Save Clinton's Farmland and Open Space sign now

Last fall Red Hook Agriculture and Open Space Committee Chair Robert McKeon came to Clinton Town Hall for a series of forums I organized to help explain to dozens of town residents who came out about how pro-actively investing in saving local farmland and open space from being developed actually saves money for taxpayers-- while preserving a community's local rural character, charm, and beauty.

Mr. McKeon has a good track record; thanks to his efforts, 82\% of Red Hook voters approved a $3.5 million farmland protection preservation bond referendum in 2003; last November, Beekman voters similar approved by a wide margin a $3 million farmland/open space protection referendum bond.

It's our turn here; a bond referendum to save farmland and open space here in Clinton should be on the ballot this November.

The fact is that several years ago our county's Environmental Management Council did a build-out analysis of the Town of Clinton and determined that 2491 more houses could be built on 11,357 buildable acres under current zoning, excluding land in wetlands, steep slopes, and publicly owned or protected land.

What would Clinton, with almost 2500 new homes and families, look like? New homes require new services. That means new taxes.

According to Robert McKeon, "The latest cost of community services studies show that for every dollar contributed in taxes by residential development, two dollars in services are needed. In other words, new homes contribute less than half of what they require in services. In the long run, the study found, it is 20 times cheaper for a community to preserve open land than to develop it. 300 more houses at three children each would have cost Red Hook residents $4.5 million extra on their tax bills.

The development wave is at our shores, and we see it all around us. We can either manage that development or have it overwhelm us, and become a high density, high tax community like Fishkill. Look what's happened already in communities that were unprepared for their rate of growth.

In Beekman, more households were created in the last 20 years than in the preceding 300 years. Beekman had 1696 houses in 1980; it had 3751 houses in 2000-- 561 acres being turned into 531 homes. A new high school planned, with 46 classrooms-- the district's fourth new school in the last five years. From 1999 to 2003, there was an 1100-student increase in the Arlington School District enrollment. $3.85 million had to be borrowed for Beekman to save the town's water. Just look at the financial analysis.

Preserving open space and farmland is a community's insurance policy against rapidly increasing tax rates. Despite escalating valuations of land it is still cheaper to protect our town's open spaces in lieu of building more and more schools."

It should be noted here that this petition is inspired in large part by the many folks here in town who came out last fall to hear Robert McKeon speak at our Keep Clinton Beautiful and Affordable forums/meetings-- as well as the ongoing efforts of Clinton United, Clinton Hollow Action Association-- and the long-time efforts of Clinton Watch-- especially the words and work of Blanche Rubin, Bronwyn Bevan, Carolyn Blackwood and Greg Quinn, Ann Stettner Charles, Norene Coller, Bill Dickett, Suzi Hieter, John and Barbara Manning, Bob and Alice Messerich, Bill Relyea, George and June Sanderson, Chad and Elizabeth Smith, Doug, Elizabeth, and Olga Smyth, Art Weiland-- and of course Judy Malstrom.

Joel Tyner
County Legislator
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580


Dozens of studies across the country have have proven that saving farmland and open space from development keeps local taxes down-- see this from the Trust for Public Lands:

"The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space: How Land Conservation Helps Communities Grow Smart and Protect the Bottom Line"


"It's Cheaper to Keep Her" by James Sheldon [11/30/04]

"Daisy" is a 1,600-pound Holstein milking cow who, for most of her five-year life, has been grazing on a quiet hillside in the northern Dutchess County town of Red Hook, a familiar symbol of the open spaces, rural lifestyle and agricultural economy that define much of the Hudson Valley. But to the citizens of Red Hook, faced with mounting pressures from new home construction, keeping Daisy grazing is also a way to keep a lid on skyrocketing property taxes.

Red Hook voters last year approved a novel land preservation program-one which is only starting to draw planners' attention in Columbia County-to address a disturbing economic fact about housing development: on average, a new house costs the surrounding school district about $5,000 more each year than it contributes in new property taxes.

By a nearly 5 to 1 margin, the town's residents agreed to borrow $3.5 million worth of bonds to purchase farmers' rights to develop their land into residential building lots, preserving the open land for farming in perpetuity. Proponents of Red Hook's purchase of development rights, or PDR program, estimate that every dollar the town spends in acquiring open acreage will bring savings of $5 to the school district's taxpayers.

