But rejects idea, for now, of tax to fund land purchases
Philipstown covers 51.5 square miles, or 32,960 acres. Of that, according to a preservation plan approved by the Town Board last month, 17,889 acres, or 54 percent, is protected by local, city, state and federal governments or environmental organizations from development through ownership or conservation easements.
The Town Board wants to save more. The community preservation plan, dated July 2022, advocates setting aside more land — if money can be found to acquire private properties and the parcels’ owners agree.
The Town Board voted unanimously on Aug. 3 to adopt the plan and add a law to the town code to enshrine it, but without a funding mechanism, at least for now. It also scheduled a public hearing on the plan for Thursday (Sept. 7) at Town Hall.
The plan, which identifies environmental, agricultural and historic resources that could be threatened as the town’s population grows in the near future by about 2 percent per year, calls for creation of a preservation fund financed by a transfer tax collected when ownership of properties changes.
The Town Board nixed that idea.
The idea of a transfer tax surfaced during the COVID-19 crisis, when “the thought of adding another fee to something did not settle well,” Supervisor John Van Tassel said at the Aug. 3 meeting. In late July, he said, the board decided to endorse other components of the plan but not the suggested funding mechanism.
“We still think the plan is important” for identifying properties “unique and important to the preservation of the community,” he explained. He said the board might create a land-acquisition conservation fund at some point, perhaps by collecting a tax from buyers of homes over $400,000 or $500,000. (Any transfer tax requires approval by voters.)
The preservation plan reflects decades of studies and reports, including the 2021 comprehensive plan, as well as state and federal initiatives and laws.
Completed in 2022 by a task force of residents advised by land-use and planning specialists, the 96-page plan, along with hundreds of pages of appendices and maps, looks at preservation priorities in eight categories: land crucial to the tap-water supply; wildlife habitats; forests; streams and wetlands; trails and recreation grounds; scenic venues; historic sites; and agriculture.
Along with rural areas, the plan considers houses and other buildings in Cold Spring and Nelsonville; village thoroughfares, such as Routes 301 (Main Street) and 9D (Morris Avenue-Chestnut Street); and roads winding through Philipstown beyond the two villages.
Recognizing that “nearly every parcel in Philipstown contains at least one attribute contributing to community character,” the plan acknowledges that “it would never be possible — or desirable — to acquire every” property it identifies, “even if every landowner were willing to participate.”
The plan also elaborates on its preservation priorities. For instance, in discussing drinking water supplies, it notes that while most residents rely on wells, groundwater and aquifers can be easily contaminated by development, because they often are found in the flat areas favored for construction.
Similarly, the system that pipes water to 2,800 households in Cold Spring, Nelsonville and parts of Philipstown depends on three reservoirs and Foundry Brook, which runs, in part, along Fishkill Road. Buying parcels around the Foundry dam to protect the water supply “would be really beneficial to the villages,” Van Tassel said.
In surveying sites with historic, archaeological or cultural importance, the plan’s drafters identified 568 properties to protect to preserve community character. They also identified 2,591 properties with farms or other agricultural resources.