Saugerties Supervisor Fred Costello is looking ahead to a lot of issues that may be resolved next year, but may require more study and discussion and run into the following year.
One of the biggest is the proposed Winston Farm development, which combines market rate housing, low-cost housing, an entertainment center, an amphitheater, commercial space, a boutique hotel and campgrounds.
Costello said he does not expect much change in the area, as many studies and considerable discussion and possible modification of the plans must still be completed: “Data collected, evaluations made; it’s all part of the scoping process which we’re close to adopting now.” The scoping process will indicate what is possible — and what’s not. The hope is a final plan that meets “the goals we all share — open space, housing that we don’t have now, jobs that we don’t have now, recreational opportunities that we don’t have now.”
The first step is further study, leading to a zoning change, Costello said. “It’s not impossible that that would happen before the end of 2023, but we won’t know until we get there.”
The second part “would be the developers or the partners would engage in the planning process and propose projects that are consistent with the zoning change, and that will take a long time as well. We’re years away from a shovel being in the ground up there. The work we’re doing now is important because it will define the finished product.”
There is considerable tension in the community, and Costello said he is aware of it, but that the tension and the process of working it through “will lead to the property being used in an appropriate way and it will give us the opportunities I just mentioned.”
These developers — Randy Richers, John Mullen and Tony Montano — are all local, and that can help make this a better development, Costello said. “It’s a completely different dialogue when you bump into the developers locally versus scheduling a formal meeting with representatives of the owners who may or may not be from our area. I think the advantage that this process has versus other processes that failed is having local ownership. They understand the gravity of what the property means to Saugerties as much as we do. I believe they mean it when they say they don’t want to do something that will be harmful.”
Costello said he regrets the proposal that “got away,” the community college. “But the community has rallied and protected us from many proposals that would have been detrimental to the town.” Given Saugerties’s history, the community will come together and protect itself if they get it wrong.
A recent conference on the Hudson River was based on developing a water release program for New York City reservoirs that would involve the county government in the decision making process, Costello said. “There is a lot of concern among the communities in the lower Esopus about those changes. On first glance it looks great — we will have more local input from a government that represents the local area.” But, Costello said, “access to the switch is still exclusively with the DEP [New York City Department of Environmental Protection] and if this change just points our frustration with a decision to the county government and not the DEP, it’s not a real change.”
Concerns with the releases vary among the communities on the lower Esopus, Costello said. “We in Saugerties are most concerned about turbidity because of its visual impact here and what it’s doing behind the dam. That doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about flooding, but I’m more concerned about the visual impact and the environmental impact of turbidity.”
Upstream communities are more concerned about flooding and the risk to people’s homes. “I think the solutions for both those concerns are similar, and the success we have had in the updated protocol from the DEC [federal Department of Environmental Conservation] says we are going to do a stream study and we’re going to collect the data, and I think when we finally do that, mitigation opportunities will become apparent.”
While the relationship has been difficult, the DEP has been successful in flood mitigation, Costello said. Referring to previous floods in Saugerties, including ten feet of water at one point, “the release protocol and the maintenance of a void in the reservoir seems to have avoided that.”
The next phase of mitigation of the muddy water will depend on what the data tell us about the causes and relationship to reservoir releases, Costello said.
“The Esopus Creek is a pretty powerful economic engine, and it’s a pretty powerful recreational resource. We believe the high levels of turbidity have impacted fishing,
“The condition of the Esopus Creek has a powerful economic effect on Saugerties, affecting the fishing, and other recreational opportunities and visual opportunities. There are ways they could be a better partner, and we want them to be a better partner.”
One bright spot on the Esopus Creek is the regular harvesting of weeds, Costello said. The Village of Saugerties owns a harvester and regularly removes the weeds that grow in the creek. While the weeds grow back each year, their volume is reduced from the prior year. The town contributes toward the cost of removing the weeds, as does contractor John Mullen, who owns land along the creek.
Without the weed removal program, fishing on the creek would be impossible, as the weeds choke off oxygen and prevent fish from breeding and living in the creek. “If the town and village did not cooperate on the harvesting program, there would be no kayaking on the upper creek. Those invasive plants were crowding out all the native fish. A lot of people go up there and fish for sunnys, perch and bass. Those invasive species were eliminating the habitat for them.”
Unless the stream’s depth is preserved by dredging the soil buildups, the stream will become shallower, and that will lead to warming water, which will have a further impact in the native plants and fish. Costello said more data is needed on whether the dredging program is really contributing to the health of the stream. He suggested leaving a section unharvested and comparing the fish and native plant populations to have accurate data on how well the harvesting program is doing to preserve the health of the stream, and to help develop a stream management plan.
