Both Sides Now

Two not-so-different visions for the Hudson River Valley


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Black Creek Preserve

Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson

Recent Open Space Victories

Black Creek Preserve
Town of Esopus, Ulster

This little-known preserve on the western shore of the Hudson consists of 130 acres of lovely woods intersected by Black Creek, one of the few Hudson feeders that hasn’t been degraded by pollution. Near the trailhead is an unusual suspension bridge over the creek, and after passing several vernal pools — small bodies of water that are incubators for amphibians — the trail winds down to a beach littered with skipping stones. On a recent visit, a pair of pileated woodpeckers flitted among some tall evergreens, waves gently broke along the beach, and fishing boats floated placidly on the river.

Scenic Hudson acquired the land in 1992 and opened it to the public in 1999. “It’s a wonderful place for families,” said Steve Rosenberg, senior vice president of Scenic Hudson and executive director of the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc. “Young kids don’t like a boring straight trail. They prefer lots of nooks and crannies and interesting twists and turns,” such as they’ll find at Black Creek. An unsullied view of the Hyde Park estates across the river is another attractive feature.

The park is part of the Black Creek Wetlands Complex, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation identified as a conservation priority in its Draft 2009 Open Space Conservation Plan. It provides habitat for the threatened northern cricket frog and is an important area for breeding and migrating waterfowl, as well as river otters. The park is located off Route 9W, adjacent to Winding Brook Acres cottages.

Roosevelt Farm Lane
Hyde Park, Dutchess

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home and Library is a national park and one of the most visited attractions in the Hudson Valley. A proposed shopping mall, which was to be located directly across the road, prompted Scenic Hudson to purchase the 334-acre site in 2004. The property was subsequently transferred to the National Park Service, and is now open to the public, serving as a pedestrian link to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat.

The land was once owned by FDR, who planted it with experimental tree plots (the president had an abiding interest in agriculture and silvaculture). The nearly two-mile-long road he traveled to reach Eleanor’s house has been restored. There weren’t enough funds to fix the old bridge (designed and built by Roosevelt), so the park service constructed a new one over the creek. The original survives, however, and can be viewed by visitors.

Tivoli Waterfront

The village of Tivoli, a collection of charming houses, restaurants, and businesses heavily patronized by the nearby Bard College community, extends all the way to the Hudson. Long ago, there was a bulkhead along the shore where boats could tie-up, providing residents with access to the river. But half a century ago — when the rail lines began deploying faster trains on the riverside tracks — the shore became off-limits, according to Tivoli Mayor Tom Cordier. “We’ve had a waterfront committee for almost 20 years looking to reconnect the village with the waterfront and rebuild the bulkhead,” he said.

Now it’s about to happen. Within the next few months, the village will close on the purchase of two-and-a-half riverside acres from CSX. Scenic Hudson is footing the $40,000 bill, and the village is seeking grants from the New York Department of State, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and other state agencies to pay for construction of the bulkhead, a fence, benches, a small parking lot, and other improvements, which Cordier estimates will cost from $3-$4 million.

The fence will protect children and pets from the railroad tracks, and the plan includes floating docks. The two-and-a-half acre park is emblematic of numerous initiatives underway by Scenic Hudson to acquire or improve municipal land along the river, as part of its Save the Land That Matters Most campaign. Tivoli is one of five Hudson River communities that have received funds, ranging from $35,000 to $350,000, from Scenic Hudson for creation of a park or enhancement of an existing one.

Watergrass Sanctuary

Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson

Watergrass Sanctuary
Philipstown, Putnam

Owned by the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society, these 48 acres of forest and wetlands just received permanent protection through a conservation easement secured by Scenic Hudson and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Bordering Route 9 in the Highlands, the land is contiguous with other properties protected by easements, including Saunders Farm, a working farm whose annual art installations and square dances have become a center for the Garrison/Philipstown community. A trail crossing the farm will be extended across the sanctuary, with access provided off Route 9. The sanctuary consists of wetlands and forested slopes rising to a ridge. It has abundant bird life, and a bear has been sighted within the vicinity, according to Andy Chmar, executive director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.

Chmar said the Watergrass Sanctuary fills in the missing link of a huge tract of land which is forever protected from development, and preserves the view shed from surrounding parks, including Bear Mountain and Storm King. Hence its preservation is critical to maintaining the rural, wild character of the scenic Highlands, a region of the river that for generations was known as “America’s Rhine.”

The sanctuary land was donated to the National Audubon Society by the de Rham family in 1980 and transferred to the local Audubon Society chapter. Chmar noted that the area is a very desirable place to live and therefore is under a lot of development pressure, which makes establishment of the sanctuary all the more critical. “We want to ensure it remains an accessible, publicly protected landscape,” he said.

Cold Spring Landing

Riverside charm: New townhomes with Victorian details at Cold Spring Landing

Photograph courtesy of Unicorn Contracting Corp.