"It's cheaper to keep her," said Robert McKeon, Daisy's owner and chairman of the town's Agriculture and Open Space Space Advisory Committee.

"A lot of families who have come to the town for the schools and the quality of life voted in favor of the plan, " added Red Hook Town Councilwoman Jean Bordewich. "But so did a lot of old-timers who love the land and see that the plan is financially good for them, too."

As the issues of preserving open space and restraining runaway property taxes take center stage in the debate about our towns' future, a look behind the numbers may help public officials and voters assess the pros and cons of raising taxes by a small amount today in order to save much more money in the future.
Under Red Hook's program, the town borrows money in the bond market to cover 50\% of the cost of purchasing development rights to local farms. The remaining money must come from county, state and private programs dedicated to preserving open space.

Requiring an independent second purchaser, Ms. Bordewich noted, helped ease concerns over the program's potential conflicts of interest. The main opposition to the bond referendum, she said, came from people concerned that the Town Board would be "paying off their friends."

The annual cost of the $3.5 million bond, once the total amount is borrowed, would add about $350,000 in principle and interest payments to the town's annual budget in each of the subsequent 20 years. But without the PDR program, according to school district officials and my own financial analysis, current development pressures would cost the district's taxpayers at least an additional $1.7 million per year. Over the 20-year life of the bond, the gap widens remarkably: spend $7 million in principal and interest to save an estimated $34 million in higher school taxes.

The basic arithmetic behind such big numbers is a gap of nearly $3,600 between the cost of educating a student for one year in Red Hook's public schools and the annual tax revenue per student that a new house now contributes to the district's coffers. In addition, school officials suggest that, if recent enrollment trends hold, the district would need to start construction on a new classroom building in 3-5 years. Allocating this capital cost to each new house whose owners' children would attend Red Hook schools brings an additional cost per house of $1,400, for a total deficit "per new home" of roughly $5,000.

These estimates understate the future tax burden in two ways. First, school costs per student have been rising at 8-10\% a year. Adjusting for the likelihood that the $3,600 per house operating deficit grows at an 8\% inflation rate would tack on another $700 to the annual funding gap, which is not reflected in these forecasts. Moreover, future property taxes would have to cover the additional cost of providing fire, police, EMS and road maintenance to the new homes, a cost we will attempt to quantify in a future column.

Despite the compelling economics of farmland PDR programs adopted around the nation, Columbia County governments and planners remain far behind the strides made in Red Hook and elsewhere in Dutchess County.

"We have a lot of farmers who want to sell their development rights," said Columbia Land Conservancy Executive Director Judy Anderson. "But we don't know where to find the money needed to help them at this point."

While large-scale developments on open farmland are still scarce in Columbia towns, planners just across the county line in Pine Plains are mulling proposals to build over 1,300 new houses, which would more than double the town's current housing stock and could have an even larger impact on school taxes.


Town of Beekman Open Space Bond Referendum Resolution [September 2005]

WHEREAS, pursuant to General Municipal Law Section 247 the preservation of open space by outright purchase, acquisition of conservation easements, development rights or similar interests in land is a proper public purpose for which public funds may be expended; and

WHEREAS, the Town Board of the Town of Beekman is desirous of purchasing land and such rights in land for the preservation of open space as the appropriate opportunities to do so may arise; and

WHEREAS, the Town Board wishes to submit the question of the use of public funds for this purpose to a referendum to be voted upon by the electorate of the Town of Beekman, now therefore be it

RESOLVED, by the Town Board of the Town of Beekman, County of Dutchess and State of New York as follows:

Section 1. For the object or purpose of purchasing land, conservation easements, development rights and other purchases for the preservation of open space, and to provide funds to defray the cost thereof, Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000) of the General Obligation Serial Bonds of the Town of Beekman, shall be issued pursuant to the provision of New York Local Finance Law Section 33 et seq.

Section 2. Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000) is estimated as the maximum cost of said acquisition of lands, and rights in lands, for the preservation of open space.

Section 3. The plan or the financing of the purchase of said new Item consists of the issuance of General Obligation Serial Bonds of the Town of Beekman in the principal sum of the Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000) to be issued pursuant to Local Finance Law.

