Full SEQRA at Winston Farm

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

Saugerties town officials promise a rigorous environmental review to protect the aquifer under Winston Farm should a development proposed for the site be built.

Some residents, including Mary McNamara, who is involved with Lower Esopus and Ashokan Release Working Group, have expressed concern about how the development would affect an aquifer that officials have noted could serve as a potential additional water source for the village, in addition to the Blue Mountain Reservoir. McNamara said at a recent village board meeting that it was important that the project not contaminate the aquifer. “This benefits the whole region including the town and village,” she said.

The project has been proposed by local developers John Mullen, Anthony Montano and Randy Richers, who purchased Winston Farm in 2020. The project could include single- and multi-family housing, a jobs incubator, public multi-use trails, camping and an amphitheater to the site of the Woodstock ’94 Festival west pf the Thruway.

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The environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper expressed opposition to the project in a November email blast, saying the proposal would “transform pristine farm fields, forests, and a local sledding hill into a disconnected patchwork of industrial and commercial facilities, houses, and apartment buildings.” It also cited concerns over the project’s effect on the aquifer, the wetlands and wildlife.

Town supervisor Fred Costello in a phone interview this week said that the town board, the lead agency for environmental review of the project, will make a positive environmental declaration on it. It will have to go through an extensive long-form State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). Winston Farm is presently undergoing rezoning.

Once the board acts on the positive declaration, Costello said, scoping inquiries into water resources, environmental habitat, and man-made effects of the project such as traffic will begin. He anticipates discussion of these studies would take at least a year and probably longer.

Costello is asking the public to trust in the process. He said he’s heard both enthusiasm for and criticism of the development proposal for the iconic 800-acre property.

The developers said in a prepared statement that they were committed to the process. “Winston Farm is now owned by local residents who are committed to ensuring safe and environmentally sensitive development at the site. A comprehensive environmental review process to rezone the property has recently commenced,” the statement said. “The review will include many agencies to ensure that Winston Farm is reimagined responsibly and in a manner that is protective of the environment. We encourage residents to participate in the environmental review process by providing input or questions during the public hearings that will take place.”

Those with concerns about the potential Winston Farm project include Andrew Cowan who serves on the steering committee of beautifulsaugerties.com, which he described as a group of 200 local people concerned about the scale of the project in its current form. In a conversation December 16, Cowan noted the proposed project covers one and a quarter square miles, about half the space occupied by the entire village of Saugerties.

Chief among their concerns, he said, were plans to cut down 270 acres of woods and proposals for a 10,000-seat amphitheater, indoor waterpark and adventure park with accompanying parking lots. He estimates it would take 25 acres of parking to accommodate the cars for the amphitheater alone. He said the proposed amphitheater would occupy 45 acres compared to the 2200 secluded acres at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Cowan said he’s entirely against anything happening on the project, but he’d prefer to see something a bit more low-key like a boutique hotel, a farm-to-table restaurant and perhaps something like the Omega Center, along with a focus on affordable housing.

“We’re asking these questions and expressing our concerns,” Cowan said. “We are very cognizant and understand and respect that they bought the property and do some development. We’re not able to unwind that. We’re asking for a more thoughtful approach to the development itself.”

Finally, he expressed concerns about plans for light manufacturing having the potential to contaminate the nearby aquifer and wetlands and a proposed strip shopping center’s effect on  small businesses in the village and nearby towns.

Costello said that the planning process will require balancing of conflicting perspectives. Town officials will determine which uses are appropriate and which ones aren’t. They will decide whether the development will result in a net loss of water supply to the village and town if more water from the aquifer is needed. “No one can answer that until we collect the data,” he said.

Protecting the aquifer will be a minimal standard for the developers to follow, Costello asserted. “We have to make sure it remains clean and safe,” he said.

Costello’s message to anyone who thinks this project is imminent is that there is a process and that the developers know that, too.

And he said he was glad that the developers are local. “These Individuals are neighbors, and they live here,” Costello said. “They understand the significance of that parcel more than a developer coming for purely economic reasons and who isn’t sensitive to the legacy of this property.”

Costello recalled a number of proposals for the site that didn’t work out. “This is an opportunity for local ownership and an opportunity to do something,” he said.

He cautioned that Saugerties residents would rally against a project that wasn’t appropriate, recalling a proposal in the late 1980s and early 1990s to site a county landfill at Winston Farm. That project was halted after widespread community opposition.

Should this latest proposal fall through, a landfill would still not be a welcome use of this site in the future, Costello said. “The dump was a horrible idea.”

Elected officials and the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency will face a big decision if and when the Seneca Meadows landfill, to which the agency has been trucking solid waste, closes. RRA executive director Timothy DeGraff told Hudson Valley One in October that a location in Accord would represent “the only feasible site” in the county.