Please also check our bulletin board, supporters page and development plans pages to keep abreast of the latest information.
Year-End Report from Save the Ridge December 10, 2005
VERY GOOD NEWS - but hold the champagne (and keep your signs up!)
By now everyone will have read the news articles reporting that Trust for Public Land and Open Space Institute offered $17 million for Awosting Reserve, the offer was accepted by the Chancery Court in Delaware, and contract has been signed. Closing date is set for March 31, IF there are no delays. The land will then pass to the state for annexation to Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
This is obviously fabulous news. It is in fact precisely what Save the Ridge has advocated. To quote our mission statement:
Save the Ridge is a citizens' group with the purpose of saving the Awosting Reserve and other lands in the northern Shawangunks from development. Ideally we would like to see the former purchased at a fair price and added to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. We believe this is the best solution for the local and recreational human population, and crucial for maintaining a rare, nonfragmented habitat for nature.
However, we are not counting our chickens before they hatch. We have not ourselves seen the legal papers and thus don't know what roadblocks there might be. Mr. Bradley has been quoted in the papers as stating he intends to continue fighting the sale, presumably in the courts. He has filed intent to appeal - though we don't know whether he will follow through with it.
So keep those lawn signs up until "the ink is dry" at the closing! (In fact, keep them looking nice and fresh - ragged or dirty signs are bad publicity. If you need a new one for free, email email@example.com.) We'll let you know when the fat lady has sung; maybe she will sing at the celebration party after closing.
Here are attempts to answer some questions:
What land is included?
Almost the entire piece that was in the development plan: 2518 acres of 2660. This does include the land around Tillson Lake and the rest of the lower slopes; it does not include a portion of some 142 acres near where Mr. Bradley's house is, which was never fully deeded over to the LLC. We are thrilled because we were always afraid the cliffs would be saved but the lower slopes developed, which would have been far less satisfactory for habitat preservation and would have encroached on the Park Preserve.
Will the land come off the tax rolls?
No. As part of the agreement originally forming Minnewaska State Park Preserve, it makes payments to the towns it is in, at the undevloped land rate. It is a win-win situation for the towns, because there are almost no service costs, unlike housing, but there is the continued attraction of rare and beautiful open space, which is good for our souls and good for tourist-based economies.
Will there be access? Will there be parking lots, buses from the city?
The process of deciding on a management plan is long and bureaucratic. We don't know exactly what it will be. However the people we have spoken to in various organizations that might be involved all seem to agree that there should be some but very limited access to the slopes, so that the land is mostly a buffer for the existing State Park Preserve. It would be lovely to see even the Tillson Lake area remain wooded, or even turned into a town park. Save the Ridge hopes to play a role in conveying local residents' wishes to whatever bodies make these decisions.
How did it come to this?
I wish I could explain it all but we don't know all the convoluted legal or insider details. Here is an attempt at a short version.
When Awosting Reserve LLC was formed in 2002, Mr. Bradley contributed the land and some 26 investors each put in $500,000 (which included dibs on a homesite up there and a golf club membership). Chaffin/Light was hired as the developer, but they were also an investor, and their employee Roger Beck was made president of the corporation. Two complex agreements were drawn up, specifying among other things that if disagreements arose they would be settled by a troika: one from Bradley and partners, one from Chaffin/Light, one from the investors. This was presumably in hopes of avoiding going to court. But in fact unbelievably enormous amounts of money have been spent on lawyers to fight each other. No permits were issued - the application made to the Gardiner Planning Board never got beyond the sketch plan phase. The project bogged down while waiting for a ruling on whether Gardiner zoning permitted a central sewer system on the ridge (see "Clouser reports" under "Development Plans" on our website). Understandably wanting to save what money was left, Mr. Bradley tried to seize control of the bank account and fire the developers, was forced by NY court order to submit to the troika process, and lost.
The original papers also specified that if permits were not acquired by a certain time limit, the land could be sold, and from the proceeds the investors would receive their ante back first. This is what they hoped to achieve in a Delaware court (Awosting Reserve LLC was incorporated in Delaware). As reported in newspaper articles, the land was listed for sale (asking $35 million, a figure that would only be reasonable if it could be developed). Several offers were received, including one from Mr. Bradley himself for $15 million, and the one the court-appointed trustee chose was the one that had no contingencies. It also happens to benefit the public and the ecological integrity of the land itself the most. It was the right thing to do.
