A proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would create a new state park on a rugged patch of land along the Hudson River straddling the City of Kingston-Town of Ulster border. But whether the proposed 508-acre park becomes a reality depends on voters’ approval in November of a $3 billion bond intended to preserve and restore natural resources, fight climate change and boost New York’s tourist economy.
The new park would consist of land once owned by real estate development titan AVR. The site, dotted with quarries, old cement works, forests and cliffs, was supposed to be the home of the proposed Hudson Landing project. The large-scale development would have created 1,658 units of housing, along with new commercial space and would effectively have created a new neighborhood in the city. The proposal was shelved in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis and the land has remained vacant ever since. Last year, the environmental nonprofit purchased the land from AVR for an undisclosed price and announced plans to create and operate a park at the site.
In his Jan. 8 State of the State address, Cuomo proposed the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act. The program would fund a wide array of environmental initiatives from restoring wetlands to creating a network of electric vehicle charging stations. Part of the proposal, which would need approval from voters in a ballot referendum, would pay for the acquisition and restoration of former industrial sites like the Scenic Hudson property.
Kingston Mayor Steve Noble said that he had been involved in discussions with Scenic Hudson and state parks officials since last year to discuss the formation of the new park. Noble said that plans for the state park were still in the early stages, but he added that he believed both the city and Scenic Hudson would remain involved in the process.
“We are going to be a strong partner at the table,” said Noble. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up running some day-to-day operations in the future.”
While Noble said he was aware of the state’s interest in the site, Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III said he was caught off guard by Cuomo’s proposal. About one third of the site lies within the Town of Ulster’s border. Quigley said he was still assessing the potential consequences of the of the park proposal. But, he said, he was concerned about the impact on the cash-strapped East Kingston Fire District if the land was removed from the tax rolls. Scenic Hudson is a nonprofit but has not yet filed for an exemption and continues to pay property taxes on the site.
“My concern here is that we will be losing tax revenues in one of the most financially challenged fire districts in the town,” said Quigley, who added that he intends to seek a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Scenic Hudson to offset any potential loss.
Quigley added that he was also concerned about the future of a 2012 agreement under which the town assumed responsibility for maintaining a waterfront promenade running through the property. Quigley said he had entered the agreement with the understanding that the land would eventually be developed and would bring additional property and sales tax revenue to town coffers.
“My question is, will the town have to continue to pay for a trail running through a state park?” said Quigley.
Noble, meanwhile, downplayed the impact on city taxes should the land pass into state hands. Noble said the Kingston portion of the site was assessed at $4 million and generated about $60,000 in property taxes annually. Noble said the state could potentially continue to pay taxes on the land under a deal for the new park. Even if they don’t, Noble said, the financial impact would be offset by the sales tax and other economic benefits generated by thousands of visitors to the site.
Noble added that the proposed park fits in with Kingston’s economic development goals of promoting a low-impact tourism sector that could create revenue and jobs without taxing the city’s natural or financial resources.
“The tourism-based economy is not heavy on our resources, there’s not a lot of upfront costs,” said Noble. “But we reap the rewards of thousands of people coming to this destination.”