Section 4. It is hereby determined that the period of probable usefulness of the aforesaid object or purpose is thirty (30) years, pursuant to Subdivision 21(a) of Paragraph a of Section 11 of Local Finance Law. It is further determined that the maximum maturity of the Serial Bonds herein authorized will not exceed thirty (30) years.

Section 5. The faith and credit of said Town of Beekman are hereby irrevocably pledged to the payment of the principal of and interest on such bonds as the same, respectively, become due and payable. An annual appropriation shall be made in each year sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on such bonds becoming due and payable in such year. There shall annually be levied on all the taxable real property in the Town of Beekman a tax sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on such bonds as the same become due and payable.

Section 6. Subject to the provisions of Local Finance Law, the power to authorize the issuance of and to sell Bond Anticipation Notes in anticipation of the issuance and sale of the Serial Bonds herein authorized, including renewals of such notes, is hereby delegated to the Town Supervisor, the chief fiscal officer. Such notes shall be of such terms, form and contents, and shall be sold in such manner as may be prescribed by said Town Supervisor, consistent with the provisions of Local Finance Law.

Section 7. The validity of such bonds may be contested only if:

a. Such bonds are authorized for an object or purpose for which said Town of Beekman is not authorized to expend money, or

b. The provisions of law, which should be complied with at the date of publication of this resolution, are not substantially complied with, and an action, suit or proceeding contesting such validity is commenced within twenty (20) days after the date of publication, or

c. Such bonds are authorized in violation of the provisions of the Constitution.

Section 8. This resolution shall be submitted for approval to the electors of the Town of Beekman at the next general election to be held on November 8, 2005. Said proposition shall be in the following manner:

"In order to preserve open space, natural lands, wildlife habitat and working farms and to protect drinking water sources and the quality of water, shall the Town of Beekman Bond Resolution in the amount of $3 million to finance the acquisition of interests or rights in land be approved?"

Section 9. This resolution shall take effect upon an affirmative vote of the electors of the Town of Beekman.

Seconded Councilman Werner Stiegler


Councilman Werner Stiegler aye
Councilman Daniel French aye
Councilman Thomas Kinsley aye
Councilwoman Barbara Zulauf aye
Supervisor John D. Adams aye


"Land Deals Are Worth Pursuing" [Poughkeepsie Journal 1/18/06]

Two Dutchess County towns and the City of Beacon want to use different methods to achieve the same critical goal - protecting key parcels of open space in their jurisdictions.

The three communities - Beekman, Fishkill and Beacon - will definitely benefit if these transactions go through.

Beekman in particular has well-positioned itself to be a leader in open space protection; this November, residents overwhelmingly supported a $3 million bond that will be used to buy parcels outright or place conservation easements on them. Under easement programs, farmers and other landowners sell the development rights to their property. This helps to keep some land as active, working farms, providing a balance to the growing number of residential developments throughout Dutchess County.

Beekman is pursuing both state and county grants to protect the 300-acre McIntosh Farm off Frog Hollow Road from development. Depending on how these applications go, the town may not have to dip into its own open space fund, although that certainly remains an option. Beekman and Red Hook are the only two Dutchess County towns that have had the foresight to set up funds to give them more control over their own destiny in these important transactions.

Meanwhile, Fishkill has set its sights on a Girl Scout camp, proposing to buy the 17-acre property west of Route 9D for $420,000. The town would preserve it as parkland, but some Girl Scout activities would continue there. The town would use money from development fees that go into its recreational fund.

While saving acres of open space conjures up images of country living, sometimes cities have to pursue these matters as well. In Beacon, city officials want to borrow as much as $1 million to purchase and preserve undeveloped land. While the city hasn't officially designated the parcels it intends to save, residents have raised strenuous objections to a proposed residential development on the Hiddenbrooke property near the Hudson Highlands. The city hasn't ruled out trying to buy some of the land or obtaining a conservation easement on it.

While their financial strategies are different, these three local governments are homing in on important parcels that should be preserved if the owners are in agreement.