Developments In the News

Cold Spring Landing, Cold Spring

The block of 10 townhomes on the Cold Spring waterfront was completed just over a year ago, but you’d never know it. With their gabled roofs, dormers, Victorian porches, bay windows, turrets and large chimneys, these brick-and-wood-sided houses, arrayed in a row hugging the sidewalk, look a hundred years old. Stylistically, the development fits in perfectly with the quaint architecture and early 19th-century townscape of the surrounding village. The houses are a few steps away from a waterfront gazebo and pier and a block away from the train station, which whisks commuters to Manhattan in just over an hour.

The site, a former lumberyard, presented a rare opportunity to develop in a village center on the waterfront, notes developer Paul Guillaro, the president of Unicorn Contracting Corp., based in Garrison. It’s also in a historic district. “We worked with the village and their historical board and planning board,” he said — a process that included determining the existing sightlines on the street so that the new buildings could be properly aligned. He also was required to use natural products — cedar instead of cement-board or vinyl siding, cooper details, wood-framed windows with divided panes — which was very costly. As we go to press, three of the waterfront townhouses have sold for over $1 million; the remainder are being rented. Guillaro says he’s sure they all would have sold if the economy hadn’t taken a nosedive.

Hudson Landing, Kingston

After six years of review, AVR Realty’s proposal to build what would be the largest waterfront development on the Hudson River got environmental approval from the Kingston Planning Board in April. Located on the former site of a cement plant and limestone quarry, Hudson Landing will consist of 1,682 units — a combination of single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments, along with retail shops, a restaurant, and other commercial buildings.

Public input by community and historic preservation groups, environmental organizations, and — especially — Scenic Hudson (which, along with other organizations, proposed an alternative plan) led to many changes in the original proposal, which would have created massive suburban sprawl along the Hudson shoreline. The approved project has been significantly downsized — though critics say it’s still too big — and will consist of two New Urbanist-style villages separated by a wide swath of parkland and fronted by a mile-long waterfront promenade. The buildings will be laid out in a grid, with the architecture reflecting traditional local styles.

A forested ridge will be protected (instead of covered with houses, as called for in the original plan), to some extent preserving the views from the river. A proposed marina has been scrapped in favor of a launching area for kayaks and other nonmotorized craft. There is also a plan to provide shuttle service to the Rhinecliff train station, which is located across the river near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.

The New Urbanist redesign requires a zoning change, after which AVR will submit a site plan to the planning board for the first phase, which will be for 200 to 300 units. Dan Simone, director of engineering and planning for the Yonkers-based firm, said construction could begin next year, depending on the market. He said AVR would be targeting empty-nesters, second-home buyers, and commuters in its marketing efforts. Simone said that this is the first New Urbanist project undertaken by AVR, which also developed the Waterfront at Fishkill. Asked whether the New Urbanist plan would result in a cost savings, he responded, “We don’t see it. What you save in site work, you make up in increased costs in finishing. You’re pretty much breaking even from a cost perspective.”

Harbors at Haverstraw

An urban retreat: Harbors at Haverstraw offers luxe amenities and river views

Photograph courtesy of GDC

Harbors at Haverstraw, Haverstraw

An abandoned industrial site at Haverstraw now boasts splashing fountains and immaculately landscaped grounds, courtesy of Harbors at Haverstraw, which, when completed, will be comprised of 500 townhomes and condominiums commanding a stunning view of the Hudson River. More than half of the buildings have been completed, with units selling from $250,000 to more than $1 million (for a waterfront view).

The grid layout suggests a New Urbanist plan. But developer Martin Ginsburg, of Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC), says his project deploys a lighter, more whimsical style of architecture, including turrets, miniature lighthouses, and other fanciful details. Harbors combines the pleasures of a resort with the convenience of urban living. Residents have access to a pool, fitness center, lounge, and café/restaurant. They can also catch the ferry to the train station at Ossining.

The development is within walking distance of the village of Haverstraw, whose depressed downtown is getting a face-lift with funds provided by GDC and state and federal grants. GDC has worked with the municipality to create a master plan for two miles of waterfront, which includes a public walkway, a parking garage lined with small storefronts, a pier accommodating both ferries and river cruise ships, a marina, restoration of a small estuary preserve, and affordable housing units in the village. GDC has also installed several large sculptures and a historic plaque along the walkway at Harbors, the beginnings of an art and history path that Ginsburg hopes will attract tourists.

Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, Towns of Shandaken and Middletown

In one of the most highly contested developments in recent years, Crossroads Ventures LLC is proposing to build two large hotels, 139 townhouses, and 120 timeshare units — a total of 629 units — adjacent to the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center, in the heart of the Catskills. One of the hotels would include a luxury spa, and the other would be oriented toward families. A conference center and 18-hole golf course are included in the plan, which would span two mountainsides. A new trail and chairlift that the state could construct up the neighboring ski center would be in close proximity to some of the units, enabling guests to ski from their rooms. First proposed a decade ago, the resort has been altered and downsized after conservation groups — many formed just to fight the development — objected to the impacts of construction on the Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies water to New York City. That opposition prompted the state, under the administration of former governor Eliot Spitzer, to form an agreement with the developer in which it would purchase the 1,200 acres slated for development in the Ashokan watershed and preserve it; the developer agreed to move that portion of the project to a new site on Highmount mountain, reducing the number of units slightly and clustering them more tightly in a new design. Crossland Ventures also agreed to design the buildings to green standards and eliminate, or at least reduce, the use of pesticides on the golf course.

Supporters say the project would be a showcase for green development and create desperately needed jobs in the area, which a century ago was a popular tourist destination. Vocal opponents — who have organized into several active community groups — contend it would result in traffic congestion, destruction of a mountaintop, creation of an eyesore in a forest preserve, and degradation of the pristine water resources that feed the New York City reservoirs.

The state DEC, which is in charge of the review, is requiring the developer to submit a supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the 75 acres of new development on Highmount. A spokesperson said Crossroads Ventures planned to submit the document this summer. The DEC did not return phone calls asking about the status of the state land purchase and ski center improvements; calls to Crossroads Ventures were also not returned.

Dooley Square

Eco-friendly Dooley Square is a fine example of adaptive reuse, says Scenic Hudson

Photograph by Frank Roberts

Rating the Developments: Scenic Hudson Weighs In

The “A” List: Models of Excellence

Dooley Square in Poughkeepsie. This complex of businesses and restaurants gets high marks for its adaptive reuse of an old industrial building, its downtown location adjacent to the train station, its utilization of geothermal energy for heating, and its mixture of uses, according to Jeff Anzevino, assistant director of land use advocacy at Scenic Hudson.

Hudson Park in Yonkers. The two-phase development includes a series of nine- to 14-story buildings appropriately scaled for the city. The location — between the ferry terminal and the train station — is ideal, and the site incorporates both residential and commercial uses. It fronts a public walkway on the waterfront, and has a small park. “It’s a perfect example of an infill project on vacant industrial land,” says Anzevino. “The land was going to waste; now it’s housing people and putting people to work.”

Hudson Harbor in Tarrytown. Located on a former industrial site, this neo-traditional development of condos and four-story townhouses fits in with the existing community. The buildings — which utilize geothermal energy and environmentally friendly materials — are within walking distance of the train station and ferry dock. And they border a waterfront walkway and park created by Scenic Hudson, which worked with the developer on the plan.

Newburgh Waterfront Plan. The city selected Leyland Alliance, based in Tuxedo Park, to develop a 30-acre “dead zone” created by urban renewal in the 1960s. In essence, Leyland’s New Urbanist plan will rebuild the missing city and connect the restaurants on the waterfront to Broadway and the Orange County Community College campus. It will consist of a variety of townhouses, condos, and apartments — including affordable units — as well as commercial buildings and public spaces. More than two years in the making, the plan is currently awaiting the necessary financing, which has been delayed by the economic downturn. Leyland Alliance also is the developer for Warwick Grove, a traditional-neighborhood residential complex in Warwick that also gets top grades from Scenic Hudson.

The “F” List: Detriments to the Landscape

Corbin Hill, Fort Montgomery. Located just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, this sprawling housing development on a hillside in the Hudson Highlands is a jarring note. The removal of trees, naked lawns, the drab color of the buildings, and uninspiring architecture intrude on a landscape that’s recognized as one of the state’s most scenic areas (it is adjacent to Palisades Interstate Park and within sight of the Appalachian Trail).

Plum Point on Hudson, New Windsor. Begun in the 1980s, the final phase of this massive housing development is nearing completion. The rows of barracks-like housing, plunked atop an engineered slope that shows evidence of erosional scars, overlooks the Hudson, destroying the views along the river. “The buildings are all white and totally monolithic,” says Anzevino. (He notes that another riverside development, Riverview Condominiums in Port Ewen, also misses the mark for being conspicuous and ugly.) Open space is lacking, and the development is isolated from existing communities, resulting in more cars on the road.

“Death by 1,000 Cuts.” This term was used by writer and Hudson River environmentalist Robert Boyle to refer to the construction of single-family houses, “the small-scale developments that have a huge impact collectively,” as Anzevino puts it. The building of a house here, a house there is the most insidious threat; it eventually results in many trees being cut down. Open Space Institute President Joe Martens notes that, in his 14 years of riding Amtrak between Albany and New York City, he’s observed a huge increase in the number of single-family units on the ridges overlooking the river. The trend “detracts from the attractiveness of the Valley for everyone not living in those houses,” he says. “And it’s happening right now. New construction sites are cropping up that are highly visible.”


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