But there’s an unexpected cliff sure to make your jaw drop. Despite the diminutive annual $1,012.40 property taxes that the town’s general and highway funds garners from the former ski slope bordering Route 213 — the town’s library, fire and lighting districts get an additional $463.46 — the town has been paying Joppenbergh Mountain Corp. $3,500 annually to rent the ski slope’s parking lot, which is typically used for overflow and event parking. In addition, Rosendale bound its hands in what many called an “absurd” 10-year lease signed in March 2006 in which the Town of Rosendale also agreed pay all real property tax increases — taxes which have exponentially increased since the lease was signed. Deputy Supervisor Jen Metzger laid out facts in a well-organized presentation: “Thus, under the rental agreement the town is obligated to pay to Joppenbergh Mountain Corporation much more than it receives from this property in tax revenues. [We are paying] $17,092.13 in [combined] rent for the years 2010-2011, compared with [receiving] $2,951.72 [over two years] in tax revenues — an annual cost that would no longer be incurred if the property were owned by the town.”
The current assessment for the Joppenbergh property is $230,000, netting $5,968.04 in real property taxes. (Rondout Valley schools get $3,589.97 and the county gets $902.21.)
“The purchase of Joppenbergh Mountain as protected open space would help fulfill an objective of the 2007 Comprehensive Plan to protect areas of significance in the town,” Metzger said, citing the plan’s goals of protection and preservation of important ecological, cultural, historic, geologic, economic development and scenic resources.
Metzger warned of the work and costs that could be associated with the purchase. There would be no charge in additional insurance if the Joppenbergh property was used for passive recreation, provided that there is no new building or structures on it. (The town already pays $1,140 in insurance costs for the parking lot.) Signage would be necessary, Metzger said, for public safety, and posed the option of interpretative signage for public education which could possibly be funded by grants. Metzger reminded the group that though there are trails, the town might want to create more at some point. She pointed out that there are no lawns which require mowing and passive recreational use means labor costs for the site would be minimal, such as debris removal and could possibly be mitigated by forming volunteer groups. Metzger also suggested fencing around dangerous slopes or open mine shafts as well.
“The potential costs to the town of owning the property will depend upon the uses the town decides to permit,” she said.
Nearly a score of residents lined the wall, awaiting their turn to ask questions or voice opinions on the purchase — many in favor, some with reservations. Though comments ranged from reasonable to the fringe, the board heard everyone out.
Representatives from various town, county, environmental and recreational agencies and entities spoke emphatically in support of the purchase, including Christine DeBoer, the executive director of Wallkill Valley Land Trust and Stephanie Ellis from the Town Recreation Commission. A letter was read from the Rosendale Economic Development Commission expressing support; the Rosendale Environmental Commission displayed geologic and hydrogeologic maps; and Peter Firento from the Sierra Club and Marc Har from GUMBA Mountain Bike Patrol offered to create bike trails and keep up volunteer mountain bike patrol services.
Resident Brett Hansen and wife Janette live at the bottom of Joppenbergh and explained that they have also been interested in buying the parcel to build an amphitheater for music, but were unable to secure approvals to proceed. “Once [OSI] got involved, they tied it up for six months.” Hansen said that he wanted to build an amphitheater which could draw more than 1,000 visitors to an event filled with local vendors. He also tried to dissuade the board on several counts from the purchase. “I don’t think [buying Joppenbergh] is a good move for Rosendale. Once the town owns it, it’s a liability,” Brett Hansen said. “There are ventilation shafts, sinkholes.” Hansen said that if OSI would sell it to him, then he would donate the kiln mines to the park, offer extra parking to the community as overflow during events, and establish a second access to the property. “That lot is landlocked. It’s a flag lot. If a private person was trying to do this, the town wouldn’t let them because of access.”
Hansen argued that he would have radio ads, blasting out Rosendale’s names on the airwaves. “I don’t think our businesses are going to thrive off a couple people coming off the mountain to buy a Coke.” Hansen later explained that his offers were contingency-based on approvals, which no one could guarantee.
