan invites, you have to think that there are scenarios which would be much more unsavory for us who live in and around the site. I appreciate vitriol, hyperbole and melodrama, but please, don’t you think it could be worse?

    Even if HVSF could realize their ultimate vision, which is a good 20 years from now, the direct benefits of having a stable institution with long-standing connections to our community will outweigh the adjustments that will ensue. It would be useful if HVSF could say plainly and more clearly what benefits this community should expect and how these facilities could be of more targeted for our benefit.