Planning Board approves environmental remedies

The Philipstown Planning Board on Nov. 16 approved the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s strategies for minimizing noise and traffic, and other environmental impacts from its new venue at the former Garrison Golf Course.

With its unanimous approval of a “findings statement,” the board completed an environmental review that began in July 2022 amid concerns from neighboring homeowners about noise from amplified performances, roads clogged by theater-goers and the destruction of scenic views from the property on Route 9.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) still has to secure site-plan approval from the Planning Board, zoning amendments from the Town Board and permits from various agencies. But that final plan will include new turn lanes and other measures to reduce traffic, the planting of new trees and other mitigation measures.

“We are pleased to have reached this milestone, and we continue to be committed to serving as a good neighbor, a local cultural resource and a model for environmental sustainability in the performing arts,” said Kendra Ekelund, managing director for the festival, and Davis McCallum, its artistic director.

After leaving its longtime home at Boscobel, HVSF has staged its last two seasons at the former golf course, after receiving a donation of 98 acres there from Chris Davis, the property’s owner.

The first phase of its project, which will occur on 38 acres, includes a new permanent open-air tent, a back-of-house area and new concessions and bathrooms. A second phase, five to 15 years away, would include 26 units of new housing for artists and guests, rehearsal and administrative space and a welcome center.

To mitigate the impact from the removal of 168 trees, nearly all of them in the area of the now-closed golf course, HVSF will convey 17 acres of forest to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, plant 250 new trees, along with shrubs and perennials, and allow the “rewilding” of the course.

The organization also said it will restrict tree removal to between Nov. 1 and March 31 to eliminate potential impacts to any Indiana and Northern Long-eared bats in the area, although an assessment determined that the trees identified for removal were not a “suitable nesting area” for either species.

The review determined that the biggest impact from traffic will occur at the four-way intersection of Route 9 and Snake Hill and Travis Corners roads. While approval from the state Department of Transportation for a traffic light at the intersection is pending, HVSF will rely on police to direct drivers “during peak events,” according to the findings statement.

The festival also said it would install a right-turn lane on Snake Hill Road at the approach to its intersection with Route 9; a northbound left-turn lane on Route 9, where it intersects a driveway to the property; and a southbound left-turn lane on Route 9 at Coleman Road, opposite the driveway.

HVSF said it will preserve a northwesterly view from a ridge by installing a gathering area north of the new tent for people attending shows. (HVSF plans to continue allowing neighbors to use the property for “passive” activities like dog-walking and snowshoeing.)

Although an analysis of noise levels concluded that “even with simultaneous events,” sound from the festival’s performances will not exceed Philipstown’s limits, Heidi Wendel, a member of the Planning Board, said neighbors have complained.

For a period of five years after the permanent theater begins operating, HVSF said it will “investigate and evaluate” complaints about noise to the town’s Building Department. The organization said it would pay for measurements when sources of noise “cannot be immediately identified and addressed by HVSF through changes in programing or management.”

After five years, HVSF said it will continue to respond to complaints, but will not foot the cost of noise measurements.

“That does still bother me — that there are neighbors who have been complaining about noise,” said Wendel.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

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