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Town of Washington CP review: Second Mountain still a main concern

WASHINGTON — The second open forum seeking comments on the Town of Washington (TOW) Comprehensive Plan (CP), run by the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee (CPRC), took place on Thursday, Sept. 15. It was led by CPRC Chair Paul Schwartz. The meeting was held both in-person and via Zoom at 7 p.m.

The Washington Town Board charged the CPRC to amend its CP and possibly add the definition of hospitality, especially in light of the currently on-hold application by famed NYC restaurateur and developer Will Guidara. 

Guidara bought the 350-plus acre Migdale estate in Mabbettsville with plans to ultimately open a hotel/spa, complete with condos and cottages, two restaurants, pools, a theater, trails, tennis courts and an assortment of other high-end amenities. The project was named Second Mountain and brought a flood of complaints from nearby residents, plus two groups or neighbors armed with attorneys ready to fight the application in court.

Although the Second Mountain application is currently on pause, as is the request for a Zoning District Overlay change, it did encourage the town to re-evaluate its CP, and to appoint the CPRC. 

The full charge of the CPRC can be found on the TOW website, www.washingtonny.org. The committee has been followed closely since its inception a few months ago; it held its first public forum on Aug. 26, which was well attended.

While the CPRC reviews the CP, the town recently approved a townwide temporary building moratorium. 

The CP was most recently updated in 2015, with the consensus that the town should remain pristine, rural and that businesses should be centered in the village of Millbrook.

At the recent Sept. 15 meeting, resident Elizabeth Hewitt pointed out that more people are working remotely and may be looking to move into the community full time. Many are looking to buy houses in the town or village, she said, because of its rural nature and quaint setting. Developers could ruin that, according to her.

“We are already seeing a large increase in the number of new houses being built, which will be good for tax revenue, but the last thing we need is to change the current comprehensive town plan, which is only 6 years old, and to permit large scale resorts to spring up all over our township,” said Hewitt. “Millbrook needs organic growth, not an outside developer, who will come in and monetize our bucolic setting and pave a path for other developers to do the same. Once land is developed it’s taken away, and you can never get it back. Now more than ever, it is important that we stand together as a community and protect our township’s rural scenic lands for us all to enjoy.”

Resident Ted Briggs, meanwhile, said Airbnbs are not the answer to providing more hospitality options in Millbrook. Raising one’s family doesn’t go hand-in-hand with a change of neighbors every few days who are enjoying a vacation or party atmosphere while one is trying to live a normal life.

Resident Darren Henault lives near the proposed project in Mabbettsville with a business in neighboring Amenia. He also offered his opinion.

“I also run and operate a local business, Tent, a home decor business in Amenia. I’m very, very pro-business in the larger community, and I know how important it is to get local support for your business,” he said. “A resort will not support local business. People go to a resort and they stay there, period. 

“In my store we ask every person who comes in where they’re from as market research,” he added. “In 10 months we’ve had four people come in from [the multi-million dollar Amenia housing development] Silo Ridge, with sales totaling less than $500. That’s not going to pay my rent. Hospitality is already taken into consideration and allowed for in our existing comprehensive plan.”

Resident Nancy Hathaway noted that  her friends will not come to Millbrook and spend $2,000 per night at a resort. 

“But they might stay at a smaller boutique hotel or a country inn,” she said. “I was really excited about the concept of the Cottonwood, because if we have hospitality close to the village then the guests may actually go and use the village facilities, as opposed to an inclusive resort with two restaurants, where people paying that kind of money are going to tend to stay where they are.” 

The possible renovation of the Cottonwood Motel was mentioned at the meeting, causing many there to express their excitement and optimism.

Resident Simon Roosevelt also spoke, asking for patience.

“As chairman of a land trust and a resident of the Millbrook area I’m keenly aware of the importance of open spaces and their connection to real estate values,” he said. “I’m also aware of the importance of commercial prosperity to the continued vitality of an area. Every town needs growth for all of its people to prosper. It is the balance of these two things that is essential for the continued success and prosperity of our community. An increase in hospitality offerings in Millbrook can support both things if planned carefully and respecting the existing values of the area. Let’s have growth, but at a scale consistent with the village, consistent with the character of our area and adjacent to the village, to ensure that it supports and grows local businesses.”

The meeting lasted for two-and-a-half-hours, and as expected, centered more on the Migdale project than the actual examination of the term hospitality and its inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan. 

The CPRC will likely plan more meetings, as the community will likely continue to weigh in on the issue. Stay tuned to The Millerton News for the latest updates.

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