The potential development of Winston Farm in Saugerties remains opaque, particularly as the conservation group alleged to be involved in a sweeping land purchase aren’t confirming any deal is in the works. But local conservationists are hoping the Open Space Institute is successful, as their presumed plans are significantly different than others recently proposed.
The 815-acre Winston Farm property is perhaps best known as the site of Woodstock ’94, the massive revival of the original 1969 concert that, while plagued with muddy conditions and deemed by some locals as disruptive, has been remembered much more favorably compared to its controversial predecessor, Woodstock ’99, which was held on a decommissioned Air Force base in Central New York and was so notorious it was recently the subject of a podcast series and two different documentaries.
Winston Farm was purchased in 2020 for around $4 million by Saugerties residents Tony Montano, John Mullen and Randy Richers, and a year later was seen as the potential home of a “premier regional mixed-use destination venue for the Hudson Valley” that would see a mix of low- and high-density residential development, a boutique hotel, a tech and business park, an amphitheater, a campground and an indoor water park. Conservationists have bristled at the plans, partly due to the need to clear-cut around 275 acres of forest.
Among those who opposed the plan are members of Beautiful Saugerties, a citizen-led group that shared concerns about the potential impact of the proposed project on the Beaverkill aquifer and the climate at large. According to the group’s Andrew Cowan, the plans did not seem realistic.
“It looked to us as though those were probably very aspirational, early optimistic plans and not tested in terms of what would be viable, what would be acceptable, what would be in the public interest,” said Cowan. “Because it doesn’t make sense on the face of it to have, let’s say, high-end single family homes with an amphitheater within a few hundred yards of those homes. Nor would it make sense to have a water park with the traffic it would bring. And it’s kind of ironic, of course, a waterpark needing so much water being built on top of an aquifer that is already running at close to capacity in an era of drought as we had here last year.”
Cowan added that while an amphitheater might have aligned with the area’s deep musical history, including it among residential homes would not be ideal.
“Nowhere else in the area do you see an amphitheater in a residential area,” Cowan said. “Up in Saratoga (SPAC) it’s on 22,000 acres of isolated land away from residents, so the noise it makes, which travels very far, of course, is isolated and contained.”
Saugerties Town Supervisor Fred Costello also expressed misgivings about the plans, particularly the roughly 13 acres set aside for commercial space.
“Retail strip malls, they’re boarded up everywhere, even here in the Hudson Valley,” Costello said. “So why would we want to duplicate that? We don’t need to duplicate neighborhoods that are already exist in surgeries with newer homes and newer retail opportunities. We need to do significantly better.”
Costello added that he’s not necessarily opposed to aspects of the plan, which was designed by Passero Associates, an architecture and engineering firm with offices in New York, Vermont, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
“That live-work-play theme is relevant and it’s been adopted successfully in many parts of the country, even in the Hudson Valley,” Costello said. “And I think we could do that here and that will help us achieve the goals for open space, the less roads, the storm water, all that.”
Recently, another option has come into the picture, hazy though it may be. The Open Space Institute was founded in the Hudson Valley nearly 50 years ago in part to protect open lands like Winston Farms, and to advocate for their conservation. Their efforts have led to the protection of over 2.3 million acres of land in the Eastern United States and Canada, including over 150,000 acres in New York State.
Multiple sources claim the Open Space Institute is in negotiations to purchase 600 acres of Winston Farm for nearly $10 million, some of which could be set aside as a state park. But while rumors abound, no one representing either the landowners or potential purchasers are saying anything. Reached by phone, the Open Space Institute’s chief external affairs coordinator Eileen Larrabee said her organization doesn’t comment on rumored negotiations.
But Cowan said such an arrangement would be good news for everyone.
“(The property owners)would still be able to develop that (roughly 200-acre area, and the 600 acres of the more pristine land that’s over the aquifer, which is so critical to us, and the wildlife that’s there would be reserved really as a state park, biking, hiking and very light use, environmentally friendly use,” he said. “We’re very much in favor of that. It avoids years of construction risk of building on top of an aquifer, eliminates the probability of covering much of the site with asphalt and therefore upsetting the natural flow of water, the ability of the aquifer to be recharged. It avoids displacing all the wildlife that’s there. It avoids years of noise and construction and traffic and massive road work around the intersection of (Route) 212 and (Route) 32 and the (New York State) Thruway exits and entrances.”
Costello agreed, saying that the rumored plan could address both environmental conservation and the local economy.
“I think that this is a unique opportunity to balance those interests,” he said. “There are folks from every spectrum where they feel maybe they’re coming from the perspective of conservation and they want to see nothing. And then there’s other folks that are seeing it from an economic perspective and they want to see a very robust use of that land. The balance is somewhere in the middle.”
Costello added that he believed that balance is more likely with the trio who own Winston Farm than it might be with a prospective developer from outside of the community.
“The current ownership team is local,” he said. “They have been through the same things that we have all been through with regard to use of that property, and they get it. So it’s not like we’re calling a representative of a real estate investment firm that might be based in another part of the country. This is local, so the conversation aspect is different just because of that.”
The Open Space Institute isn’t entirely local, but Cowan said their 50-year history speaks well to their intentions, should they actually have any.
“They’re seemingly altruistic, they’re nonprofit, they’re focused on maintaining the environment and rescuing, saving and reserving these massive tracts of land that seem unfortunately to become the targets for massive development,” he said. “So we like very much what they’re doing and they’ve got a very successful longstanding track record of doing it.”
Winston Farm Media Statement, Sept. 7, 2023
There have been recent news stories about the Open Space Institute (OSI) seeking to potentially purchase the Winston Farm property in Saugerties. Although the owners of Winston Farm have been, and presently remain, in communications with OSI, there is no deal currently on the table. The Winston Farm property owners continue to move forward and are fully committed to their original development plans.