When will the victory party be?
After closing. Which is currently set for March 31. Meanwhile keep knocking on wood, keeping your fingers crossed, and wishing on birthday cake candles. It looks good, but there could be delays, or worse.
When we do have the party, it will be huge. We will of course ask Soul Purpose to play the dance music again! Anyone who wants to help organize it, especially if you have suggestions for a location large enough, please get in touch.
What remains to be done?
Awosting Reserve is very important, but it's not the only threatened land in the northern Shawangunks. In fact a large portion of what looks like preserved land, especially on the eastern slope, is in private hands and vulnerable to development now that land prices are so high.
Save the Ridge held a public information event encouraging landowners to put conservation easements on their land (or sell it to conservation organizations). If you would like to be added to the contact list for further information, say so.
We have participated all year in the town of Gardiner's politically difficult process of revising ridge zoning, which will presumably come to fruition when the new town board is sworn in in January; then the process of preserving open space in the valley will begin too.
We worked very hard in the Gardiner elections, and are elated at the result. The overwhelming victory of pro-preservation candidates in the town elections (including STR Coordinating Committee member Janet Kern) is a mandate for pursuing conservation zoning and financing, and we anticipate great progressive movement there, which we hope will be an inspiration to other Ridge towns as well.
What will STR do now?
Good question. We are in a holding pattern while we wait for a shoe to drop, but soon we will need to decide in what form to continue as an organization. There may be legal actions we will need to participate in - we're not asking for money now but might have to in the future - and we will want to keep an eye on plans for the preserved land as well as working coooperatively with landowners, towns, and other organizations to preserve other parcels. Perhaps we will do more educational work, write something, help Janet with her movie, or disband. Mainly, we'd like to hear from you, our supporters, what you would like us to do or do yourselves. Feel free to post on our website bulletin board at www.savetheridge.com, or answer this email.
In other news:
Save the Ridge was recently accepted as an organizational member of the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, with responsibility for maintaining the middle section of the Jenny Lane trail in Minnewaska Park. We take a few brief work trips a year and would welcome additional help. Or, if you want a trail section of your own, there are several that have recently become available for new maintainers, including the lower section of Jenny Lane, and the area from Lake Awosting to Mud Pond (right above Awosting Reserve). Let me know if you want to join us, or are interested in one of the others.
We heard that the Open Space Institute had a chance to purchase a 15-acre piece of land called the "Beck Parcel" adjacent to the Jenny Lane access for a very good price, and voted to contribute $500 to that effort. Besides protecting an area we are involved in, we also wanted to demonstrate local gratitude to OSI for its great service in protecting the Shawangunks.
The Shawangunk Ridge actually extends far to the south, and we are a member of the Shawangunk Ridge Coalition, which concerns itself with threats anywhere on the Ridge. We encourage signing up for alerts from that website as well: www.shawangunkridge.org.
We encourage all our supporters to inform themselves about a bill before the State legislature called the Comunity Preservation Act, which would permit towns to charge a real estate transfer tax and use the proceeds for preserving open space.
Patty Lee Parmalee, Coordinator, Save the Ridge, Inc.
Developer's Attorney's Complaint to Planning Board 11/18/03
STR's/Friends of the Shawangunks' Attorney's Response 11/19/03 (48K)
Sample Letters to ZBA 11/22/03
Gardiner Master Plan (622K)
What environmentalists often call "the last great places on the planet" could soon become a development and a golf course. There is a proposal to develop the Shawangunk Ridge. Homes will number "in the three figures" and an 18-hole golf course will be built around Tillson Lake.
The complete article is on the Times Herald Record website.
"The 2,700-acre site is the Awosting Reserve, the private domain of Gardiner resident John Bradley. About 2,300 acres lie in Gardiner; the balance lies in the towns of Shawangunk and Wawarsing. It's the biggest development proposal for the scenic ridge since the Marriott Corp. proposed a conference center in the early 1980s, slightly north of the present site. Environmental concerns and vociferous public opposition sank that plan, which resulted in the creation of the public Minnewaska State Park."