Janette Hansen spoke later, and argued her husband’s points and then some. She said that she has long been concerned about people riding four-wheelers jeopardizing the safety of her children and pets. And were the town to implement bike paths, she would feel the same dangers. “Biking past my house can be a real hazard to my family.” Hansen also agreed that her husband’s business would draw more visitors to help Rosendale, and keep kids off the street. “I don’t see how hiking and biking will do a whole lot for the economy of this town.”
Joppenbergh’s other neighbor, Joe Walsh, whose property abuts the slope, questioned whether the town could split the property and easement with Hansen and still have open space. A few others questioned whether the town could simply buy the parking lot.
Hensley Evans, who chairs the trestle bridge fundraising committee, said that over 30,000 use the rail trail annually, and that Joppenbergh offers a valuable non-road based connection into Main Street. Evans said that thousands of hikers, bikers and pedestrians look down at Rosendale from the trestle and admire the “cute town,” but they don’t come to Rosendale because there’s no connection for them to do so.
Tim Morrison of Tillson said that though he is favor of the town buying the mountain, he has concerns over safety and steep lands. “How will the town regulate and mitigate these issues?” he questioned. Morrison, as did several others, suggested a referendum.
Can we afford this?
There were several residents skeptical about spending money on a purchase during financial straits. Resident Patrick Jordon was one such individual, “I don’t want to hear anything about bonds — you’re all going to be gone by the time we have to pay those bonds. … I haven’t heard anything but open space. Open space. Where are you going to get the money?”
Victoria Coyne, owner of Victoria’s Gardens on Binnewater Road and a member of the town Economic Development Commission, pointed out that the land surrounding Joppenbergh would become more valuable and likened it to the real estate surrounding Central Park.
The impact on economic development was argued two ways, with some saying that developing the land would bring in more taxes and revenue and others saying that more revenue would be gained through its conservation. Some asked the town to hurry up and make a decision so as not to lose the time-sensitive offer, whereas others asked the town to slow down and hear out more development proposals. Some residents complained that they are struggling to pay their taxes, whereas others said that they would like to leave the mountain to the next generation as a legacy.
Joppenbergh Mountain Corp. attorney Joe O’Connor took the mic and first referred to himself as, “not an open space person, per se.” He explained that Rosendale already has $17,000 bill waiting for payment to his client and added that his clients have never suffered a lawsuit nor a claim in 15 years that he has represented them. O’Connor beseeched the town board and community by renewing the dollars and cents aspect. He also said that though his clients do want just to retire and see it go to open space, they don’t have to, and that the offer is not exclusive to Rosendale. “If they could come up with a no-contingent sale, we would have sold it.”
Councilman Ken Hasset said that he wasn’t at all comfortable making such a large decision for the town without the entire town’s input, and was in favor of a referendum. He questioned Bob Anderburgh from OSI as to whether or not the offer would remain open if the town were to take the time to have a referendum. Anderburgh replied in the negative; he was not pinned down as to precisely how much time was left before the offer expired.
Councilman Bob Gallagher was also in favor of a referendum. “Nobody is going to buy the property in the next few months,” he said. Councilwoman and environmental enthusiast Manna-Jo Greene surprised everyone with her response. “In trespassing on Joppenbergh Mountain, I nearly lost my life. I personally experienced how dangerous it could be.” She said she was in favor of the mountain being used for passive recreation, rather than flooding it with 1000 cars at a time. “I have no objections to a referendum, but I also heard people in this room offer to raise the money as well.”
Councilman Rich “F-Stop Fitzgerald” Minissali was also not opposed to the referendum, however he questioned the sensitive time frame.
The board closed public comment session, and will continue to accept written comments until Wednesday, April 13. After the meeting, McDonough said, “We are either going to buy it or not,” he said. “There is not going to be a referendum.” McDonough emphasized that the state imparted town boards to make decisions on behalf of their constituents, and that’s what he plans to do. “If the whole town board looks at it carefully and honestly, they will see the benefits far outweigh the costs.”