Both Sides Now
Two not-so-different visions for the Hudson River Valley
Photographs by Michael Polito
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Not so long ago, the Hudson Valley was contested land.
For years, various proposals for large-scale housing developments and industrial facilities — recycling plants, power plants, and even waste dumping grounds — galvanized residents and environmental preservationists to push for protection of our natural resources. Many locals will recall the six-year battle to stop St. Lawrence Cement from building a massive plant in Hudson. That plan was eventually defeated, thanks in large part to the hard work of a small, but dedicated, bunch of civilian volunteers.
At the same time, there has been a big push by Scenic Hudson, the Open Space Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and a variety of local and regional land trusts to preserve open space. This effort has resulted in thousands of acres — including wetlands and other fragile ecosystems — being protected. Valuable farmland has been preserved, and many public parks have sprouted up along the Hudson waterfront.
But of course, development — whether residential or commercial — is a vital part of our local economy. Not surprisingly, developers and environmentalists have often been at odds over the best ways to use the land. But recently, the battle lines seem to have been redrawn. Poorly conceived development plans continue to be a threat. But there is a growing consensus that well-designed, sensitively sited residential and mixed-use projects are the ideal way to resurrect depressed downtowns and restore abandoned industrial sites to productivity. More and more, folks on both sides — from environmentalists to government officials to developers — agree that striking a balance between open-space preservation and desirable development is the key to the Valley’s future.
Achieving this goal, however, requires effective planning, and therein lies the rub. New York is a home-rule state, which means that municipal governments and local planning boards have the power to make important land-use decisions for their specific area. The result: a patchwork of inconsistent zoning requirements across the Valley. What is needed is a region-wide master plan — at least that is the consensus of two regional leaders, one an environmental preservationist, the other a major residential developer.
Hudson Valley spoke with Ned Sullivan, who has been the high-energy president of the environmental group Scenic Hudson for a decade. During his tenure, Sullivan (also a savvy businessman) has broadened the organization’s mission to include an emphasis on smart economic growth and a state energy conservation plan. He has also worked to form coalitions with similar organizations, and overseen a dramatic expansion of educational programs and community outreach.
We also checked in with Martin Ginsburg, president and chief executive officer of Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC). Based in Valhalla, the 46-year-old firm is a leading developer in Westchester County, and has built (or plans to build) developments in Yonkers, Hastings, Sleepy Hollow, Cornwall, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, and Ossining. His new Harbors at Haverstraw, a sprawling luxury condo and townhouse development on the river, has garnered several awards from national and local building associations; Ginsburg hopes it will help revitalize the once-downtrodden village. Clearly a successful businessman, Ginsburg also strives to strengthen local communities. He helped restore ferry service to Haverstraw, was instrumental in the formation of Historic Hudson River Towns, and has reportedly donated more than $2 million to charitable causes and arts organizations.