The purpose of this website is to gather together concerned citizens. Do whatever we can to try to stop the development and keep abreast of the latest news, meetings and information. With the support of the thousands of people who share our feelings along with the numerous environmental and planning groups, our Congressman, Assemblymen, and Town supervisors, and the findings of the Clouser Report - we shall prevail. Thanks for visiting. Please check back often and join our mailing list, and visit the message board to post your thoughts.
Save the Ridge Update
April 18, 2005
If you haven't heard from us for a while about where the Awosting Reserve battle is at, it's because we are still waiting to see what new development plan they will present. Their old plan was presented to Gardiner, Wawarsing, and Shawangunk over two years ago. The design called for approx. 350 houses and a golf course in a private gated community, stretching from Gertrude's Nose and the Palmaghatt Ravine past Castle Point and Hamilton Point almost all the way to Mud Pond, and from the valley to the top of the ridge. The application (which you can still read on www.savetheridge.com) has been in a state of suspended animation while various legal procedures play themselves out. It is safe to assume that the plan as proposed will not be possible, because it violated even existing zoning, let alone Gardiner's revisions currently underway. (About 2300 of the 2660 acres in Awosting Reserve lie within Gardiner boundaries.) You probably remember that it was still in the "sketch plan" phase before the Gardiner Planning Board when AR decided to ask whether it could assume a central sewer. The building inspector and the ZBA both stated that Gardiner zoning did not allow that on the ridge; we presume the reason for that provision was to keep density down. Awosting appealed the decision, Save the Ridge and Friends of the Shawangunks joined the Town in defending it before a Judge Spargo in Ulster County Supreme Court, and finally, just last month, he handed down a decision: Gardiner must permit a central sewer.
Our lawyer, Phil Gitlen, has filed an intent to appeal. We have 8 more months to decide and it may be moot, since Gardiner is revising its zoning anyway. (The current version of that new zoning envisions permitting central sewers for clustered developments on the lower slopes of the ridge, which is in fact more ecological IF you have to have the buildings.)
There are several more obstacles however before AR can present the new, slightly smaller and environmentally even more friendly plan that John Bradley says he intends. One obstacle is that it is not clear who is in charge there; the principal owner (Mr. Bradley), the developer (Chaffin-Light) and the investors are locked in a court battle over that. Mr. Bradley has stated publicly that he did not like Chaffin-Light's plan, they were just in it for the money and he is the true environmentalist; he has also stated that they are back together again. We are discounting all rumors and publicity statements and will let you know when there are facts. A fact is that the AR President, Roger Beck, resigned and left town.
Meanwhile Gardiner's new Town Board (elected partly because the Awosting Reserve project woke people up to the need to preserve the town's most valuable resource) revised its Master Plan, voting it into effect last December. Awosting Reserve has filed suit against the Town Board, saying the Master Plan should have had a full environmental review and it was pandering to the opposition. Save the Ridge and Friends of the Shawangunks are supporting the Town as interveners in that suit also.
The Town Board also voted for a 6-month moratorium on subdivisions on the ridge and construction above 750 feet, to give time to amend its zoning for the ridge to bring it in line with the Master Plan. Awosting Reserve is by far the largest, but not the only land on the eastern slope that is vulnerable to development; in fact almost the entire slope is privately owned. The Zoning Advisory Committee, together with consultant Joel Russell, drafted a law that would preserve at least the upper reaches while leaving landowners some economic use of their land; in our opinion it did not go far enough in protection, but landowners complained anyway, and their demands for less restriction together with our suggestions for more restriction (and comment from the fire departments and the Planning Board) are currently under advisement. To accommodate all the input, and also because Awosting has threatened in writing to sue on the zoning as well, the Board voted on April 5 to extend the moratorium for up to 6 more months to give time to craft a more perfect law. Once the law is rewritten there will be another public comment period; we will announce it by email and on the Save the Ridge website. Our suggestions for revisions are there already, under "latest news."
Save the Ridge is also interested in helping ridge landowners who want to realize some value from their property while also preserving it; we are preparing materials and a public event on easements and other methods. As for Awosting Reserve, we continue to believe it should become part of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in its entirety, for a fair price.
Now that Spring is finally here we are on our annual sign-cleanup campaign; new and replacement lawn signs and bumper stickers are available at many local places of business - see the website or ads in the New Paltz Times. Any time you want to help, take a few signs around to your neighbors or local stores and ask them to display them. It is still the best way to make clear the community wants the ridge saved as it is. Of course we can also use money and all sorts of volunteer help (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
As a special bonus, here is a summary of the various court cases we are or have recently been involved in.