"Citizens Groups for Smart Growth" by Constance Young [About Town Guide Fall 2005]

Housing prices are rising and new home permits multiplying in our area of the mid-Hudson Valley. In Red Hook in 2004 the number of permits for new home growth construction was quadruple what it had been a decade earlier, while in Milan and Pine Plains it was more than double. Like hummingbirds to sugar water, big developers are buzzing around Pine Plains, Milan, Red Hook, Kingston, Saugerties and other mid-Hudson Valley communities with hopes of grabbing big bucks for proposed new condominiums, upscale homes, retirement communities, golf courses, hotels and retail businesses. In great swaths of the valley, many over-the-top developments earmark existing rural lands, farms, and river frontage. Thousands of development proposals are now going through the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) review process or awaiting other rulings, and concerned citizens are weighing in with their own environmental and quality of life demands.

In response to the threat of suburban sprawl and to preserve rural lands and lifestyle, residents in many communities have banded together to press for "smart growth." Growth is inevitable, proclaim most citizens group members, but the public should have a say in what happens in their own communities and not just cave in to the whims and profits of outside developers. The groups are working with the towns to provide information, help (and to some minds, aggravation). For example, residents and citizens groups have been a great help in recent successes in Red Hook. In May of 2004 a two-year campaign by the citizens group Keep Red Hook Rural (KRHR) for the purchase of development rights for historic farmland culminated in passage of a Farmland Protection Program. KRHR organized activities for almost two years--sponsoring events, creating phone trees, mailing out fliers, sending e-mails--in an effort to personally contact every Red Hook resident. The result: voters approved a $3.5 million bond fund to purchase farmland development rights in a matching grant program by an overwhelming margin of 897 to 186. The Town Board will administer the program, providing up to 50\% of the purchase price for lands that meet the program guidelines.

More recently, in an August 2005 public hearing, representatives for the citizens group Red Hook Concerns and other members of the community turned out in such numbers that they were able to change the vote of two Red Hook Town Board members. At stake is the possibility of reclaiming for town use up to 200 acres of prime unused agricultural land owned by Central Hudson. The utility company, which bought the land many decades ago as a pathway for power transmission lines that were never built, had put the land up for sale. When Red Hook's offer of 1.9 million fell $500,000 short, Town Board members were at first divided about whether to use the Town's powers of eminent domain to force the sale. The strong public reaction in favor of purchasing the property--a swath that cuts through Red Hook's famed "bread basket" of major farms--means that the proposal will now go to referendum, which if it passes, will allow Red Hook to purchase at least half the land. Town Supervisor Marirose Blum Bump hopes to gain the entire property, and by doing so to expand five town programs already in place: recreation, trails, open space, agriculture, and water resource preservation.

Successes of Citizens Groups

The most publicized recent success has been the defeat of the Montreal-based St. Lawrence Cement Company's (SLC) proposal to build a $353 million coal-fired cement manufacturing plant near the city of Hudson. The grassroots group Friends of Hudson, which by 2005 had enlisted 4,100 members, was the first of three community groups to be granted legal standing in the case. Two other not-for-profit community groups, the Olana Partnership and Scenic Hudson, also took up the fight. Together the groups used small law firms and public interest lawyers to help them defeat SLC with its $56 million war chest. According to the New York Law Journal, the anti-plant lawyers claim that the successful conclusion to the seven-year SLC battle was the most significant environmental victory since "Storm King," the 1963 fight to prevent Consolidated Edison from building a huge riverfront power plant at Cornwall-on-Hudson. That struggle gave birth to U.S. Environmental law.

Pine Plains, the "Perfect Storm"

The largest proposed development east of the Hudson is the 2,025-acre Carvel Development (formerly called the Hudson Valley Club) proposed by real estate mogul Douglas Durst, president of the Durst Organization. Durst, who also owns major office buildings in New York City, has teamed up with Landmark National, developer and manager of major golf courses. The proposed project, which is on the property formerly owned by Thomas Carvel of ice-cream fame and includes the current public golf course, would create 975 up-scale single family housing units, an extended, private golf course, tennis courts and other homeowner's facilities. About three-fourths of the land is in Pine Plains, and the other fourth in Milan.

Also under consideration by the Pine Plains Planning Board is the 85-acre "Village Green" that is slated to add over 270 to 285 residential units, many of them condominiums above retail spaces, and a 60,000 square foot supermarket to an area just south of the town center. One of the major criticisms of this project is that it would take business and money away from the needy town center, with its historic and dilapidated buildings and unoccupied business spaces. A personal note: My house backs on this proposed project, now a beautiful field with a view of rolling hills and a mountain; the field contains the wellhead area protecting the town's water supply.