The town’s short-term rental policy has been “one of the legislative success stories we’ve had this year. Short-term rental has a huge impact that was accelerated by Covid and it was basically unrestricted. What we have adopted gets right to the quality of life and safety concerns we were experiencing as a result of the expansion of short-term rentals. While we believe what we adopted gets right to the quality of life and safety concerns that we were experiencing as a result of the expansion of short-term rentals, there was a modest effort at voluntary compliance, but now the grace period for that is over, so now it’s mandatory. In 2023 we will be asking for full compliance.”
The law addresses safety concerns and property upkeep. “At the end of 2022 we will know if a property is safe, if it is code-compliant. We’ve had a pretty good response from the short-term rental operators, and if you’re doing short-term rental, reach out to the Building Department and they will guide you through it.”
The law does not place a cap on the number of short-term rental units, as do similar laws in other towns. It does allow the Town Board to set a cap at some point. With surrounding communities setting a cap on the number of short-term units, Saugerties may have to consider a cap. “We don’t want to be the default short-term rental community because other communities don’t allow it.”
A single cap on short-term rentals may not be the best way to go, however. Areas near the Village of Saugerties, Woodstock and the Hudson River seem to be the most desirable for short-term rentals, “so do you say, maybe you cap a zip code, or maybe a neighborhood at a percentage of the inventory available in that area. You can’t look at the entire town the same. There are areas that need more scrutiny if we were to impose a cap.”
The Covid epidemic increased the demand for short-term rental housing as residents of the city and suburbs tried to move away from those areas. As the disease subsided, there has been less demand for short-term rentals in some areas, but in the most desirable areas the demand is holding up.
The law requires that the owner of property offered for short-term rental either live in the area or appoint someone in the area to deal with problems.
Bristol Beach, just north of Malden, is a largely undeveloped area that could become an attractive park for local people and tourists. Some work on developing it and removing some safety hazards has been done, but it is coming along slowly, Costello said. “We need to coordinate better with Palisades Park [Commission] to come up with a clear plan for it.” Costello said that some work was done under [former] Supervisor Helsmoortel, and there’s been a change in leadership in Palisades Park, and they have a bit of a different vision, so we need to resubmit our plans and our intentions to them. The commission is actually the owner of the park.
The park contains a number of former brick making sites, and Costello, who has an interest in the history of brick making in Saugerties, would like to see them preserved. The Palisades Park Commission sees these sites as hazards, and that will need to be worked out.
Highlights of next year
The past year has seen a good deal of staff turnover, including a newly appointed town judge and two employees replacing the former tax collector, who resigned in September. Former tax collector Julie Dunn was also the town’s bookkeeper. The Town Board voted to split her position, with separate tax collector and bookkeeper positions. The board appointed Stan O’Dell, who also serves as the Saugerties Village Associate Justice to replace Claudia Andreassen. Several town advisory boards, especially the Planning Board have seen turnovers in the past year, Costello said.
Among expected highlights of next year, a new chiller at the Kiwanis Ice Rink, which will replace a chiller that is nearing the end of its life. The new chiller would be more energy efficient, using less electricity and not requiring water to chill the existing chiller. “It will save on water costs and water treatment costs as well as energy costs.”
Another work in progress is a dog park, and that should open next spring. There still has to be installation of sod for the lawn. Once that lawn is mature enough to stand the dog traffic, we expect to have an opening up there. It’s a tremendous resource for people who have pets.” The dog park would be on Cantine Field, but in a part of the field away from other activities.
Possibly within the coming year the new animal shelter could be completed. The work is underway and “Adele [Zimmerman] and Elly [Moffatt] have secured $2 million of resources for the project. The planning is underway, the siting of the well and septic have been completed, and installation of the septic is imminent. The progress on the project has been slow, but I think it will accelerate in the very near future. That’s going to be a tremendous asset, not just for Saugerties, but for the region.”
“Cantine Field in general is a regional destination, as much for the region as for us as residents. There will be three occasions next year where tournaments will be hosted at Cantine and the Glasco facility, and families will come from all across the northeast as far as Maryland, and probably farther. They will play 120 games in three days. That’s pretty incredible.”
Families will be staying here, “and the economic impact will be incredible; they’ll be staying here, they’ll be eating here, they’ll be buying groceries here and doing all the things that we do.”
Another startup that Costello said will be growing and becoming an attraction for Saugerties is the Caribbean Festival, which celebrated its second year. This will draw more people as it becomes established, and will go along with the Garlic Festival and the Sawyer Motors Car Show.