On the Waterfront
Developers vs. Preservations: Who wins the fight for the
No one doubts that something must be done, but will pricey residential developments improve our riverfront or ruin it forever?
Welcome to Sleepy Hollow’s Lighthouse Landing, year 2016. About 3,000 people now live here on the bank of the Hudson River, in about 1,500 swanky townhouses and apartments with spectacular views of the river, the
It’s hard to believe that, back in 2006, this was a desolate expanse of concrete, debris, and land filled marsh, the ninety-five-acre site of an abandoned General Motors plant. After decades of municipal squabbling, environmental posturing, and political machinations, Roseland Property Company developed the expensive community-within-a-community that now epitomizes the transformation of our county’s Hudson shoreline from a grimy and derelict no man’s land to an upscale residential section desired by many, but affordable to few.
Of course, this vision, like the ones presented to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, are just glimpses of what might be, not what will be. And whether you find this vision terrifying or hopeful depends on who you’d like to see win the struggle for control of the
In the main, opinion is divided among three different factions. There are unwavering environmentalists who speak of preserving open land along the river for future generations. Opposing them are powerful developers who perceive a vastly underutilized natural resource with immense profit potential; if they have their way, the stretch of the
On one end of the spectrum of opinion are visionary developers like Martin Ginsburg, who has built four residential projects on both sides of the Hudson—in Haverstraw, Peekskill, Ossining, and Sleepy Hollow—and has more on the drawing board (see “Riverfront Developments to Watch,” page 90). With his urbane suits, jet-black hair, sleek designer glasses, and modern architect’s aesthetics, he doesn’t look like the insensitive, bulldoze-everything-in-the-way profiteer that central casting might suggest. Nor does he speak like a “short-fingered vulgarian” (as Trump was once famously described).
“Preservation is important, but development and redevelopment are now important in the destiny of the river,” says Ginsburg. “We have this fantastic river and nobody goes there. No places, no activity, no nothing. You have a few places where you have some park
benches on a lawn covered with goose turds.”
Still, the driving factor behind the riverfront redevelopment is money. Two big factors drive up the value of riverfront property: it’s pretty and it’s scarce. As Arthur Collins, whose third-generation private real estate company owns and operates a $200 million portfolio of multifamily and commercial office buildings from
Currently, there are more than twenty new residential/mixed-use developments either proposed or under construction along the forty-nine miles of river shoreline that marks
located northwest of the train station),
to Peekskill (home of Ginsburg Development’s 500-unit residential development along Hudson Avenue). If all of the proposed and approved riverfront developments are actually constructed, they will altogether add nearly 5,000 residential units to the County’s housing stock.
Some observers, like Tarrytown-based environmental consultant Mark Fry, fear that in the headlong rush to redevelop the
To get a better sense of Ginsburg’s vision for the
The townhouses at Ichabod’s Landing are attractively—if somewhat busily—detailed, with brick facing intermixed with stucco, copper-roofed porticos, window boxes, and roof lines broken up with dormers, a weathervane, and even a couple of widow walks. A generous setback allows for a pleasant esplanade, a gazebo, and unobtrusive landscaping that separates private property from public areas. Non-residents have complete access to the river and the adjacent vest-pocket park along the esplanade.
Ginsburg would like to see a busy riverfront, offering plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy themselves and spend a little cash while they’re at it. “The important ingredient of development is creating destinations on the river that include inns, spas, museums, and entertainment facilities,” he says. “Another important ingredient is having people live on
the river, near the river, in proximity to the river.”
Of course, not everyone shares Ginsburg’s vision. The
, a 150-unit, seven-story apartment building, which the village has approved. “We have a responsibility to future generations as well as all the life in that area—the plants, the animals, the fish. We have a responsibility to keep it in its natural form.”
A visit to the
site, next to the
So, why would Indusi or anyone else want to preserve it as a park? It’s not much bigger than a football field and it boasts a view of the sewage-treatment plant and the prison. Still, you might ask the same question to those considering buying an apartment here, but that’s something for prospective owners to decide.
Not all environmental groups stand dead set against any form of development along the river. Many agree with developers—up to a point:
Today, a tangle of Metro-North Railroad tracks, abandoned and operating industrial sites, commercial properties, and the prison, block access to nearly half of the shoreline. Along great stretches of the river, fiddler crabs, muskrats, kingfishers, and great blue herons cavort among dredge spoil deposits and abandoned jetties.
There’s a need and opportunity to do something, but what? “I’d rather see a tastefully, thoughtfully done mixed-use development along the waterfront—with the big caveat that we preserve as much open space as we can—than see huge, sputtering industrial sites,” says Alex Matthiessen, president of the environmental watchdog organization Riverkeeper.