Another development proposal in Pine Plains, Parkview Estates, is for a 40-house development on some 29 acres bordering the town's recreation center and just a few yards from the environmentally sensitive Stissing Lake. If all three projects go through as proposed, the number of housing units in Pine Plains will more than double.

Naturally enough, both town officials and citizens in Pine Plains have been unsettled by the proposed changes. In 2004 Pine Plains approved its revised Comprehensive Plan, which clearly expresses the community's desire to preserve beauty and rural character of Pine Plains. In January 2005 Pine Plains United was organized to help protect it "from the adverse effects of unregulated commercial and residential development." According to Plain Speaking, the newsletter of the recently formed group, "Such development will completely alter our landscape, not just visibly, but economically and culturally." PPU currently consists of some 400 members and has a website and an e-mail list-serve to keep the public informed. PPUs members attend all Planning Board and Town Board meetings and conduct community meetings. James Sheldon, a financial analyst, journalist, and member of PPU, claims that if the projects go through, school and property taxes could more than double. (Sheldon's blog, "Views from Gallatin," can be viewed at

PPU's second town meeting in late July introduced to the public the group's new consultant attorney, John Lyons of the Rhinebeck law firm Grant & Lyons LLP. Lyons described the SEQRA process and told the audience what they could do make the approval process serve the people's interests as well as those of the developer. He also talked about why the town needs appropriate zoning if its citizens want to exercise more influence over its eventual character. Pine Plains is the only town in Dutchess County that does not have zoning, although last March, in response to the interest of a large segment of Pine Plains residents, the Town Board established a Zoning Commission.

The job of the new seven-member Zoning Commission will be to write the laws that will enforce the Comprehensive Town Plan. That plan proposes creating five districts based on environmental criteria (including Hamlet, Agricultural, and Wellhead areas), and establishing densities for each district. The Town Board will review the Zoning Commission's recommendations and take it to the public for input. Meanwhile the new Zoning Commission has suggested to the Town Board that it institute a moratorium on development until the commission completes its work. In fact, moratoriums on development have been established or are being considered in Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, Plattekill, Milan and Saugerties.

What You Can Do

There are many active citizen groups throughout the area. If a group doesn't exist in your community, members of existing groups will help you start one yourself. There are also many not-for-profit organizations concerned with environmental and other community and development issues that you can consult for help.

In a public meeting Sam Pratt, executive director of Friends of Hudson, told the large assembled audience that Friends of Hudson owed their success to such factors as good research and effective communications. This means having a website and assiduously contacting members and others by e-mail or other means. Pratt also stressed the importance of attending all town meetings, educating the public, and portioning out the work to "task forces."

Some of the Citizens Groups in our Area

Pine Plains United:

Milan Concerns:

Red Hook Concerns:

Red Hook Cares:

Friends of Hudson:

Saugerties Cares:

No Saugerties Casino:

Saugerties Concerns:


Friends of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center (Dover Plains/ Wingdale): [email protected]

Some Proposals Under Review

A few of the proposed developments that worry citizens groups:

* In the Rondout section of Kingston: 2,500 dwellings to house an estimated 6,000 or more residents with commercial and office spaces.

* In Saugerties, on the 840-acre Winston Farm: a 1.2 million square foot resort/casino with a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena, 5 garages for 23,000 vehicles, 1 million square feet of retail space, and a 27-hole golf course, to be developed by the Wilmorite Corporation, representing the Seneca-Cayuga Indian tribe.

* In Red Hook: 300 homes on historic farm properties. (Dutchess County is rated as one of the dozen most threatened farming areas in the country.)

* In Hurley: An active adult gated community called "Hidden Forest."

* In Esopus: A 650-unit planned "village."

* In Dover Plains/Wingdale: A "golf course community" called Dover Knolls, on the land surrounding the 80-building former home of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center.

* In Pine Plains and Milan: The Hudson Valley Club (Carvel/Durst Project): a total of 2,025 acres to be turned into 975 residential units with a redesigned golf course.

* In Pine Plains: Besides the above, the "Village Green" (270 residential units and retail spaces including a 60,000-square foot supermarket) and Parkview Estates (another 40 homes).

* On the riverfront: Development plans in Pough-keepsie, Lloyd, Fishkill, and Beacon, including another golf course, hotels, restaurants and stores.

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