Drops plans for indoor theater, 20-room inn
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which has plans for a new home at the former Garrison golf course that have drawn some opposition for its scope, said on Tuesday (March 29) that it would trim back.
HVSF said it is dropping a proposed 225-seat indoor theater and a 20-room inn to “narrow the scope” of its project based on feedback during three public hearings sessions held by the Philipstown Planning Board and public site visits.
In addition, the organization said it would add more greenery and trees to screen the view of its tent from Route 9 and move a planned parking lot out of a designated wetland buffer zone.
The Planning Board is in the midst of a state-mandated environmental review of the project. HVSF said it plans to formally notify the board of the revisions at its April 21 meeting.
“Our goal has always been to be good, collaborative neighbors and thoughtful, intentional land stewards,” said Davis McCallum, artistic director at HVSF, in a statement. “To everyone who offered their thoughts and opinions about the project, we are so grateful for your feedback. We heard you. Scaling back our proposal will allow us to prove our commitment over time and assure our neighbors that we are steadfast in our promise to work collaboratively as part of this community.”
Losing the indoor theater and the inn will reduce the size of newly constructed structures in the proposal by 30 percent, to 21,800 square feet; reduce water usage by 3,100 gallons per day, or 19 percent from the original plan; decrease the number of performances and duration of the season; and reduce the site’s maximum capacity by 27 percent, from 1,100 to 800, HVSF said.
HVSF had envisioned performances at the indoor theater from April to late October, and possibly in December for the holidays. Philipstown in 2005 approved a 40-room hotel and spa for The Garrison country club and golf site, but it was never built.
Removing plans for the indoor theater and hotel will reduce capacity “to a size that is truly comparable to what our operations have been at Boscobel for 35 years,” said Katie Liberman, HVSF’s managing director, in a statement. “This amendment ensures that there is no net increase of visitors in Philipstown on any given night. In fact, the new theater tent will have fewer seats than what we have had before,” which was 535.
Along with a permanent outdoor tent, HVSF’s long-term plans for the site include actors’ housing; a 1,200-square-foot visitor center and box office; outdoor pavilion; 4,000 square-foot backstage structure with dressing rooms; paths; picnic lawns; a landscape with meadows, woods, parkland and wildflower gardens; parking; and reconfigured access to Snake Hill Road and Route 9, with a possible traffic light at their intersection. It also would retain The Garrison’s restaurant and banquet hall.
If the Planning Board concludes the project will not have a negative impact on the environment, HVSF would need the Town Board to rezone the parcel for performances.
For more than 30 years, before philanthropist Chris Davis gave HVSF 98 acres of golf course land, HVSF rented the lawn at Boscobel in Garrison for its summer productions. While the Planning Board review continues, HVSF has asked Philipstown Supervisor John Van Tassel for a permit to install its seasonal tent from Boscobel for the 2022 season, which starts July 15.
Asked on Tuesday for comment on the change in HVSF’s plans, Neal Zuckerman, the chair of the Planning Board, said: “The Planning Board is committed to fulsome and transparent processes in the evaluation of applications — regardless of size — that come before it. A consistent attribute of those processes is accessible and encouraged input from the community. That is why we (a) took both Zoom and in-person comments and (b) had no time restrictions on individuals’ comments. That the HVSF has responded to the voice of the community says that the Planning Board’s processes work.”
The HVSF proposal to repurpose the former Garrison Golf Course as its permanent home is well-planned to benefit all Philipstown while being considerate of its neighbors. The primary activities – live theater during the summer months under an open-air tent and the Valley Restaurant and banquet facility — are public resources well-known to and greatly enjoyed by our residents. The proposal is to continue what we already know and enjoy, and to make it better, while opening the former golf course site to the community as environmentally sensitive natural space.
The public benefits of the proposal are numerous. The number of theatre seats is being reduced, lessening traffic which is being moved closer to Route 9 where it already goes as it heads to points south, north and east. The proposal provides the opportunity to reconfigure the intersections of Route 9 with Snake Hill Road, and Travis Corners, a well-known site of fatal accidents, while taking traffic off Philips Brooke Road, currently the safest way to cross Route 9 in the neighborhood.