Ginsburg isn’t really in opposition. He insists that rather than shut off public access to the riverfront—which industrial sites do—his proposed developments will once again enable the public to enjoy the river as part of daily life. Ginsburg favors the county government’s planned RiverWalk, also a favorite project of Westchester County Executive Andy Spano, who hopes to connect established county-owned trails such as the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail with public esplanades like those on Ginsburg’s properties and new trails over lands with restricted access, including Metro-North Railroad property. If completed, the RiverWalk will span 46.6 miles from the
Ginsburg points out that public access is an integral part of his waterfront properties. “All the streets at Ichabod’s Landing are public,” he says. “There are sidewalks where people can walk right down to the river, walk past your houses. If someone wants a gated community, they better not go there. It isn’t a cul-de-sac.”
Some communities along the
Some local governments are willing to chance losing the remaining manufacturing jobs in their towns in order to redevelop factory sites for residential use. In
“What I’m building isn’t affordable housing,” Ginsburg maintains. “It’s expensive to build and it’s expensive to buy. The people who will live in these homes will have disposable income. They will be able to support local restaurants and other businesses.”
Collins agrees wholeheartedly that high-income residents and their spending dollars are key to fiscal health. “Any city that’s actually spending money on infrastructure, cultural stuff, new libraries, that kind of thing, will reap benefits over the years,” he says.
That argument carried weight among city fathers in
because, he believes, “higher-income residents will purchase some goods in the village.”
Like many other riverfront villages,
by the ever-present railroad tracks. In addition to enduring the periodic roar of passing trains, shoppers living on the riverbank have to navigate the viaducts that arch over the tracks and the tunnels that dip beneath them, or use the few pedestrian bridges, which usually connect through the train stations.
Most plans to turn affluent riverfront residents into village shoppers rely
on some pretty big assumptions. For
example, Hernandez opines, “there will be a trolley or jitney service that will connect downtown with this project.” And who will pay for the trolleys or for that matter, the extra police and services for these people?
“Plenty of studies have shown that residential development adds more burdens and costs to municipal services than it contributes to the economy,” reports Ned Sullivan, the president of Scenic Hudson, a Poughkeepsie-based environmental advocacy group with a special focus on
But Sleepy Hollow Mayor Phil Zegarelli isn’t worried. “The benefits will far outweigh the transition issues and problems we’re going through.” Besides, he points out, many services already exist in his town to serve the development. “The sewer line runs right through the GM site and there are existing water lines,” he notes. “It’s not like we’re taking farm land and building a community on top of it.”
True, but they are taking abandoned or nearly abandoned sites and building homes on top of them—which means more people. How many more people? In the case of Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, Lighthouse Landing, Ichabod’s Landing, and Ferry Landings, will be like dropping a new village the size of Ardsley—about 4,500 people—within their borders. Which means, of course, more cars and more traffic. According to Buckhurst, Fish, Jaquemart, Inc., consultants retained by the Village of Tarrytown, Lighthouse Landing will put 1,200 additional cars on the streets—primarily Route 9—during afternoon rush hour.
That vital North-South artery is already so clogged as it passes through
As Tarrytown resident Mark Fry says, “In
The alternative to residential development most often touted by opponents is open space such as nature preserves and parks. “By cramming the waterfront with condominiums and retail outlets and parking lots, you’re also going to remove the opportunity to create open space and to make available once again this open space for the use of the public at large,” Matthiessen of Riverkeepers says.
Parks don’t add much to traffic congestion. By definition, they open the river to access by the public and you can even make a slim case that park visitors contribute to the local economy by shopping in local stores to fill up their picnic baskets on the way to the riverfront.
“For drawing new companies and stimulating your economy, natural, cultural, and historic resources that are big quality-of-life contributors are very important,” says Jay Burgess, director of communications for Scenic Hudson.
Former Ossining Receiver of Taxes Marie Gagliardi agrees, saying
, for example, “could be a park and they could turn some of those buildings into shops and boutiques. God has given us this gift and we are destroying it. We are developing it like crazy.” So why not more parks?
One part of the answer is a rather cynical question: How many parks do you need? “If all you do is build ballfields, those downtowns are going to suffer forever,” Ginsburg maintains. Public parks currently comprise thirteen miles of the shore, the largest single use of
Another part of the answer is a practical one. Railroad tracks dominate much of the landscape under consideration for development, part of the scene since 1846 when the railroad first reached
But for Ginsburg, the railroad presence is just one more reason to build homes by the water. “You’re supposed to put density where you have transportation. That’s exactly what you have in the old river- towns.”
Opponents point to
The park is in a mixed-use area adjacent to Bridge Street Properties, a cluster of redeveloped industrial buildings with a mix of tenants, including women’s clothing company Eileen Fisher and Solera Restaurant. Interestingly,
also intends to build residential units just north of their current development.
“Environmentalists are very uncreative,” Martin Ginsburg shoots back. “They want to preserve the wilderness so no one ever uses it. I hope to make the river again an active part of the life of all the communities on the river.”
Perhaps. But Riverkeeper Alex Matthiessen warns: “If we don’t do it right, we will live with our mistakes for the next hundred years.”
Dave Donelson grew up in a riverfront town—in