Developer agrees to share recreation space with town
On a 3-2 vote, the Philipstown Town Board last week rezoned 11 acres at the pending Hudson Highlands Reserve subdivision after the developer said that, without the change, he might allow soil mining.
Ulises Liceaga of Horton Road LLC also promised the town use of space for recreation in a commercial building he owns on Route 9.
The Hudson Highlands Reserve property, about 210 acres, is bordered by Route 9, Horton Road and East Mountain Road North. Liceaga, an architect, bought land along East Mountain Road North more than 20 years ago and built a weekend house. After acquiring more property, in 2014 he proposed Hudson Highlands Reserve, which he envisions as an upscale complex with 24 homes, each on its own 1-acre lot. Without the rezoning of the 11 acres from industrial-manufacturing to rural-residential, he would have been limited to 22 homes.
The Town Board acted at its Dec. 1 formal monthly meeting at Town Hall. Supervisor John Van Tassel and Councilors Robert Flaherty and Judy Farrell voted for the rezoning; Jason Angell and Megan Cotter opposed it.
Despite early and intense public interest in the project, when the Town Board held a public hearing on the rezoning in November, only one person spoke, encouraging the board to be wary. When an earlier owner of the 11 acres proposed soil mining operations there in 2012, neighbors objected.
As the Town Board discussed the rezoning request over the last several months, Van Tassel often cited a need to prevent industrial or mining activity from threatening Clove Creek, which borders the 11-acre tract. Granting the rezoning application “in exchange for taking 11 acres out of industrial-manufacturing and putting it into rural-residential is an opportunity we don’t always get,” he said Dec. 1.
Flaherty noted that, without the rezoning, the project would have 22 houses and that adding two more has “a minuscule impact on the environment.”
Cotter and Farrell asked whether the developer would provide anything tangible for the town in exchange for the rezoning. Farrell said that if Liceaga would “commit to some additional public benefit, that would make it an easier decision.”
Liceaga said the Route 9 commercial building once contained a yoga center that left gear behind and that he is willing to provide it to the town government for recreation or storage needs, and to donate a piece of playground equipment as well.
Town Attorney Stephen Gaba suggested that the board get that promise in writing, which Liceaga offered to provide.
Van Tassel and Flaherty said they thought the developer’s verbal pledge was sufficient, but Angell said “it would make sense to take a look at that space and hammer out the details” of an agreement before voting on the rezoning request. He also asked whether, should the rezoning not occur, Liceaga might allow soil mining on the 11 acres in question.
“The answer is ‘yes,’ ” Liceaga replied, recalling that the former owner of the parcel referred to its soil as “gray gold” because it contains material in demand for septic systems. “If I can recover some money even before the  houses are built, I would consider that.” He later observed that “we are kind of on the clock for this.”
Hudson Highlands Reserve still awaits detailed site-plan scrutiny by the Planning Board and a future conversation with the Town Board over a road-grade concern.
The reason why only one person spoke at the Town Board’s public hearing on Dec. 1 is that it was rescheduled from Nov. 3 on short notice and no Zoom participation was offered. A lot of us who planned on going on the original date couldn’t make it. I heard about it the day it was taking place. [via Facebook]