The Shakespeare Festival and our natural spaces are amenities that make our town an enjoyable safe place to live and raise our families, supporting our businesses, providing employment opportunities, particularly for our youth, and maintaining a healthy tax base. The improvements to site, prioritizing environmentally sensitive practices in a parkland setting, giving immediate access to the theatre activities and jobs for our youth, and maintaining restaurant and banquet facilities already built out can only make the neighboring properties more attractive, enhancing their values and enjoyment.
Civic projects like the Shakespeare Festival, broadly supported by our community individually and publicly, are the hallmark of democracy in America recognized by Alexis De Tocqueville almost 200 years ago. Repurposing the golf course to host the Shakespeare Festival will realize the greater good for our community for decades to come.
Reducing the size is a start — now to get the huge tent off the ridgeline and protect the viewshed. [via Facebook]
Cutting the project back is a real loss to the community because of a bunch of rich NIMBY nonsense. [via Facebook]
I am not surprised to read a comment calling the neighbors surrounding the Garrison Golf Course a bunch of rich NIMBYs and blaming them for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival scaling back its planned commercial development application. I have seen this expression before.
To be clear, Garrison taxpayers are facing a potential 10 percent increase in our school taxes due to a shortfall of more than $1 million. On top of this, there will be a significant shortfall due to much of the course being donated to nonprofits.
Many of my Garrison neighbors who pay high property taxes are not rich financially, although we are very rich in lifestyle. Many of us have chosen to live here for the incredible natural and quiet environment, not for being in close proximity to a large Shakespearean development that is nonprofit. Many of us spoke out at the public hearing held by the Philipstown Planning Board. The fact that commentary took up parts of three meetings says a lot.
None of us said we were against development of the golf course. But because the course has closed, the special development district should revert to the zoning district, which is rural conservation. That would require 10 acres minimum per single family residence. Any developer could easily develop part of the course and leave an area for residents to walk on and enjoy the views. These houses would pay a large amount of local taxes, saving Garrison taxpayers money. Any developer would have to respect all of our zoning laws.
The HVSF’s application has many profound flaws. The entrance on Route 9 is extremely dangerous, coming at the end of two opposite passing lanes feeding into two one-way lanes. The Snake Hill proposed bridge is two one-way lanes, with no room for a turning lane and a tiny shoulder. There are neighboring driveways that will be impacted during arrival to the shows every day. As noted in the public comments, the water and sound tests are flawed. In the past, neighboring wells have run dry.
There are serious considerations before the Planning Board about the future of Garrison. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no turning back. The fact that the HVSF is already scaling back shows that the neighbors have standing in their concerns.
We are not NIMBYs who whine. We are not against HVSF or a development. We are for our natural lifestyles and environment. We are happy to share this magical place where we live with some, but not with tens to hundreds of thousands.
Pushed by two fire-threat evacuations in recent years, my wife and I moved from California’s dry Sierra foothills to Putnam County in 2021. We are building a new home in Cold Spring near the intersection of Routes 301 and 9D and hope to join the Hudson Valley community in 2023.
No small part of our wish to live among you is the local Shakespeare festival. For more than 20 years we’ve traveled almost yearly to Ashland, Oregon, to see plays put on by the acclaimed, 95-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival in one of its three venues (two indoor and one open-air). We have such fond memories of its theatrical excellence.
We were a bit chastened, however, to learn that the development of an indoor venue has been scratched from present plans, especially as one would permit a longer performance season and a deeper silent intimacy. Sure, any increase in visitors will bring change to the area, and this understandably will be most borne by those living closest to the festival. But Ash-land residents have found a benign area effect of its festival through its peaceful cultural influence and support for service-industry jobs. And what a gold mine of talent from the city that this festival has.
We hope, in balance, that residents will support the inclusion of an indoor venue along with the planned tent facility, even if the 20-room hotel is left out of the mix, and that festival organizers keep exploring how more of its initial plan may be finally implemented.