Saugerties Historic Preservation Commission questions funding cut

The Saugerties Historic Preservation Commission budget for the coming year is zero, down from $15,000 last year. At a town pre-board meeting on Wednesday, February 3, Supervisor Fred Costello and Councilman John Schoonmaker, the council’s liaison to the commission, assured commission Chairman Stefan Yarabek that the commission has the full support of the board, and that the commission can ask the board directly for funding on any project it has in the works this year. 

The budget had been one of the largest for any town commission or committee, Schoonmaker said, and while the commission has many good ideas, the town needs to have care with its spending, and “we’re trying to find the balance between the two.”

“It felt like a gut punch,” Yarabek replied. “John explained it very well, but there were murmurings from some of the board members – two to be honest, who were skeptical through the whole process. They’re passionate about history, but, ‘what is that Yarabek  doing all the time?’ and ‘you see, you lost the funding.’ I said no, but I think they felt like maybe there wasn’t confidence.”

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Costello said he could understand why the change in funding could result in that conclusion, “but that would be an unfair and unwarranted conclusion … if there is a project you need supporting funding for, the board is certainly open-minded and willing to listen and hopefully to participate in.”

Prior to the discussion of funding, Yarabek reviewed the programs the commission had developed, and the grant money the commission had brought into the town.

For instance, the commission has received several thousand dollars from Hudson River Valley Greenway to put on its ramble – a town-wide series of activities including sports, workshops and a variety of other activities, partly in response to the novel coronavirus, which has left people without their usual social and even work activities. The grant will help meet the cost of developing a town map that would support these activities. That effort was also funded, in part, by the $15,000 the commission received last year, Yarabek said. 

The Historic Preservation Commission is working on a historic designation for areas of Saugerties, and had a good reception, Yarabek said. He is concerned that new construction is changing the nature of the town, and that stronger safeguards for undeveloped land are needed. “Environmental preservation and protection is as much a part of our history and tradition as anything else.”

In discussing various historic properties, Yarabek told the board that “we need to partner with you to get the word out about the benefits of historic preservation.”

As he went through the list, he told the Town Board that there is much that is worth preserving, and “we look for the resources to make things possible.”

The commission looks for ways to work with other town entities, Yarabek said, adding that the commission is working with the American Legion to get a historical marker for Vietnam War hero Roger Donlon’s home.

Yarabek praised the Historical Preservation Commission’s secretary, Jeremy Russell, saying he is more than a secretary; “he is actually our administrator. He goes above and beyond the duties of a secretary.”

Before opening the discussion of finances, Yarabek said the commission is always interested in extending its reach and collaborating with other boards, and is interested in working on the town’s master plan.

One project that would be appropriate for the commission to be involved in is the development of Bristol Beach in Malden, suggested Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton. There has been some work at the park “to have an access road down to the river,” she said. Part of the vision of the park was to display the history of Malden through signage near the old kiln at the site. Yarabek said the commission would be happy to be involved.

During the regular board meeting that followed, Schoonmaker, in his report as the Town Board’s representative on the Historic Preservation Commission, outlined some of the commission’s activities the commission discussed at its recent meeting. “They hope to have their CRIS [cultural resource information system] registry list of buildings, and they are hoping to have their [National Registry of Historic Places] draft finished by the end of the month,” he said. In addition to some of the aforementioned projects, he said the commission is looking at possible collaboration with a group of local developers for preservation of the Winston Farm, which John Mullen, Anthony Montano and Randy Richers recently purchased. At this point, Mullen said, the consortium does not have immediate plans to develop the historic property.

Note: The print edition of this story erroneously referred to the Saugerties Historical Society in the headline and subhead and once during the story. Each reference should have been to the Saugerties Historic Preservation Commission; the historical society is a separate organization.