LEGAL UPDATE as of April 2005
Save the Ridge is a party to or has an interest in several lawsuits generated in the Town of Gardiner where 2300 of the 2600 acres proposed for development by Awosting Reserve lie. Most of these are Article 78 petitions, a type of lawsuit used to challenge action (or inaction) by agencies and offices of state and local government.
- Awosting Reserve claims a right to central sewer on the ridge
In March of 2004 Awosting Reserve filed an Article 78 Petition challenging the ruling by the Town of Gardiner's Zoning Board of Appeals that town zoning did not allow central sewer in the ARR-200 district. This district is where most of Awosting Reserve's development was proposed. Without central sewer their plans at the original scale (350 houses, restaurant, gym, golf course) would not be feasible. Friends of the Shawangunks, Save the Ridge, and affected neighbors joined the suit as intervenors on the side of the Town, urging the ZBA denial be upheld.
Decision: In February of 2005 Judge Thomas Spargo of the Supreme Court of Ulster County found in favor of Awosting Reserve, deciding that Gardiner zoning does allow central sewer on the ridge. Many disagree with this opinion, which was based partly on the zoning code being allegedly "confusing and ambiguous" and partly on Awosting's contention that Ulster County's Sanitary Code trumps municipal zoning law. It remains to be seen whether this decision is overturned on appeal. And the question may be moot, since a new proposal will come under the new zoning currently being revised.
Gatch Subdivison high on the ridge
When the Town of Gardiner's Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals decided to allow a variance for a 3-lot subdivision on a long, narrow flaglot of 38 acres that stretches up the mountain, neighbors filed an Article 78 petition to the Supreme Court of Ulster County in November of 2004. The land is owned by George Gatch, Michael Dorf and others who wish to locate two new houses on upper elevations at a extended distance from the road, with a driveway of approximately 4500'. Save the Ridge joined this suit, because development above the 750' elevation and an extremely long driveway on ecologically sensitive land might establish an unfortunate precedent. This petition requests that the Town enforce its zoning restrictions as to side lot setbacks and minimum lot width without variance.
Decision: In March of 2005 Judge Vincent Bradley (not related to John Bradley of Awosting Reserve) upheld the Planning Board and Zoning Board's determination as legal and found the petitioners' objections insubstantial.
Awosting Reserve challenges Gardiner's adoption of its new Comprehensive Plan.
In this Article 78 petition to the court Awosting Reserve claims that the Town of Gardiner is engaging in a pattern of "arbitrary and capricious" decisions, including errors of law, which effectively deprives the developers of an economically viable use of their land. Specifically Awosting challenges as faulty decisions made when the Town adopted its new Comprehensive Plan in December of 2004. These include:
(1) the Town's issuance of a Negative Declaration in adopting the Comprehensive Plan, thereby allegedly avoiding full SEQRA review of the plan's environmental impacts;
(2) the Town's choice to revise zoning separately from its adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, thereby allegedly "segmenting" impacts of the plan rather than dealing with them in their entirety;
(3) Awosting alleges the Town is acting to assuage community opposition to the proposed development.
Ultimately Awosting claims that the Town of Gardiner is engaged in a course of actions that amount to an unconstitutional taking of property.
Decision: Intervention in this suit by Save the Ridge and Friends of the Shawangunks in support of the Town has been accepted.
Awosting Reserve gives notice it will challenge Gardiner's new zoning as well.
Currently the Town of Gardiner is holding public hearings on its proposed amendments to Clustering Provisons town-wide and to the Zoning Code as it affects the ridge district ARR-200. At the hearing on March 8, 2005, Awosting Reserve's attorney delivered to the Town Board a letter objecting to proposed changes, which he alleged to amount to an unconstitutional taking of its property. Awosting further claims to be the target of a crusade in which the Town has improperly thwarted the developer in order to assuage community opposition.
(Donations for our legal expenses, which will continue to grow, are tax-deductible. Contact email@example.com.)
Just as important as the legal fights though is continued community mobilization for preservation. Stay involved!
You can make a donation to help pay for flyers, signs, billboards and other expenses. You can click on the button below, or you can send a check to: Save the Ridge, P.O. Box 326, Wallkill, NY, 12589. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to pay for legal expenses, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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