“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”
— Mark Twain
The Town of Gardiner is a major step closer to realizing the vision of its Open Space Plan, adopted in 2007, soon after the Open Space Committee (OSC) was first founded. Following a long fallow period after its first two big triumphs – the campaigns to save the Hess Farm and Kiernan Farm – the OSC was recently reconstituted and is back in high gear. At its March 9 meeting, the Town Board voted unanimously to approve an Open Space Acquisition Proposal submitted by the OSC’s current lineup, pending review of the document by the town attorney. “This is a tour de force – very thoughtful, very complete and just focused on all the right factors,” said councilman Warren Wiegand, who served as the OSC’s first chair and later spearheaded an inventory of parcels of open space donated to the town.
The new proposal is intended to serve as a scope of work for the OSC over the coming year or more, geared toward streamlining the process of preserving valuable open space permanently within the township, with the goal of protecting “lands with the most significant environmental values” from overdevelopment. Also approved at the meeting were drafts prepared by the OSC for an application form for residents interested in donating parcels or conservation easements, along with separate scoring sheets for agricultural and non-agricultural parcels.
As OSC member Laura Rose explained in her presentation to the board on the proposal, the groundwork for deciding which parcels should be prioritized for preservation has already been laid. The original Open Space Plan identified priority conservation areas using a geographic information system (GIS) database that mapped the town’s resources in categories that included natural systems, working landscapes and cultural/recreational resources. It also established data-based scoring criteria. Last year, the reinvigorated OSC consulted with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Gardiner’s Environmental Conservation Commission in the latter’s creation of a Natural Resources Inventory for the town, updating the existing database and maps with specific reference to ecological values such as aquifers and wildlife habitat. Also in 2020, the OSC crafted a template for the wording of conservation easements for the town.
According to this newly adopted action plan, the OSC “intends to evaluate eligible parcels based on conservation values that fall within the following categories: Biological Diversity and Ecological Resources, Water Resources, Agriculture and Working Farms, Scenic and Cultural Resources, Recreational and Public Access, Project Feasibility and Community Support, Climate Resilience.” For example, the scoring sheets give higher priority to parcels that provide habitat for threatened species; are located adjacent to the Shawangunk Ridge Protection Area, Wallkill Valley Rail Trail or Shawangunk Mountain Scenic Byway; overlie an aquifer recharge area, contain stream frontage or wetlands. Farms are subject to additional scoring criteria, including the likelihood that they will be taken out of agricultural production on account of development pressures.
Also to be taken into consideration when evaluating a potential acquisition of open space by the town is the question of costs, with land that the owner is willing to donate in fee simple and conservation easements receiving highest priority. OSC member Laura Wong-Pan noted that, besides a purchase price, potential costs of a parcel include transaction costs such as title searches, annual monitoring and any maintenance or improvements needed. Identifying funding sources for land acquisition is one of the responsibilities that the OSC assumes will be on its docket for the future.
Next steps for the OSC include an aggressive public information campaign, seeking willing land donors and making the conveyance process as easy and transparent for them as possible. “We’re planning an educational rollout,” Rose said, including both live public meetings and webinars, press releases and possibly an article in the Gardiner Gazette and signage on already-preserved properties. “We’ve got to get people excited about this thing first,” said Wiegand.
For more details about the Gardiner Open Space Acquisition Program, visit www.townofgardiner.org/open-space-commission.